A review of ‘youth services’: government promises – and their limitations

A review of ‘youth services’: government promises – and their limitations

As the Introduction to this blog makes clear, posting on it depends ‘not just on when but also if significant relevant events, proposals, pronouncements etc occur.’ The nearly five-month gap since the last piece is therefore only partly explained – excused! – by the distraction of my trying to write or contribute to other articles. Over that period youth work’s presumed ‘preventative’ potential has attracted some attention – for example in supporting young people’s schooling, including in situations like that of 15-year-old ‘Child Q’ who was strip-searched by police while she was having a period[1]. However, the gap in posting has happened mainly because I hadn’t identified significant government or other moves focused on the blog’s primary concerns: open youth work and the facilities which provide it. 

Until, that is, in early February this year when the DCMS published Youth Review: Summary findings and government response[2].

The backstory

This starts in December 2020 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a review of what he called the Treasury’s ‘programmes to support youth services …[3]’ – later explained by the National Youth Agency (NYA) as to ‘set policy direction for the out-of-school agenda’[4]. Led by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the review was eventually launched in February 2021 using two digital questionnaires and ‘multiple workshops and focus groups’.

I have to admit that, given the long silence which had preceded it, the DCMS’s sudden release of the report did make me wonder whether it was just another of those rhetorical government ‘policy initiatives’ then being rushed out in an attempt to keep a lame-duck Prime Minister in his job. However, when I managed to push myself beyond my cynicism, I had to take into account that the Review had prompted responses from nearly 6000 young people, 170 ‘youth sector organisations’ and 32 ‘academics/researchers’ – and that, as well as (inevitably?) leaving behind some critical questions, it did offer some possibly hopeful gestures to open youth work.   

The positives

In the words of young people… 

Particularly significant here is the evidence it presents on what young people say they value about their involvement in youth work – opportunities, for example, to

  • ‘… meet people outside of school’; 
  • form new friendships, ‘engage with other young people from different backgrounds’ and ‘be around friends in a safe place and be themselves’; 
  • ‘speak to someone from outside the home and school environment’; 
  • ‘… volunteer and “give back” to their community’; and 
  • be ‘involved in decision-making’ – with ‘their voices heard, opinions respected’.

The Report also explicitly concludes that, as much as young people appreciated how ‘…the youth sector had adapted to keep supporting them during the pandemic’, this for them ‘did not replace the need for in-person opportunities’. 

Also revealing – and valuable – is the evidence young people provided on what they see as the ‘barriers’ to their involvement in open youth work facilities. As well as the ‘loss of youth provision… due to funding cuts’, these include the ‘quality of provision’ and the importance of having ‘trained and passionate youth workers or volunteers to create an inclusive and welcoming environment, where young people felt supported and respected’.

… of the academics…

Some telling inputs came, too, from the academics surveyed – and not just about the need for ‘positive evidence around the impact of youth services’. Expressing ‘a strong preference for resource funding’, they particularly pointed to the need for money for ‘universal services’ ‘to be accessible and long-term …’ They also proposed that ‘where capital funding was needed it should be small-scale, flexible and locally determined’ including for ‘pop-up or modular builds’. 

An On-side Youth Zone

For me, these responses prompted two, albeit tentative, questions. 

  • Is there here, perhaps, an implicit challenge here to those cash-strapped local authorities which have been committing millions of pounds of public money to help build and then run large-scale projects such as the On-Side Youth Zones? [5]
  • Could the small-scale, flexible and pop-up facilities they are suggesting be a way of overcoming another of the ‘barriers’ young people identified to their continuing participation in open youth work facilities – ‘outgrowing the existing provision’? 

… and of the DCMS 

In its ‘Introduction’ to the Report, the DCMS gives explicit recognition to youth work’s core aspirations to, for example, ‘provide young people with somewhere to go, something to do and someone to talk to …’ including ‘the opportunity to build a relationship with a trusted adult’. It notes, too, the ‘significant role’ this provision plays for an estimated 450,000 young people ‘… not yet (yet?) known to statutory services’[6]. 

