The following is a guest post from a youth worker and supporter of IDYW, who prefers not to be named, reporting on one of the NYA’s recent roadshows. Thanks to the author for this insight for those of us who couldn’t get there. We always welcome posts from our supporters, so do get in touch if you have something to share.
In my local high-street homewares and household goods store there is an end aisle display with an interactive point of sale display. In this small section of the shop one can find goods produced by JML- now JML sells things that are ‘useful’ but that you didn’t know you ‘needed’ and to be honest, don’t: things like portable, rechargeable light-up mirrors, desk top dehumidifiers and so on.
What has the JML products at my local Wilko’s got to do with my attendance at a NYA roadshow? Well, I suppose for 6 hours I felt like one of these products- simultaneously useful and useless. Let me explain…
NYA Roadshow North East
Held at The University of Sunderland and hosted by NYA and Youth Focus NE, this sold out roadshow was predominantly attend by current practitioners from across the region. Seemingly as per the other roadshows the structure and agenda of the day was set out and agreed upon prior to the session. Participants (and I use this word carefully- not be confused with the concept of congruent participation) were utilised throughout the day to input and respond to predefined key areas which were pre-set by the NYA. This input was twofold: predominantly through the use of handheld electronic devices that captured quantifiable data and which were shared live on the large auditorium screen; and also through the use of small groups- sent away to respond to predefined questions. There was very little space for whole group conversation, debate or input. Inevitably this was etched out in spaces – such as lunch – but the overall structure of the day was an informational talk that involved the gathering of data that limited the scope for an engaged conversation making use of the broad experiences within the room. Hence I felt ‘useful’-I colluded, played along and inputted data; yet simultaneously ‘useless’- my voice was reduced to which button my index finger chose.
Below is some notes from my attendance on the roadshow and quotes were recorded in real time; reflections followed. I hope these will offer a small overview from the NYA roadshow in the NE:
With said structure there are some ethical considerations of the day. There was a cost to attend the roadshow ‘‘a small fee covers core costs and refreshments. No one however should be excluded so contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any challenges attending and we’ll be pleased to help.’’ It seems somewhat ethically dubious to ask for monies for what was, essentially, participants of the day feeding into research for the NYA, whether the cost went towards sandwiches or not.
Indeed the ethical considerations continued when participants were asked to respond to some research questions including those where a negative response was not available (Q? – Should we develop online learning resources A- a) Yes for all training, b) Yes for initial training, c) Yes for CPD); of course this has validity concerns too. Some basic research training would point out that validity is dubious at best when respondents are given such limited opportunities to disagree with research questions.
The tone from the NYA and YFNE was one of a changing context, where YW will be given opportunities for growth and development. However, absent from this was a discussion as to what this growth and development may look like. Overviews of knife crime and how this is shaping the context was shared, however when the NE delegates responded that Child Poverty was a key priority for the region (Q-What should the RAS priority be? 26 of 36 respondents answering Poverty Level with the closest other answer Population at 5) – this was not given time for discussion or movement away from the predetermined structure of the day.
Throughout the day the word qualified was used. Oten however when asked to qualify what the term may mean, this was not given a definitive answer-other than the NYA will be defining this next year. I worry however- if at the time of promised and expected Youth Work funding we are unable to ensure ‘qualified’ is not a woolly concept, then how may things progress? Indeed this led to some off the cuff discussions (albeit these discussions were not held within the whole crowd-we had to move on!) regarding the worry that a lower level of qualification –L2/L3 may constitute as sufficiently qualified in the future.
Youth Work Curriculum
‘There’s going to be one and government is going to back it- so then practitioners should have a good shot at it’ – Leigh referring to YW curriculum
Sent away in small groups people were asked to design what a new YW curriculum may look like. However as with all other discussions following these small activities, no time was given for whole room feedback-of course this meant that non-consenting voices (including those who said a curriculum is not needed and if it is needed then why not go back to models that have already been create) were given very little space for discussion. Leigh did state that if there were a YW curriculum it will not just be full of current popular areas of concern- however as there seems to be a framing of YW as a response to knife crime- I am wary of this.
