Youth work, performativity and the new youth impact agenda: getting paid for numbers? – Tania de St Croix

 

DeStCroixT-Cropped-146x159

Tania de St Croix

 

The ‘impactful’ youth organisation relies on self-improving youth workers and self-improving young people – ideal entrepreneurial, neoliberal subjects.

Continuing the debate on the youth impact agenda Tania de St Croix, a member of the IDYW steering group, has published a provocative, yet nuanced, incisive and widely-researched article, Youth work, performativity and the new youth impact agenda: getting paid for numbers? in the Journal of Education Policy. I’d be tempted to say it is robust and rigorous, if that tired phrase had not been done to death and lost all meaning. Its appearance is timely, coming only a few days before the Centre for Youth Impact’s gathering in London, Shaping the future of impact measurement. Her shot across the bows of the ‘impacteers’ is that their fixation threatens to marginalise further open access, process-centred youth work. A distinctive strength of her analysis is that it is grounded in her research project’s face-to-face engagement with part-time youth workers and volunteers, often a silent and silenced constituency.

Abstract

A growing policy emphasis on measurement and outcomes has led to cultures of performativity, which are transforming what educators do and how they feel about themselves in relation to their work. While most analysis of performativity in education has focused on schools, this article investigates parallel developments in youth work. Youth work is a practice of informal education, in which young people learn and develop through activities, conversation and association. Its evaluation and monitoring have changed over the past two decades, as funding has become tied to targets and measureable outcomes. This article focuses on the English context, where government and third sector organisations are promoting a ‘youth impact agenda’, encouraging organisations to predefine and measure their outcomes. Drawing on data from interviews and focus groups with youth workers, the article argues that the current emphasis on impact risks further marginalising youth work at a time when this practice is already suffering from extensive spending cuts. The article concludes that we need to re-think the purposes and processes of evaluation and accountability – in youth work and beyond – in ways that genuinely value the perspectives of young people and grassroots practitioners.

A brief excerpt to whet the appetite:

Open youth work is particularly unsuited to ‘measurement’ because of its open-ended nature and its basis in peer group learning and informal education. Rather than outcomes being defined in advance, they emerge in negotiation with young people, and the focus is likely to shift and develop in relation to the specific individuals and groups attending, their needs and interests, and the changing social and political context in which they take place. The everyday activities of open youth work can even appear chaotic or purposeless to an outsider: perhaps a rowdy game of cards is in progress in a corner; another group is gathered around chatting and laughing; some people are painting a mural; others appear to be in deep and serious conversation by the kettle. These ‘everyday’ situations are supplemented with more structured elements introduced in negotiation with young people (perhaps an outdoor activities residential or making a film); ‘projects’ that are easier to report on. What is more difficult to describe, let alone measure, is the long-term relationship-based engagement that is at the core of the work, and without which specific projects would be less likely to happen; there is a significant focus in open youth work on process, on what happens ‘between the cracks’ and over time. It is this emphasis on and celebration of the informal and the open-ended that brings youth work into conflict with cultures of managerial accountability and performativity.

My one reservation is that Tania does not pursue what I think is a debilitating consequence of datafication, namely fabrication. Getting paid for by numbers leads to numbers being made up. This tendency is systemic. From my conversations, there is no reason to believe youth work is exempt from this malady.  Perhaps I exaggerate and it would appear that this issue did not emerge explicitly within Tania’s research. Or perchance it remains suppressed.

In a piece, Threatening Youth Work,  I put together with Marilyn Taylor the following exchange takes place.

I’m sure some people will be deeply offended by the implication that results, the need to compete are undermining the integrity of practice.

 
Without doubt, it is happening. To return to the overall argument made by Toby Lowe, his research into Outcomes-based Management reveals that wherever it is being used – in the Health Service, in Social Services, in Housing – ‘gaming’ occurs. To put it bluntly, the need to meet targets and outcomes leads managers and workers into manipulating and fabricating the data. As Toby is at pains to say this is not about maverick individuals, bad apples. ‘Gaming’, falsifying the figures, is a systemic dilemma. It is the consequence of a flawed approach to evaluating the purpose and quality of practice. As things stand youth work has invested its very soul into the Outcomes project. Whilst workers will talk off the record about malpractice, the cost of blowing the whistle would be enormous. It would be perceived as an act of treason.