Though often sounding rhetorical, some of the DCMS’s more specific proposals also offer some encouragement. A ‘Youth Sector Strategy’ is to be developed, for example, aimed at ‘… provid(ing) clarity on the government’s role in supporting youth services’. By 2025 every young person is to have access ‘to regular out of school activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer’, with the DCMS taking the lead ‘in enabling effective youth participation in decision-making at all levels’. It will also, it says, across the DCMS itself and more widely within government, seek ‘greater alignment … to maximise and coordinate funding opportunities for the youth sector’. 

Most grounded, however, is an allocation in 2022-23 of £790,000 for 547 bursaries to support workers doing Level 2 & 3 youth work training. Coming as the NYA is tentatively predicting some recovery in the number of qualifying courses[7], this extends the three-year bursary programme which it and the Network of Regional Youth Work Units started in November 2019 and which so far has supported the training of some 650 workers[8]. As ‘a starting point’ for re-building a ‘skilled and trained workforce’ decimated by the post-2010 budget cuts, NYA is now calling in the longer term for the recruitment and training of 10,000 qualified youth workers, 20,000 youth support workers and 40,000 volunteers[9].  

… and the doubts


Youth Investment Fund

The Youth Investment Fund (YIF) aims to create, expand and improve local youth facilities and their services, in order to drive positive outcomes for young people, including improved health and wellbeing, and skills for work/employability and life.

Probed further, however, the Report leaves behind a number of serious questions -particularly about the commitment to ‘invest £560 million over the next 3 years to deliver the new National Youth Guarantee’. Far from being new money, this is yet another (?a third) ‘launch’ of a Youth Investment Fund (YIF) first offered in September 2019. According to an MP’s report published nearly two years later, in July 2021, its allocation had been delayed by Covid, with by then ‘substantive funding’ predicted only ‘from 2022’[10]. Though the message isn’t entirely clear, a recent DCMS advert for an ‘intermediary grantmaker for … YIF Phase 2’ seems also to acknowledge that up to March 2022 only ‘£10 million of capital investment (was) being released for early disbursement’[11]. 

The YIF’s £560 million is anyway only just over half of the £1.1 billion cuts in local authorities’ spending on youth services in England since 2010-2011, resulting by 2020-2021in seven councils reporting nil annual expenditure on this provision and 16 less than £15 on each 5-17 year old[12]. Since 2010 these cuts have forced the closure of over 760 youth centres, the loss of 139,000 youth service places and the removal of at least 35,000 hours of ‘outreach work’[13] – an approach which since Covid hit has been increasingly needed and valued[14]. Set in this context, the report’s promise of £368 million over the next three years to ‘create and expand up to 300 new youth centres … (and) over 45,000 extra youth activities per year’ clearly falls well short of any genuine reinstatement of state-funded local Youth Services[15].

 Nor is all of the rest of the YIF’s money intended to fund only open youth work facilities for 13-19-year-olds. Over the next three years, more than 30 per cent of it (£171 million) is being set aside for an NCS programme which, though now quite radically rejigged, is still targeted only at 16 and 17 year olds[16]. By 2025 across England a total of £22 million is also to go to the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme so that it can operate in every state-funded secondary school; to create thousands of new ‘iwill’ youth volunteering opportunities; and (more on this later) to ‘eliminate current non-military Uniformed Groups’ waiting lists for teenagers up and down the country’.

Local authorities’ statutory duty 

Another of the DCMS’s own commitments in the Report – to carry out a review aimed at providing ‘greater clarity on the Statutory Duty for Local Authorities on youth services’ – also for me raises serious questions. Why for example in the paper is there no mention of or feedback on a review of this ‘duty’ announced way back in October 2019?[17] Why is the new review to be focused only on local authorities’ requirement to ‘support… the workforce’, when their other key duties include, for example, to ‘… take steps to ascertain the views of young people’ and to ‘offer young people opportunity in safe environments to take part in a wide range of sports, arts, music and other activities…’ And, perhaps most important in the long run, will this new review consider removing the clause in the current (2012) guidance – that local authorities need to provide Youth Services only ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’[18] – which across England has given them permission to cut if not completely wind up their open-access provision[19].

