Is the tide turning? UK Youth certainly doesn’t think so. Bernard Davies responds.



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The CYPN headline says it all, UK Youth sets out plans to attract investment in sector. Neoliberal to the core UK Youth, positioning itself to be the voice of the youth sector, argues in its State of the membership 2018 that ‘the sector needs to diversify how it is funded and work more closely with the private sector to ensure it can provide a long-term sustainable service amid cuts in local authority spending’. The report goes on to express its desire ‘to see social entrepreneurial approaches, including social investment, embedded in the sector and is particularly keen to see the formation of long-term partnerships between youth groups and businesses’.


In the first of our responses, ahead of this Friday’s In Defence of Youth Work conference, Bernard Davies expresses sharply his concern about UK Youth’s direction of travel.

The future for youth work – as seen by UK Youth


In only two or three years the world of the ‘traditional’ national voluntary youth organisation has changed beyond recognition. It was in November 2012 that a senior DfE official told a conference whose organisers included UK Youth and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS) that, at a time when the sector was expected increasingly ‘to do more with less’, it needed to consider mergers as a way of protecting itself. Whether as a direct response or not, in 2015 Ambition – once the National Association of Boys Clubs – merged with the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services. Then in March 2016, after absorbing NCVYS, in September last year Ambition itself became a ‘subsidiary’ of – that is, it merged into – UK Youth. whose own many previous titles had included the National Association of Youth Clubs.


These high level decisions were not always welcomed by these organisations’ grassroots. In part as a reaction to the 2012 decision by Ambition – by then known as Clubs for Young People – to adopt its new PR-friendly title, a new and independent National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs emerged. This is now providing a range of national sporting, arts and other events as well as infrastructure support for ‘1000 youth clubs in the most deprived communities’ and for over twenty county associations. To fill a perceived gap left by NCVYS’s disappearance, moves are also now detectable to create a new national network for the many local and regional councils of voluntary youth service which are still operating.


UK Youth has now published ‘an overview of its membership data as a merged organisation’, based on a careful sampling of the 230 organisations now directly affiliated to it. When partners’ figures in Scotland, Ireland and Wales are added, these cater for approximately four million young people across the UK. Drawing on the government’s own returns and on two Unison reports, its analysis is set starkly in the wider, especially financial, national contexts: the 41 per cent reduction in ‘universal spending’ between 2010-15 and 2017-18; the loss between 2012 and 2016 of over 3600 post, mostly part-timers; and evidence that ‘at local authority level, the most deprived areas have seen the greatest cuts’. With provision now increasingly dependent on volunteers, UK Youth’s conclusion is that ‘the youth sector has transitioned from a largely statutory provision to a largely voluntary sector-led service’.


In response to this devastation, in its penultimate paragraph, the report slips in a suggestion that, in order ‘to take full advantage of existing finance’, one possibility to be ‘explored’ is ‘redirecting reduced NCS funding (circa £400 million). Overall, however, such expectations of the state are noticeable mainly by their absence. So too is any analysis of the deeper structural causes of the current crisis for open access youth work, and indeed even more importantly for today’s younger generation. That ‘ideologies’ are shaping these policies is mentioned, as part of ‘the political make-up … of councils’ which has driven ‘the restructuring of statutory youth services’. The comment, however, appears in passing and without any critical explanation of what those ideologies are or how and why they have been so damaging both for a practice like youth work and for young people.

