Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development – Tony Taylor

In theory, I’m about to have a quiet August, largely free from maintaining the IDYW website, responding to Facebook and twittering. Obviously, you will be devastated at the news, but never fear find below the link to the latest article on the rejuvenated Youth & Policy platform. By chance, it’s a piece of mine, something of a rant about my deep misgivings about the contemporary, neoliberal obsession with measuring the immeasurable and its insidious impact on youth work. I know it’s hardly holiday reading, but if you do get round to glancing at its sparkling prose, comments however caustic welcomed.

Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development

Perplexed as usual – Ta to Justin Wyllie for photo

Tony Taylor of In Defence of Youth Work (IDYW) was invited by the Centre for Youth Impact (CYI) to debate with Paul Oginsky at a conference ‘Measure & Treasure’ held on March 16th, 2017 in London. The following is a version of what he would have said if time had allowed. It is structured around the five questions posed in advance of the conference by Bethia McNeil, the CYI’s director.

I begin:

As you might expect there are differing interpretations of what we mean by PSD, but all aspire to be holistic, to be concerned with the whole person, their values, their knowledge, their skills, their emotions and desires. Fascinatingly, from a youth work perspective, half a century ago in 1967, Bernard Davies and Alan Gibson, in repudiating the common-sense idea of an incremental adolescent journey to adult maturity, argued that the fundamental purpose of PSD should be to help young people acquire the social skills of cooperation and comradeship, to develop a commitment to the common good. In stark contrast today’s dominant version of PSD is deeply individualistic, leaning for sustenance on developmental and cognitive psychology with their behavioural impositions of stages, roles, traits and norms upon young people growing up. For my part, I remain committed to the version espoused by Davies and Gibson, later to be summed up in a 1977 Wigan Youth Service Programme of Action as ‘personal, social and political awareness’. Or, indeed, if I am mischievous, PSD is a matter of ‘consciousness’, the very mention of which poses insoluble dilemmas for those wishing to calculate its existence.

Along the way I muse:

My comment on neutrality takes me to a final point regarding the idea of character itself. The pioneers of youth work, the likes of George Williams, Lily Montagu and Baden-Powell, would warm to its re-emergence, confident in their concern to nurture young men and women of good Christian or Jewish character. Explicitly they engaged without embarrassment with two inextricably interrelated questions, which, if we are similarly honest, we cannot escape:

In what sort of society do we wish to live? What are its characteristics?
And, depending on our answer, what sort of characters, do we think, are best suited to either the maintenance of what is or the creation of something yet to be?

and

In terms of being challenged about what they’re up to, whilst researchers, workers, funders, politicians may want to stand outside of the social relations they are seeking to influence, this is impossible, if oft wilfully ignored. Being involved in the process of personal and social development is not a laboratory experiment. If you wish to measure the resilience of a young person, if you wish to make a judgement on their character, the very same measurements and judgements ought to be asked of yourself, of funders, of managers, of politicians. In my opinion, it takes some cheek for politicians, not notable for their collective honesty and integrity, to pontificate about what they see as the appropriate form of PSD for young people. The same goes for all of us. As they say, we’re all in this together. All our characters are up for grabs.

I conclude with a couple of questions:

Are you measuring how successful you have been in manufacturing an emotionally resilient young person who will put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous social policies, accept their lot, and believes there is no alternative?

Or are we evaluating how successful we have been in creating, albeit tentatively, a critical, questioning young person, who seeks to change their lot in concert with others, who continues to imagine that a fairer, juster, more democratic society is possible, that the present calamitous state of affairs is not the best that humanity can do?

 

Privatisation of Public Services : The Dogma Unravels. Whither the Youth Sector?

Over the past few weeks I’ve bookmarked all manner of articles questioning  the dogma of privatisation, ranging from Kevin McGuire in the Daily Mirror exploring the Olympic Security farce to Matt Dykes on the ToUChsone blog asking, is the tide turning on public sector outsourcing? I’ve not known which way to post as the economic and political crisis unravels.  However Steve Richards in the Independent has furnished a hard-hitting summary of the arguments in his  Time to explode the myth that the private sector is always better, adding facetiously that “ministers still prefer the deceptive swagger of the incompetent entrepreneur.”

In his brilliant review of Shakespeare’s ‘Timon of Athens’, The Power of Money, Paul Mason suggests we are in the middle of a virulent and contagious ‘social meltdown’.