‘Levelling up’[20]

Secretary of State Nadine Dorries

Scattered through the Youth Review Report, too, are passing references to the government’s so-called ‘levelling up agenda’. In her Foreward, for example, Secretary of State Nadine Dorries commits the DCMS ‘to ensuring all young people are given opportunities, levelling up where they are under-served, socially excluded and economically disadvantaged”’. Both her Foreword and the Report itself include promises to ‘ensure that our spending and programmes meet the needs of young people as well as our ambitions on “levelling up”’; and that the ‘new Youth Guarantee (will be) backed up by £560 million funding with a firm focus on levelling up’. Two sub-sections of the Report are headed ‘Levelling up and expanding access to youth provision’, with one promising specifically that the 300 new and expanded youth centres will be for ‘… levelling up youth infrastructure in ‘left-behind’ places, so young people who are most in need have access to youth workers and positive activities’.

All this, however, needs to be placed in the context of the government’s actual ‘Levelling up’ policy, finally set out in a White Paper also published in early February[21]. The sixteen pages of the Executive Summary manage just two references to young people and ‘youth services’. One – reinforcing all those negative ‘they’re-up-to-no-good’ stereotypes – promises ‘… to make sure 16- and 17-year olds who commit crimes pay their community back with visible labour to improve the local environment’. The other, buried in a 135-word paragraph on page 14 of 16, repeats the Youth Guarantee commitments to ensure that by 2025 all young people will have access to ‘out of school activities’, to embed the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme in every secondary school and to eliminate uniformed organisations’ waiting lists. 

Combined Cadet Force – Mill Hill School

Particularly revealing, however, in a single paragraph in the White Paper Summary which somehow didn’t find its way into the DCMS’s own Report, is the detail it provides on this last commitment – that getting rid of the uniformed groups’ waiting lists is necessary in order to 

… give more students the transformative opportunity to join the cadets, providing more support to the state school sector to increase Combined Cadet Force participation. (Bold in the original). This will include linking funding of cadet units in private schools with a requirement to ensure support for the expansion of cadet forces in state schools and open access to nearby state school students[22].

So there, it seems, we have it: an indication of the government’s underlying understanding of ‘open access’ youth work and the need for military-type structures and methods to make it truly ‘transformative’.