This uncritical stance on the dominant ideas of our times and the power relations underpinning them is signalled on the first page of the UK Youth paper by the inclusion. without comment, of a boxed quote from the minister currently holding the ‘youth’ brief as part of her role as Minister for Sport and Civil Society. In this, as at points elsewhere in the report, youth work in the shape of the youth club – ‘for many young people … their only safe place’ – is immediately conflated with the ‘youth services’ through which they get ‘access (to) mental health services, citizenship education, social mixing and training’. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that another of the factors driving that ‘re-structuring of statutory youth services’ – what are evasively called ‘overall financial challenges in local authorities’ – are never explained as stemming from the minister’s own and previous governments’ policies which, under the cloak of ‘austerity’, have been designed to get the state out of as many public services as possible. Indeed the government seems to garner at least implied praise for what I can only call forms of ‘gesture’ funding in support of the character-building, resilience-developing outcomes on which it insists: £50 million here for cadet forces, £40 million there for young people’s ‘social action’, another £16 million for a Youth Engagement Fund based on ‘social investment funds’ and ‘payment by results’.  


Nor does the UK Youth paper address in any direct way how such policies have affected the lives of young people. It notes for example that ‘only 13 per cent of young people in former industrial areas and 14 per cent in remote rural coldspots progress to university compared with 27 per cent in hotspots’. These blockages, however, conceived in the report as ‘challenges of adolescence’, apparently result simply from the ‘lack of aspiration to peer pressures or issues at home’. None of these, of course, are insignificant matters for young people themselves. What they do not do, however, is explain the glaring educational inequalities spelt out earlier. As a result, for tackling the problems of its members, the youth club, as well as providing that safe space, ends up confined it to ‘enabling young people to lead happier, more fulfilling lives’ and ‘empowering young people to make a positive contribution to their community’.


So how, positively, is UK Youth planning to deal with this ‘new context’? Certainly not, it seems, by starting from the proposition that the up to one million young people who have used or tried youth work facilities in the past are citizens now and so entitled to a fair slice of the collective cake. For UK Youth, the answer largely remains ‘to embed social entrepreneurial approaches and secure additional income for the sector, for example through supporting access to social investment opportunities’. (Though these are to include ‘collaborative work with … the private sector’, UK Youth gives no indication of what ethical risks tests it thinks should be applied here).


Even as – post-Carillion and the rest – the neo-liberal shibboleths come under renewed searching scrutiny, this paper makes clear that these remain deeply and uncritically embedded in the thinking of our youth sector ‘leaders’. Still not apparently worth any serious consideration, therefore, is an alternative possibility: that the state – albeit in re-imagined more bottom-up forms – might and indeed should again find and allocate resources for open access, informal educational facilities which its young citizens can use by choice in their leisure time.  

Bernard Davies


Youth and Policy: The final issue? Towards a new format

Youth & Policy is about to take a new, positive turn. We have copied below the editorial group’s explanation and hope to play our part in contributing to the journal’s continuing desire to be a critical and challenging voice.


Youth & Policy: The Journal of Critical Analysis was formed 35 years ago in 1982, to address a need for ‘a serious journal of analysis and review which focused its attention upon the whole area of youth policy’. The journal aimed – and continues to aim – to address itself not only to youth work, youth services and education, but also to the wider field of young people and how young people are impacted by (and how they have an impact on) policy. The journal has been highly influential in the field and valued by students, researchers, lecturers, practitioners and activists. Those who set it up, and those who have been involved throughout the last 35 years – editorial group members, reviewers, writers, proof-readers, and others – should be justly proud of what it has achieved. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed in any way. However, the time has come for a change. In recent years, Youth & Policy has faced a few challenges, including:

• A steep fall in the numbers of high quality articles submitted. We are always glad to see excellent articles from our valued, committed and regular writers and new contributors, but overall the numbers are falling, and this means we do not have enough quality articles to release the journal on a regular basis. There are a number of factors underlying this decline in quantity and quality. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) and similar processes internationally tend to incentivise academics to submit to journals with high ‘impact factors’ – and while we know that an article in Youth and Policy has more likelihood of being read than one in most ostensibly ‘higher impact’ journals, readership does not count for a great deal. At the same time, academics’ and practitioners’ workloads are increasing exponentially, hence there is reduced time for any of us to write (or, for that matter, to peer review, edit and coordinate journals)! Sadly, it seems that many lecturers in the field of Youth Studies and Youth and Community Work are given negligible time – if any – for research and writing.