“Police testimony at Leveson speaks of “a network of corrupted individuals”. Criminal charges have been laid against newspaper journalists and editors. Companies charged with security at the Olympics have failed to deliver; companies charged with getting the workless into work likewise.”

He draws our attention to what Engelen describes as the debacle of the elite, the consequence of the overwhelming hubris of our political and economic rulers. And, as ever, he ponders what might be the basis for resistance and returns to his thesis that critical and rebellious youth will not follow gormlessly yet another hierarchical leader or party. We need to return specifically to this last point over the coming days in discussing how youth participation fits into this scenario.

For the moment I wish merely to pose whether the leadership of the youth sector, the plethora of executives and managers signed up to the market-led agenda of commissioning and privatisation, is experiencing even a sliver of doubt? As it is Children and Young People Now is advertising an Achieving Positive Outcomes for Children, Young People and Families conference.

On 26 September, join us in London for this exciting one-day event. Get detailed advice from industry experts to aid your organisation’s efficiency in planning, measuring and commissioning the most effective services for children, young people and families.

Amongst the usual mantra about evidence-based decision-making, efficiency, early intervention and targeting, delegates will hear how to

  • Assess the best methods for devising and managing payment-by-results contracts
  • Build investor confidence and access funding for payment by results contracts

 

Of course the explicit introduction of payment-by-results is at the heart of the government’s Troubled Families initiative, within which the definition of ‘troubled’ keeps changing, whilst curiously the figure of 120,000 remains steadfast. Given the £7.6bn budget squeeze on councils it’s hardly surprising they grab at any pot of money available. Pragmatism is inevitable, but principles do intrude.  It is clear that a diversity of youth agencies, including many from the voluntary sector,  are bidding to deliver this intervention. It would be illuminating to hear how these organisations explain their incorporation into a scheme, whose funding is linked intimately to top-down ‘behavioural improvement’ – £4,000 available for each troubled family that is eligible through a payment-by-results scheme (based on performance after 1 year of intervention). Indeed how do they rationalise touching with a barge pole a cynical, ideological exercise, which allows Eric Pickles to froth at the mouth, declaring, “These folks are troubled: They’re troubling themselves, they’re troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it”?

Not to be upstaged the Tsar of the show, Louise Casey, echoing Keith Joseph’s infamous 1974 speech, “our human stock is threatened…. a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up”, declares that mothers in large problem families should be “ashamed” of the damage they are doing to society and stop having children. Not content with yet again ‘blaming mum’, she proceeds, “Yes, we have to help these families. But I also don’t think we should soft-touch those families. We are not running some cuddly social workers’ programme to wrap everybody in cotton wool.” It seems limp to observe that these crude and long-standing attempts to demonise the troubled at the bottom of society’s pyramid have no basis in the Department of Education’s own research. Is it limp too to ask how can an empathetic, critical young person-centred practice grounded in their lived reality survive in a straitjacket, which scoffs at youth work itself- not to mention the working-class pastime of fishing in the canal?

Under the £448 million programme, each family will have a dedicated worker whose job is to turn them around. Sometimes this will involve arriving early to ensure that children go to school. Miss Casey says that getting children to school, and encouraging teachers to keep them there, is the major challenge. “There are a lot of people who use the term ‘diversionary activities’, things like angling, netball and all these activities. I always smile when I go along and hear we must set up more youth clubs.

“Actually, I say, the biggest diversionary activity on God’s earth is called school. If every kid in the country who should be in school [was] there, all day, every day, you would transform all sorts of problems.”

Answers in an e-mail to tonymtaylor@gmail.com or indeed comment below.

POSTSCRIPT

Organisations funded to work with NEETs
The Government has announced the names of the organisations, including many NCVYS members, who will be working with 55,000 16- to 17-year-old NEETs with no GCSEs at A* to C, who are at the highest risk of long-term disengagement. The new programme, part of the Youth Contract, is the first to use payment by results to help get NEETs re-engaged. Funding worth up to £126 million will be made available to organisations across England. Organisations will receive an initial payment for taking young people on, but will only receive subsequent payments when they show progress. The contracts on offer are worth up to £2,200 for every young person helped, with the full amount payable only if a young person is still in full-time education, training or work with training six months after re-engaging.
http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00212063/radical-scheme-to-rescue-neets