New development: The paradox of outcomes—the more we measure, the less we understand – Toby Lowe

Voice of Youth co-op looking for volunteers

Message from Tania de St Croix

Hello friends,
We need some new volunteers for our fantastic youth workers’ co-op in Hackney, London. We are writing to you because we think you might be interested yourself or know somebody who might be interested – if so, please see below, forward this email to anyone who might be interested, and put up the attached PDF or Word poster version if you have anywhere to put it. Ideally we would love to hear back before mid-August as we would like to organise a volunteer induction session before the autumn.
Thanks so much!

voy-logo

S.O.S. Voice of Youth!!!
Volunteers needed for youth work co-op in Hackney

Be part of something amazing!
No bosses, great mutually supportive team including local young people – experience genuine co-operative working!
We are looking for experienced youth workers who want to support our way of working…
… and for people who want to gain experience in open-access youth work!

Voice of Youth is a special organisation. We do things differently: we work cooperatively, our work is rooted in young people’s needs and wishes, and we avoid funding that involves meeting targets or defining young people as problems. We were set up in 2011 by local young people and youth workers. We are a committed group of volunteers, we have around 30 fantastic young people aged 8-18 taking part each week, and funding for a project using creative activities to get young people talking about social issues. But we need more volunteers to help us stay open!

Interested? You would need to be available all or most Wednesday evenings, 5:30-9:30 pm, term-time from Autumn 2017. Our work relies on trusting relationships with young people and within the staff team, so we ask you to commit to 6 to 12 months if at all possible. Have a look at our website to find out more about us: http://www.voice-of-youth.org

Still interested? Send us an email and we’ll have an informal chat and tell you more! Please contact tania1.voy@gmail.com or any VOY volunteers or youth workers you know, preferably by mid-August ‘17.

Who can be a VOY volunteer? Anyone aged 16+. We aim to reflect the community we work in, and we particularly welcome Black and Minority Ethnic applicants, local young people, and EVERYONE of ANY background who is keen to work with young people on their terms, valuing their views and perspectives. All volunteers need a DBS (criminal record) check – an unrelated criminal record is no problem, but please discuss this with us in advance. Travel expenses available, please ask for details.

Celebrating Youth & Policy 2 – Tania de St Croix bidding goodbye to NCS?

Y&P

The second of our pieces from the new-look Y&P sees Tania de St Croix continuing her incisive and provocative analyses of Cameron’s vanity project, once called by Tim Loughton in a phrase of utter ignorance ‘the fastest growing social movement in Europe’, namely, the National Citizen Service. Tania gave a version of this argument to our recent IDYW seminars in Manchester and London. Certainly, its sense of the contradictions within NCS will feed into a discussion paper we are preparing, which will seek to explore future scenarios for youth work in a turbulent political climate.

Time to say goodbye to the National Citizen Service?

 

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Tania de St Croix

 

 

Tania writes:

Until recent political events, the practice of re-imagining youth work – thinking in a utopian way about what youth work could, or should, become – may have been a creatively rich exercise, yet it sometimes felt futile, at least beyond the very local scale. In the light of the recent general election campaign and results, and without over-romanticising the possibilities for electoral politics, it is now not only reasonable but even urgent for practitioners, activists and researchers to think seriously and practically about what kind of youth work policy and practice we would like to see, and how we might get from here to there.

She asserts:

In this context, reviewing the NCS may not appear to be the most pressing priority for the field. However, a re-imagined youth policy that does not question the basis of NCS would be both problematic and contradictory. Just as local authority youth services were, quite rightly, the target of robust criticism by progressives in the past (for example, for being overly bureaucratic, too ready to see young people as ‘problems’ to be ‘fixed’, insufficiently self-critical, and too quick to conform to the policy priorities of the day), today the NCS receives the bulk of government money and support for youth work. As such, it must be subjected to critical scrutiny.

 

Cor Blimey! A first chance to reflect on what the Mayhem might mean for youth work – Manchester June 14 and London, June 23

 

mayhem

Ta to the Liverpool Echo

 

Given the shockwave created by the General Election result, the possible implications will now feed into the discussion at our forthcoming seminars, which will be one of the first opportunities to take a breath about what’s happening. Bernard and Tania will attempt at short notice to take the present mayhem, chaos and promise into account in their opening contributions!