  1. Fiona Simpson, 2022, ‘Violence reduction scheme see youth workers chaperone walk to school’, CYPN, 7 January; Fiona Simpson, 2022, ‘ School must link with youth services to boost pupil wellbeing’, CYPN, 9 February; Fiona Simpson, 2022, ‘Strip-searched by police’, CYPN, 21 March
  2. GOV.UK, 2022, ‘Summary findings and government response’, 1 February, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/youth-review-summary-findings-and-government-response/youth-review-summary-findings-and-government-response
  3. HM Treasury , 2020, ‘Spending Review 2020’, updated 15 December, Section 7.28 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/spending-review-2020-documents/spending-review-2020;
  4. NYA, 2021, ‘Treasury rapid review of government youth policies’, 11 February, https://www.nya.org.uk/treasury-rapid-review-of-government-youth-policies/
  5. See for example Fiona Simpson, 2021, ‘Barnsley gives go-ahead to Yorkshire’s first Onside Youth Zone’ CYPN, 18 August; Fiona Simpson, 2021, ‘Green light for South West’s first Youth Zone’ CYPN, 22 September
  6. NYA, 2021, Between The Lines’, p4, March, https://static.nya.org.uk/static/f3fcc0c77f1f2d3b579af6274648540b/Between-the-lines-final-version.pdf
  7. Joe Lepper, 2022, ‘Youth work training levels show signs of recovery after hitting record low’, CYPN, 16 March
  8. NYA, 2022, ‘Youth Work Bursary Places Available Now’, 9 March, https://nya.org.uk/youth-work-bursary-places-available-now/; Fiona Simpson, 2022, ‘NYA launches new round of training bursaries’ CYPN, 9 March 
  9.  NYA/CYPN, 2022, ‘Guide to Youth Work’, 8 March, https://www.cypnow.co.uk/features/article/guide-to-youth-work
  10.  All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs, 2021, Review of Youth Work in England: Interim report, July, http://www.youthappg.org.uk/review-of-youth-work-in-england-interim-report/
  11. DCMS, 2022, ‘Youth Investment Fund Phase 2: Intermediary grant maker specification requirements’, 23 February, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/youth-investment-fund-phase-2-intermediary-grant-maker-competition/youth-investment-fund-phase-2-intermediary-grant-maker-specification-of-requirements 
  12. YMCA, 2022, Devalued: A decade of cuts to youth services, February, p 10, https://www.ymca.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/ymca-devalued-2022-1.pdf
  13.  Unison, 2014, The Damage: UK youth services, Unison, August; Unison, 2016, The Damage: A Future at Risk – cuts to youth services,  August, Unison; Hannah Richardson (2016), ‘Youth services heading towards collapse, says union’, BBC News, 12 August, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37046967  
  14. See for example Graeme Tiffany, 2022, ‘COVID19 as a potentially valuable disruptive force in the conceptualisation of Street-based Youth Work’, Youth and Policy, 28 January, https://www.youthandpolicy.org/articles/covid19-as-a-potentially-valuable-disruptive/ 
  15. See ‘”Building back better” – to what?’, 25 September 2021, at https://youthworkslivinghistory.com/2021/09/25/building-bac
  16.  Fiona Simpson, 2021, ‘NCS sees funding reduction in Spending Review’, CYPN, 29 October
  17.   GOV.UK, 2019, ‘Review launched into statutory guidance for Local Authorities on providing youth services’, 10 July, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/review-launched-into-statutory-guidance-for-local-authorities-on-providing-youth-services
  18. Department for Education, 2012, ‘Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young People’s Well-being’, 1 June, Paras 2, 3, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/statutory-guidance-to-improve-young-peoples-well-being
  19.  Laura McCardle, 2014, ‘Dozens of councils ignore youth service legal duty’, CYPN, 8 July 
  20.  For a more detailed analysis of the implications of ‘levelling up’ for open youth work, see Bernard Davies and Jon Ord, 2022, ‘Young People, Youth Work and the “Levelling Up” Policy Agenda’, Local Economy, forthcoming
  21. HM Government, 2022 ‘Levelling up in the United Kingdom: Executive Summary’, February,  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1052046/Executive_Summary.pdf
  22. HM Government, 2022, p15

Bernard Davies

March 2022 

A ‘curriculum’ for youth work? Why now? Why at all?

A ‘curriculum’ for youth work?
Why now? Why at all?

A Training Agencies Group (TAG) email ‘bulletin’ last December carried the following item:

Request for information – Youth Work Curriculum for England
The National Youth Agency (NYA) is being supported by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) to develop a Youth Work Curriculum for England. This document will set out what youth work does directly for and with young people. The NYA wants to develop this with young people and practitioners to create a contemporary Curriculum that works for the modern contexts of youth work. 

Despite my best efforts to keep up with youth work developments, this was for me an out-of-the-blue announcement of an initiative which, coming as it does from our ‘national body for youth work’, could have considerable long-term impact. However, as I write in mid-February 2020, with no reference to it on the NYA website, the only other information I have is that, according to the TAG bulletin item, a consultant has been appointed ‘to support the Curriculum development process, which is in its beginning stages’ and that she is asking for ‘curriculum, material and views’.

One feature of the project which immediately grabbed my attention was that it is ‘being supported’ by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS). Any ‘curriculum’ which NYA proposes will surely, therefore, need ultimately to be acceptable to a government which, with a new five-year mandate, is committed as a high priority to a range of ‘populist’ youth policies including, according to a recent report by young people, ‘an increasingly punitive approach to knife crime’[1]. How likely is it therefore that what emerges and gets agreed will fit with an educationally-focussed youth work practice which is open to any young person who chooses to engage and open to developing opportunities for new learning and experience which start from their concerns and their interests? 

For the youth work sector this is of course far from a new question. Indeed in the past it has been both upfront and contentious. Might that history perhaps suggest some messages – even perhaps cautions – for NYA’s current initiative?