• A growing proportion of inappropriate and irrelevant articles are being submitted, which do not meet the remit of our journal and/or are not in any way ready for publication. Presumably this is also due to the ‘publish or perish’ culture. Often it feels as though we are receiving articles that have been rejected elsewhere and have not been adapted for our journal – we are not talking here about articles from the field, but irrelevant articles that do not address the aims of our journal and have often not been proof-read. It takes a great deal of (voluntary) time and energy to read through these submissions and provide helpful feedback.

• Technological challenges and workload pressures amongst some members of the editorial group have conspired to take the journal offline for periods and/or hold up the publication of some issues for an unacceptably long time. We realise that this may feed into the first challenge – the lack of quality submissions – but because the reduction in quality submissions predated our technological challenges, we feel that this is not the main factor.

We know that Youth and Policy continues to be valued, particularly by lecturers, researchers, students and (to some extent) practitioners in the field of youth and community work. We also aim to reach and contribute towards wider youth and policy related networks, beyond ‘youth work’ and its related practices, but it is less clear how successful we have been in regard to this aim in recent years. Overall, we have had a general feeling that Youth & Policy is not responsive enough (we know that we are too slow to publish time-relevant articles), is not reaching a wide enough audience, and is not attracting sufficient high quality submissions to sustain the publication of a journal that is produced regularly enough to contribute in a timely way to present policy debates. As REF-type procedures and heavy workloads are likely to continue to affect the quality and volume of articles received, we feel the time has come to make a change.

The way ahead
We have decided to move towards a more responsive format. The new Youth & Policy will continue to be free, open access and online, yet rather than having ‘issues’ we will instead publish individual articles, which can be published as soon as they have been prepared. Most of these articles will be much shorter – up to 2000 words in length. We are setting up a new website that will be easier for all of us on the editorial group to access and edit. We have now had all our ‘hard copy’ back issues scanned (a garagantuan task!) and will host these on the new website, alongside the full range of our existing electronic editions. We recognise that there will be some disadvantages to the new system, but we are confident that any that arise will be outweighed by the benefits. Needless to say, we will monitor and review the new format closely during the months following the launch. However, there are also clear advantages in terms of a much easier process, which will enable quicker publication. We believe that the new format will be easier for researchers, lecturers, students and practitioners to access and read, and hope that it will be read and shared more widely and attract more high quality contributions. We will still exercise a system of quality control, through a simplified and streamlined peer review process, and those academics who need to be able to say they are submitting to a peer reviewed journal will still be able to do so. We will occasionally invite longer journal-length articles, but these will be the exception rather than the norm.

We will continue to seek articles which provide a critical analysis of current policy issues affecting young people. We are keen to host original articles on a wide range of themes – education, employment, justice, health, identity, equality, youth services, media, campaigning, and many more. We hope existing contributors and new writers will be keen to contribute, so do look out for our guidelines for submissions. Our new format site will be up and running (at the same web address) within a few weeks of the publication of this final edition and we will launch the new format at an event in the autumn. We will also continue to organise conferences and seminars –note the advance date for our forthcoming ‘Youth Policy: Then and Now’ conference, March 9th– 10th 2018, which will draw together historical and present themes and research. We hope to see you all at these or other events in the near future.


Download Y&P 116 at

Youth and Policy: The final issue? Towards a new format

Youth Work and Informal Education: Finding common ground
Tony Jeffs

Beyond the Local Authority Youth Service: Could the state fund open access youth work – and if so, how? A speculative paper for critical discussion
Bernard Davies

Scientism, governance and evaluation: Challenging the ‘good science’ of the UK evaluation agenda for youth work
Deirdre Niamh Duffy

Extending democracy to young people: is it time for youth suffrage?
Kalbir Shukra

Youth and adult perspectives on representation in local child and youth councils in Ireland
Shirley Martin and Catherine Forde