The upbeat tone and conversations around the potential increase of funding was met with some concerns from the audience: ‘Is the funding going to be used to support voluntary sector organisations who have kept the sector afloat?’ There was no definitive answer to this but a consensus that it can’t go only to local authorities and must be shared between both the voluntary sector and the local authority. It was highlighted that in the Tees Valley area there has been a huge loss of building so capacity building will be key. May we be excited and celebratory of the seeming turning tide but may these celebrations be cautious and considered.
Questions were asked regarding the relationship between the Youth Service in association with NCS? A member of the audience asked if we are to have a NYA endorsed framework will each organisation, including NCS, need a JNC Qualified worker attached to each bid. Again this was not given a definitive answer.
There were cheers from the crowd when Leigh shared the news that Michael Lynas had resigned. This seemed to sum up the view of NCS within the room. In the slide titled ‘The Solution-Investment in young people across the spending review to support the Youth Charter’, there were some discrepancies on how on the one hand Leigh (who up to this point had acknowledged the elephant in the room but did not focus on it and made attempts to swerve away from NCS talk) spoke of NCS as part of improved and varied youth (work); and on the other the content on the slide where it states: ‘This investment will underpin and strengthen NCS…’. When asked about this discrepancy Leigh said the wording on the slide was old. I wonder, however, who else this slide has been presented to? Why it hadn’t been updated if indeed it was old?
Statuary Guidance Review
After spending some time reviewing the current statutory guidance review there was a brief discussion on the wording that will be used in the draft offer that is due to be shared by NYA on 30th October. If it states Youth Offer – then the consensus was that youth work will need to be explicitly explained within it.
Local Youth Partnership Model Overview
There were questions on how the old models of partnership may work with the new model and indeed what the role of the old regional development units will have in this. There were concerns from Youth Focus NE that there may be a snake pit about to be released if we were to align ourselves to very small geographical areas within the model. There were also concerns within the audience of how funding streams may be distributed through the LA: people were reflecting on the failure of the Diamond model. In small group discussions there seemed to be a consensus that there is a need for stronger regional relationships between the youth work organisations and indeed, the providers of L2/L3 courses- there is not a current up to date map of this in the area. Will the NYA’s new trading arm look to deliver L2/L3, which according to Leigh ‘is responding to the needs of the system’ be a new model of income generation for the NYA that will supersede delivery income too?
Earlier in the day when talking about NYA and others (who had traditionally been a non-delivery organisation) necessitating funding for development and to ensure sustainability it was said of these organising delivering ‘Something’s got to pay for it’. This leads me to a question: If there is increased funding for direct delivery with young people will the NYA (who co-deliver NCS in the North East) and previous regional development units who now deliver provision return to their non-delivery status? Someone or some ‘body’ needs to operate as a conduit and repository of good practice across the region without the potential conflict of competition.
‘Together we can empower young people to become transformative leaders in our communities and deliver positions’ – At times during the day the language within the slides and questions were queried in regards to how they frame expectations from young people-. Leigh agreed that some of the language was overt in its ‘expectation’ but he also informed us that it was crafted as a political response in order to ensure ‘buy in’.
At the very beginning of the day, Leigh pointed out that the NYA is an apolitical organisation-which led to some internal musings on how then, professionals, sector and training providers must be sure to include the political in an overt manner.
So above are some crib notes from the NE Roadshow and hopefully an insight into an instructive, informational day in which I realised just how useful one could be. It was great to connect and reconnect with colleagues from across the sector and region-it was however, a great shame that the day was so predetermined that the experiences, voices and debate from the participants were nullified, diluted and narrowed indeed the role of ‘someone or somebody’ to bring the sector together to engage in dialogue and connect Youth Work was an absent discussion from the day. An idea for the next NYA roadshow?
N: B – This roadshow was co-organised and co-facilitated by Leon Mexter of Youth Focus North East. His tragic passing the following week has had a devastating impact on the sector, both regionally and nationally. Please see the shared release from Pete Stout which astutely outlines Leon’s legacy https://indefenceofyouthwork.com/2019/09/26/youth-champion-leon-mexter-r-i-p/
Thoughts are with his family at this sad time.