Curriculum in youth work: history revisited

Early signals

I’ve argued previously [2] that much of the practice known from its earliest days as ‘youth leadership’ had embedded within it implicit ‘curriculum’ frameworks in the form of the worker-designed programme content intended to achieve worker-defined outcomes. In the 1960s the relevance and effectiveness of these ‘model-centred’ approaches were challenged in quite fundamental ways, most influentially by the Albemarle report. This for example went so far as to assert that, as ‘young people can today … turn away from many of the good enterprises specially designed for them’, they ‘… must have the liberty to question cherished ideas, attitudes and standards, and if necessary reject them’[3]. As a result for many youth work came often to be described and indeed explained in much less prescriptive terms – as for example ‘young people-led’ or ‘process-led’.

Perhaps in reaction to these trends, from the mid-1970s and into the 1980s the term curriculum began to be used explicitly in a youth work context. Offered ‘as a credible way of grappling with the question: “What are we doing in the youth club”?’, it for example appeared in the title of a 1975 booklet written by John Ewen, then the Director of the National Youth Bureau (NYB)[4]. In 1982 the Thompson Report made passing references to the Youth Service’s ‘experiential curriculum’ implemented through ‘learning by doing’[5], while a year later NYB ‘updated’ Ewen’s booklet, now sub-titled ‘A practical guide for use in youth group staff meetings’. Significantly, it did this in part for reasons which later advocates of ‘curriculum’ also offered – that:

… there seems to be a deal of woolly-mindedness around when some youth workers are asked to be more precise about the methodology and curriculum of their social educational role[6].   

In 1985 a paper was also circulating written by a tutor on a youth and community work qualifying course entitled ‘Towards a New Curriculum: A discussion paper of ideas’[7].

Though little commented on subsequently, in 1989 the Further Education Unit (FEU) reported on a research project which had had both NYB and HMI representation on its steering committee. Its main objective as outlined by FEU’s Development Officer had been 

to identify and describe the curriculum (already) being used by youth workers in four chosen authorities, and to investigate the issues arising … with regard to organisation, staff training and co-operation with other agencies.

Ahead of the debates which were to emerge later that year, he noted, too, that ‘following the 1988 Education Reform Act’ which had introduced a national curriculum into state schools:

… it is essential that the Youth Service is able to defend successfully its existing role and mark out clearly its contribution to work with young people within the education service and with other agencies[8].            

Ministerial conferences

By then, for the ‘Thatcherite’ (in today’s terms, ‘neo-liberal’) governments of the period, the methods and approaches which had taken hold since the 1960s were increasingly unacceptable – dismissed across a range of policy areas and services as too ‘permissive’ and so as poor value for the public money invested in them. Indeed, during the 1970s Labour governments had already initiated arms-length efforts to counter these perceived weaknesses, most notably through the Manpower Services Commission. These had included trying to refocus youth work away from the ‘social education’ approaches developed post-Albemarle and onto training in ‘social and life skills’ required for getting and keeping a job[9]. 

In contradiction of their oft-stated determination to reduce the role and impacts of the central state, the Thatcher governments continued to pressure key youth services to meet its top-down expectations and indeed requirements. On the back particularly of that unprecedented intrusion into ‘the secret garden’ of the school curriculum mentioned earlier, between 1989 and 1992, via three ‘ministerial conferences’, a succession of ‘youth’ ministers tried to persuade youth work organisations – voluntary as well as statutory – to reach a ‘consensus’ on a national or ‘core’ curriculum which would also provide ‘common learning outcomes and performance indicators’[10].

In the run-up to the first of the conferences, Alan Howarth, the minister then in post spelt out the government’s bottom lines in blunt terms. Starting from the view that ‘there is a lack of cohesion’ in the Youth Service[11], he proposed that its approach be defined in ‘commercial terms’ – by ‘finding a gap in the market, identifying the service needed, assessing consumer demand or need, finding backers and providing evidence of effective delivery’. He then went on: 

I cannot repeat too strongly what I have said about the importance of this (first) conference achieving some consensus. Publicised agreement by the youth service about its curriculum … will help funders, including the DES, to allocate resources as effectively as possible.

In a comment which resonates strongly today, he also noted that, as other services had by then adopted youth work approaches, it was particularly through its ‘detached and outreach work, and work with the seriously at risk, (that) the youth service can be a first point of contact for young people in distress’[12].   