What, no coaching? Challenging the dominance of mentoring in work with young people
Tina Salter

Effective gang policy and practice: how research with ‘Black male youth’ problematizes the official definition of the UK gang
Ian Joseph

Social work with children in the Youth Justice system – messages from practice
Jane Pye and Ian Paylor

Organised Crime, Street Gangs and County Lines
John Pitts

The American news media and youth: distortion, defamation, demographic fear
Mike Males

Finding a better way of protecting young workers
Jim McKechnie, Sandy Hobbs, Emma Littler and Amanda Simpson

Margaret Mead and the ‘Unknown Children’
Mike Males

A People’s History of Woodcraft Folk

Understanding the present and imagining the future of youth work demands an appreciation of its past – hence a genuine welcome to this history of the Woodcraft Folk. A review of the book would be much appreciated.


The youth movement Woodcraft Folk has made a remarkable impact on British politics and education. Founded in 1925 on a wave of post-WWI utopianism and now a network of hundreds of local groups, it has empowered thousands of young people to shape the world around them. This book explores the history, values and evolution of this unique organisation in a chronological sweep of stories from hand-making tents, and rescuing children from advancing Nazi troops, to campaigning against climate change.

Offering an unmatched insight into the story of this little-known but influential organisation, the book features 200 pages of colour photographs, essays and stories, and is introduced by the veteran campaigner, Labour politician and long-standing Woodcraft Folk supporter Jeremy Corbyn MP.

With contributions from Jon Nott, Annebella Pollen, Martin Pover, Nicola Samson, Paul Bemrose, Doug Bourn, Kit Jones, Saskia Neibig, Zoë Waterman and Joel White

Available at Woodcraft Folk

A Text for our Times : Bernard Davies reviews Youth Work : Histories, Policy and Contexts


graham bright

A (partial) review of Youth Work: Histories, Policy and Contexts (2015), edited by Graham Bright, published by Palgrave

This piece makes no claim to being a full review of this important book – a welcome and, these days, all too rare addition to the literature on youth work. Doing full justice to (in this case) thirteen papers written by fifteen different contributors on topics ranging from ‘Uniformed Youth Work’, ‘Youth Work and the Church’ and ‘Questioning “Muslim Youth”’ to ‘Relocating Detached Youth Work’, ‘Youth Work in Schools’ and ‘Youth Work in Digital Spaces’ – that, it seems to me, is a hard act to pull off in two-to-three thousand words. What follows therefore are some personal reactions to the first six chapters and the concluding chapter which, taken together, provide a valuable updated and critical overview of youth work’s development. In particular they focus our thinking on the role of the state from tentative beginnings via significant expansion to, now, swift decline; its shifting relationship with the voluntary youth sector; and the wider policy terrain on which youth work is now operating.

Analysing politically?

In offering even this partial review, I need to start with a clarification – or is it a confession? I read nothing about youth work these days without sooner or later finding myself asking: so is this article or paper or book locating its discussion within the policies which frame and so often constrain the practice? Is it, furthermore, confronting the politics of those policies – first recognising and then at least to some degree explicitly seeking to unpick and explain their underpinning values and their inbuilt power relations and dynamics? Or does it duck and dive around these questions by taking as a given – even perhaps as self-evidently benign – the wider contextual and especially structural realities: the sense of entitlement of privileged and powerful interests to determine what should and should not be done, and how; and, defined often by class or gender or race, the greatly narrowed if not actually blocked room for manoeuvre of most other individuals, groups and communities?

The sections of the book reviewed here, I have to say, not only avoid this ducking and diving. Chapter by chapter, they each adopt up-front political perspectives well supported by analysis and evidence, some based on the author’s original research. Graham Bright, the book’s editor, sets the overall tone in the opening paper – on youth work’s emergence as a distinctive way of working with young people. In a chapter tellingly headed ‘Our contemporary need for history’ he for example asserts:

Understanding the heritage of any profession is of key importance to critical reflection, and to shaping the direction of future policy and practice.