WHAT FUTURE FOR STATE-FUNDED YOUTH WORK?

Manchester seminar: Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm at M13 Youth Project

Brunswick Parish Church Centre, Brunswick St, Manchester, M13 9TQ

A short walk or bus ride from Manchester Piccadilly. See map and directions: http://www.brunswickchurch.org.uk/contact–location.html

London seminar: Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm at King’s College London

School of Education, Communication & Society, Rm 2/21, Waterloo Bridge Wing, Waterloo Road, SE1 9NH.

Five minutes from Waterloo station (but slightly confusing to find!) See map and directions: https://www.kcl.

In the light of the general election campaign and results, we are looking forward to meeting to discuss its possible implications for youth work – and in particular, on this occasion, for state-funded and state-organised youth work. The slightly tweaked programme is below. Please note that there is no lunch break. You are welcome to bring your lunch and eat during the session. Please arrive on time – or feel free to arrive early, anytime from 12:30 pm. Bookings are still open: please email Rachel@yasy.co.uk or indeed turn up on the day.

1- 1.10: Introduction to the proceedings.

1:10-1:30: Views from the field: Reflections from participants on the general election campaign and results. What does it mean for young people and for youth work?

1.30 – 2.30: Bernard Davies re-imagines how youth work might be supported and provided by the state – beyond the neoliberal mindset (15 min talk followed by discussion).

2.30 – 2.45 Break.

2.45 – 3.45: Tania de St Croix argues that the National Citizen Service is top-down, prescriptive, and pro-neoliberal, and should be replaced (15 min talk followed by discussion).

3.45 – 4.00: Feedback on the session and ideas for future seminars and action.

Hope to see you at either of these gatherings.

What future for state-funded youth work? Manchester and London seminars on June 14 and 23

A REMINDER ABOUT THESE FORTHCOMING SEMINARS

STILL PLACES – SO FAR DISAPPOINTING LEVEL OF INTEREST

newlogo

In Defence of Youth Work

Engaging Critically Seminars

What future for state-funded youth work?

Manchester, Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm

London, Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm

  • What is the current role of government in providing or funding open access youth work?
  • What does this mean for young people, youth workers, and youth organisations?
  • What might we expect to see in the future, and what should we be fighting for?

Bernard Davies will start from the proposition that the local authority youth service may well have disappeared by 2020 as the model for supporting and providing open access youth work. Recognising that ‘the state’ is a complex and contested concept whose past intrusions into this form of practice with young people have not always been helpful, his recently published article in Youth and Policy 116 on which his talk will draw seeks to break out of the neo-liberal mind-set to re-imagine, for youth work, more appropriate state responses. Bernard is a widely published author on youth work and is a retired youth worker, Youth Officer, and lecturer who has been active in IDYW since it was created.

Tania de St Croix will critically discuss the government’s primary vehicle for investment in a universal youth service – the National Citizen Service. What does state support for the National Citizen Service tell us about how young people – and services for young people – are perceived in policy? Does the National Citizen Service ‘count’ as youth work, and does that matter? Six years on, is Tania’s critique of NCS in Youth and Policy 106 still relevant? Tania is a Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood at King’s College London, a volunteer youth worker/co-op member at Voice of Youth, and has been involved in IDYW since the early days.

These short talks will be followed by open discussion on the questions above. We particularly welcome youth workers and other youth practitioners (paid or unpaid), managers, voluntary sector and local authority employees, policy makers, students, tutors/lecturers, researchers, and anyone else who is interested. The seminar is offered an opportunity to take time out from the hurly-burly of practice to think about where we are, where we are going, and what we might do differently.

In Defence of Youth Work is a forum for critical discussion on youth work. We are committed to encouraging an open and pluralist debate at a time of limited opportunities for collective discussion.

Manchester seminar: Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm at M13 Youth Project

Brunswick Parish Church Centre, Brunswick St, Manchester, M13 9TQ

A short walk or bus ride from Manchester Piccadilly. See map and directions: http://www.brunswickchurch.org.uk/contact–location.html

London seminar: Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm at King’s College London

School of Education, Communication & Society, Rm 2/21, Waterloo Bridge Wing, Waterloo Road, SE1 9NH.