To operationalise the conferences’ aims, NYB and its successor organisation the National Youth Agency (NYA – launched in 1991) sought to play proactive and influential roles. Its then Director was clear, for example, that a curriculum was needed to ‘put the service further up the educational agenda’ and ‘demonstrate the need for proper resourcing’[13]. To help achieve this, a NYB ‘curriculum development team’ was formed briefed to develop ‘a framework for the new curriculum by producing resources on specific issues, issuing guidelines on good practice, and running pilot studies on new approaches'[14]. Revealing, too, was the title of an article by a member of this team – ‘Accountability is the Watchword’ – which appeared in NYB’s house journal Young People Now a month before the first conference in December 1989[15]. 

For some of the 200- 250 participants and observers (including many ‘senior officers’), the conferences were accepted as a belated response by government to their demand for a lead from the centre[16]. Even before and then during the first conference, however, it was reported that some in the sector ‘reel(ed) with concern at the very notion (of a youth work curriculum)’; ‘took issue with the concept’; and expressed a need for ‘“ownership” from the field of any “core curriculum” which should emerge’[18]. At a second conference a year later, as well as ‘… a clear rejection of any centrally-imposed curriculum’[19], ‘uncertainty or anxiety’ was expressed, too, about ‘targeting’ and ‘how outcomes are measured’[20]; while at the third in June 1992 ‘much time was spent revising statements which the (organising) committee had hoped would be uncontroversial’[21]. 

Throughout the conference process, the youth work field often also found itself having to contend with a government assumption that, rather than having value in its own right, youth work’s main role was to support and complement other ‘youth’ practices – particularly teaching and social work . One of the background papers for the first conference for example was explicit that:

To assert a legitimate right to ‘do what others aren’t doing – but differently’ … may still leave the youth service facing the sharp, but dominant question – will this be enough to justify continuing to fund a separate youth service?[22]  

What eventually emerged from the conferences was not a curriculum as such, nor as was also proposed at one stage a ‘Mission Statement’, but a Statement of Purpose reaffirming youth work as an educational practice[23]. To this Howarth’s response was said, at best, to be ‘mixed’. He especially had reservations about some of its ‘politically charged’ language which, he suggested, risked stereotyping and demeaning young people by seeing them as victims of oppression[24]. By early 1992 Tony Jeffs was suggesting anyway that ‘We have now moved away from curriculum to performance indicators and outcome measures’[25], while a year later Howarth’s successor Tim Boswell was concluding that ‘the national debate’ … had yielded … no national core curriculum’[26]. 

In the longer run, however, as the use of ‘curriculum’ within youth work became normalised, the conference sponsors’ goal seemed largely to have been achieved. As early as 1990, for example, HMI were advocating that on professional youth and community work courses ‘curriculum development’ should be given as much attention as the development of skills in counselling and group work[27]. And by 1998 the annual Youth Service Audit was recording that 77 per cent of local Youth Services had a written curriculum statement – something which by then anyway the New Labour had made a requirement of all local authorities[28].  

A journal debate – and beyond

A decade later a more nuanced but still often divisive debate again developed. This was initiated by an NYA pamphlet, Towards a Contemporary Curriculum for Youth Work, written by Bryan Merton and Tom Wylie – both former senior Youth Service HMIs, the latter at the time Chief Executive of NYA[29]. A critical response from Jon Ord in the Spring 2004 issue of Youth and Policy[30] – precursor to his later books covering the same themes[31] – prompted a series of follow-up articles which, as well as again focusing on whether a ‘curriculum’ was needed or even appropriate for youth work, also explored what the concept could and should mean in a youth work context[32]. In particular they considered whether its priority concern should be the ‘content’ of the work, its ‘product’ (that is, in current national policy language, its outcomes) – and/or, what was core for Ord, its (young person-centred and -driven) ‘process’. 