– adding that

youth work is highly susceptible to the changing tides of policy, which increasingly appear to marginalize it in the wake of the neo-liberal drifts.

Importantly, too, he reminds us that;

the meanings and discourses attached to “youth” are socially constructed and change over time

– with the very notion of adolescence having been constructed at a particular historical moment in response to the changing economic and especially industrial conditions and demands of the later nineteenth century.

Other contributors then consistently reinforce this kind of wider contextualisation. Simon Bradford, in surveying youth work’s development over the nearly sixty years up to 1996, in part entitles his chapter ‘State beneficence or government control…?’. He then goes on to suggest that

Governmentality designates a political rationality in which power is exercised over social and cultural space to create and sustain order and stability over time.

Tania de St Croix, in her exploration of the impact on youth work of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, comments that:

New Labour’s brand of neo-liberal youth work was broadly directed towards social control.

Pat Norris and Carole Pugh’s chapter on ‘Local Authority Youth Work’ notes how under the Coalition ‘neo-liberal agendas provide an ominous backdrop to the current position’. And in some detail Ilona Buchroth and Marc Husband, in their contribution ‘Youth Work in the Voluntary Sector’, track how all recent governments have for their own strategic purposes corrupted voluntary organisations’ independence by corralling them into something they have rebadged as ‘the third sector’ – that is, as third in line to the state and the market – while at the same time (like it or not) requiring them to be closely integrated with both. What often also becomes clearer from reading this and other chapters is how the market has in effect now been constructed as ‘the first sector’ with the state struggling to retain its ranking even as number two.

In his chapter ‘In the Service of the State: Youth Work under New Labour’, Howard Sercombe spells out some of the values underpinning of all of this. He points for example to New Labour’s

fundamental belief in the efficacy of the market as a way mediating human interactions of any kind, and facilitating the best and most efficient effort (or ‘maximising goods’) of any kind, including time, emotion, commitment and kindness, as well as objects and commodities’.

He then goes on to pair this neo-liberal stance with what he calls – and what attracts comment in other chapters – its ‘methodological’ underpinning:

the application of New Public Management techniques in order to control and govern processes within government and across domains over which the state had substantive control.

In his concluding chapter ‘In Search of Soul: Where Now for Youth and Community Work?’, Bright seems barely able to conceal his anger with all of this:

Political presumption in pronouncing collective social values is staggering; it conditions by drip-feed narrow and often illiberal views concerning society at large and young people in particular. It says ‘our’ values are right while assuming they are universally shared. Yet, such attitudes … are unable to recognise the sheer hypocrisy that these ‘values’ … not only reproduce, but also exacerbate structural inequalities, and further impoverish social conditions.

Continue reading

Official: Cabinet ministers wrong about cause of riots

Further to our coverage of the riots official sources now admit that Cameron’s, ‘it’s criminality, pure and simple’ is simplistic.

Young, poor and uneducated – but most rioters were not in gangs

For the young and the poor there are few ways to claw back status from society

UK riots analysis reveals gangs did not play pivotal role

Official figures show those arrested came from deprived backgrounds, striking a blow to theory that tackling gang culture is key to preventing repeat of disturbances.

At the recent Youth and Policy History conference two workshops examined differing interpretations of the riots, both controversial in their condemnation of the rioters as ‘stupid’ and ‘narcissistic’. Look out for a report on the conference soon.

And while you’re waiting, here is an historical overview from Jerry White of the LSE.

The history of riots in London shows that persistent inequality and injustice is always likely to breed periodic violent uprisings.

Youth & Policy History Conference, October 14 – 16

As ever the programme of Y&P’s History Conference to be held in Barnsley looks fascinating . Being there is made all the more attractive by the fact that our own IDYW National Conference is to held in nearby Sheffield from 11 to 4 on the Friday, October 14. Talk about eating two trifles with one spoon. More detail on our gathering after the weekend.