Five minutes from Waterloo station (but slightly confusing to find!) See map and directions: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/WTKings/Finding-WBW.aspx

Suggested donation to IDYW: £2-5 (students/volunteers/unwaged) / £5-10 (waged). Tea/coffee provided.

To register, email Rachel@yasy.co.uk

Please circulate around your networks the flyer for this event.

YS NCS flyer [Word]

YS NCS flyer [pdf]

What future for state-funded youth work? Manchester and London seminars in June

newlogo

In Defence of Youth Work
Engaging Critically Seminars

What future for state-funded youth work?

Manchester, Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm
London, Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm

  • What is the current role of government in providing or funding open access youth work?
  • What does this mean for young people, youth workers, and youth organisations?
  • What might we expect to see in the future, and what should we be fighting for?

Bernard Davies will start from the proposition that the local authority youth service may well have disappeared by 2020 as the model for supporting and providing open access youth work. Recognising that ‘the state’ is a complex and contested concept whose past intrusions into this form of practice with young people have not always been helpful, his recently published article in Youth and Policy 116 on which his talk will draw seeks to break out of the neo-liberal mind-set to re-imagine, for youth work, more appropriate state responses. Bernard is a widely published author on youth work and is a retired youth worker, Youth Officer, and lecturer who has been active in IDYW since it was created.

Tania de St Croix will critically discuss the government’s primary vehicle for investment in a universal youth service – the National Citizen Service. What does state support for the National Citizen Service tell us about how young people – and services for young people – are perceived in policy? Does the National Citizen Service ‘count’ as youth work, and does that matter? Six years on, is Tania’s critique of NCS in Youth and Policy 106 still relevant? Tania is a Lecturer in the Sociology of Youth and Childhood at King’s College London, a volunteer youth worker/co-op member at Voice of Youth, and has been involved in IDYW since the early days.

These short talks will be followed by open discussion on the questions above. We particularly welcome youth workers and other youth practitioners (paid or unpaid), managers, voluntary sector and local authority employees, policy makers, students, tutors/lecturers, researchers, and anyone else who is interested. The seminar is offered an opportunity to take time out from the hurly-burly of practice to think about where we are, where we are going, and what we might do differently.

In Defence of Youth Work is a forum for critical discussion on youth work. We are committed to encouraging an open and pluralist debate at a time of limited opportunities for collective discussion.

Manchester seminar: Wednesday 14th June 1-4pm at M13 Youth Project
Brunswick Parish Church Centre, Brunswick St, Manchester, M13 9TQ
A short walk or bus ride from Manchester Piccadilly. See map and directions: http://www.brunswickchurch.org.uk/contact–location.html

London seminar: Friday 23rd June, 1-4pm at King’s College London
School of Education, Communication & Society, Rm 2/21, Waterloo Bridge Wing, Waterloo Road, SE1 9NH.
Five minutes from Waterloo station (but slightly confusing to find!) See map and directions: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/WTKings/Finding-WBW.aspx

Suggested donation to IDYW: £2-5 (students/volunteers/unwaged) / £5-10 (waged). Tea/coffee provided.

To register, email Rachel@yasy.co.uk

Please circulate around your networks the flyer for this event.

YS NCS flyer [Word]

YS NCS flyer [pdf]

The State of Education: Youth Work breakout group, October 29

anarchist-bookfair

“If education should really mean anything at all, it must insist upon the free growth and development of the innate forces and tendencies of the child. In this way alone can we hope for the free individual and eventually also for a free community which shall make interference and coercion of human growth impossible.”
Emma Goldman, 1906

Message from Tania de St Croix

The ‘State of Education’ collective are inviting all educators, students, youth workers and anyone else interested to a workshop in London on 29th October 2pm-4pm: ‘The state of education in Britain today – how should we respond in light of current neo-liberal reforms and racist policies (such as Prevent)?’ as part of the Anarchist Bookfair.

Everyone involved in, or interested in, any form of education is welcome to come along and it will be a great opportunity for those of us involved in youth work to discuss the important challenges we share with other educators, students, etc, and think about what we can do collectively. There will be some discussion in one group, followed by breakout groups – I am facilitating a group for youth, play and community workers (kind of loosely with my IDYW hat on), so I hope some folk are able to come along!  Feel free to share the information with any other relevant groups or networks you can think of. Thanks!

More information at State of Education. The venue is Park View School
West Green Road, London, N15 3QR