History of Youth and Community Conference 14th -16th October 2011

We are delighted to report that the History of Youth and Community Work Conference, re-arranged due to the sudden and unforeseen closure of Ushaw College, has now acquired both a new date and venue. The conference will now take place at the Northern College during mid-October. Therefore we would like to take this opportunity to renew our invitation for you to join at the sixth History of Youth and Community Work Study Conference organized by the editorial board of Youth and Policy. This like the others is run on a non-profit basis and despite higher residential costs we have managed to avoid any increase in costs this year.

As with the earlier gatherings it will include a mix of plenary sessions, workshops and ‘surprise’ events. Amongst the plenary speakers will be Gillian Darley, the historian and author of the standard biography of Octavia Hill and the recently re-published Villages of Vision, on historical attempts to develop planned community; and the historian, author and adult educator Nigel Todd on the first 100 years of the Workers’ Education Association. To mark the 100th Centenary of the National Association of Girls’ Clubs (now UKYouth) there will be a symposium on the history of youth work with girls and young women.

At the heart of each conference are the workshops. At the last conference we had nearly 30. The breadth is always impressive covering an enormous range of topics linked to the history of youth work, adult education and community work. As before some of these will focus on the historical development of practice in countries outside the UK. A feature of this conference is that around a third of those attending volunteer to deliver a workshop. This will we hope be once again a relaxed gathering of enthusiasts keen to talk to and learn from each other. Amongst the 26 topics for which workshops have already been offered are:- Riots and the loss of adult authority; the Neo-Liberal Assault on the Albemarle Settlement; the story of a pioneering girls’ club; village colleges and community schooling; history of youth development; professionalization of youth work in the Netherlands; history of creating space for youth work; development of youth work theory in the Finland; the story of Fairbridge; Scouting; community education; Sunday Schools; the education and training of youth workers; the origins of the current crisis in youth work; Amelia Earhart; the Cutteslowe Wall, Oxford; and the history of the National Association of Girls’ Clubs.

If you are planning to attend we do hope you will consider offering a workshop. If this is not feasible simply come along and enjoy the wide variety that will inevitably be provided by participants.

As in the past we will be organizing a bookstall. If you would like to bring new or old books for sale please feel free to do so.

All delegates will receive a complimentary copy of the forthcoming volume Essays on the History of Community and Youth Work which is being published by Russell House in 2011, priced £24.99.

The conference will take place at Northern College which is to be found near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. Located in a magnificent stately home set amongst beautiful parkland and gardens this modern higher education college offers excellent conference facilities. If you would like more details please write or e.mail Tracey Hodgson at the above address.

Please feel free to circulate the attached booking form and letter throughout your networks.

Yours sincerely, Tracey Hodgson and Tony Jeffs

History Conference 2011 Booking form & info-1


Radical histories and alternative education: recovering the spaces of youth work.

A multi-disciplinary BERA Youth Studies and Informal Education SIG day conference

Friday April 1 2011. 9-4pm

Manchester Metropolitan University, Didsbury Campus

This conference looks at histories of radical experiments that have involved youth work in the broadest sense. It brings under scrutiny experimental work with groups that may have been marginalised by class, ‘race’ or gender, for instance, over the last hundred years. Our suggestion is that there has been a loss of collective memory about these ‘seeds beneath the snow.’

This multi-disciplinary day will build on discussions that have been raised by the recent In Defence of Youth Work conferences, the revisiting of Bernard Davies’ seminal text Threatening Youth (OUP1986) and the current political threat to statutory youth work.

Call for paper, panels or posters: there are a number of themes that might be pursued, for example,

Anarchist and libertarian educational experiments

Alternative work with young women

Beyond steel bands’

Spaces for the ‘unattached’

Community activism

The challenge of creating alternative spaces in schools

Children’s rights

Work with young people/communities in urban and rural spaces.

Please send suggestions for panels, outline of papers/posters and a brief biography to by Feb 14 2011