Here too, policy developments at the time intruded into the debate in significant ways. Four months after the Merton and Wylie pamphlet appeared, the Labour government released Transforming Youth Work: Resourcing Excellent Youth Services which required all local authorities to agree ‘a clear curriculum statement’ specifying ‘content’, ‘pedagogy’ and ‘assessment’. The paper also made clear that the statement needed to be underpinned by ‘Annual Youth Service Unique Targets’ and by a ‘Youth Service Specific Performance Measure’. Through these local authority Youth Services were set percentage targets for young people contacted, for those involved at least 4 times a year and for those worked with intensively. Resourcing Excellent Youth Services also laid down that to help achieve these targets its curriculum framework must amongst other features specify in advance:

  • what learning needs and content should normally be covered within a year’s programme;
  • the pedagogy and structured experiences which may be used; and
  • the arrangements for monitoring and assessment of the learning gained by individuals (and any accreditation thereof)[33].

By the time Labour lost power in 2010 practitioners were describing these requirements as for them posing a choice between ‘young people-led versus target-led’; as ‘… top to bottom not the other way round’; and as ‘ not about tailor-making responses to need’. As more and more resources were allocated to targeted work, workers as well as some managers were talking, too, of a ‘diversion from the role’ as they experienced practice being increasingly funding- rather than needs-led[34]. 

A youth work curriculum: contradictions, dilemmas – and risks

Given the diverse and often contradictory ways (as ‘content’ and/or ‘outcome’ and/or ‘process’) in which ‘curriculum’ is still understood; given how easily these understandings can, almost unnoticed, slide into one another; and given particularly how state policy-makers have used the term to justify and even impose their requirements for targeting and for ‘measured’ impacts – for all these reasons the question that looms for me is: why, at this not very promising political moment, is NYA again exposing youth work to another ‘curriculum’ initiative?

The interactive processes – young person with young person, young person with worker – which are central to defining the distinctiveness of an ‘open’ youth work practice certainly need to be articulated as clearly as possible. Indeed, this is something which I and others have tried to do in the past[35]. However, trapping those clarifications within a ‘curriculum’ framework – especially one that will need to be acceptable to the present government – carries the considerable risk of again diverting practitioners, managers and especially policy-makers from what young people have judged to be most helpful in their encounters with youth workers. 

Bernard Davies


  1. Fiona Simpson, 2020, ‘Prioritise youth services to tackle knife crime, government told’, CYPN, 14 February 
  2. Bernard Davies, 2004, ‘Curriculum in Youth Work: An old debate in new clothes’, Youth and Policy No 85, Autumn, pp88-9 
  3. Ministry of Education, 1960, The Youth Service in England and Wales, HMSO: Para 41, 142
  4. John Ewen, 1975, Curriculum Development in the Youth Club, NYB
  5. Department of Education and Science, 1982, Experience and Particiipation: Report on the Review Groupon the Youth Service in England, HMSO, Para 5.5 (1) ;pp 34 and 122.
  6. Youth Work Unit, 1983, Curriculum Development in the Youth Club: A practical guide for use in youth group/staff meetings, NYB, p 1
  7. Ian Morrison, ‘Towards a New Curriculum: A discussion paper of ideas’, unpublished, April 1985
  8. Eileen Newman and Gina Ingram, 1989, The Youth Work Curriculum, Foreword by Stuart McCoy, Further Education Unit, pvii
  9. Bernard Davies, 1979. In Whose Interests? From Social Education to Social and Life Skills, NYB
  10. Janet Paraskeva, 1993, ‘National Youth Agency presentation’, Rapport, February, p 15
  11. Jackie Scott, 1990, ‘Strength through diversity’, Young People Now, No 15, July, p 36
  12. Alan Howarth, 1989, Towards a Core Curriculum for the Youth Service: Report of the First Ministerial Conference, ‘Keynote Address’, NYB, Paras 7, 13, 26, 37
  13. Janet Paraskeva, 1990, ‘Money is at the core of the youth service debate’, Letter, Times Educational Supplement, 26 October
  14. Tim Burke, 1991, ‘NYA – a New Breed of Agency’, Young People Now, No 24, April, p 34
  15. Chris Heaume, 1989, ‘Accountability is the watchword’, Young People Now, No 8, November, p 11
  16. Chris Heaume, 1989, p 11
  17. Chris Heaume, 1989, p 11
  18. Alan Howarth, 1989, Letter to Chief Education Officers, March; NYB, 1989, Towards a Core Curriculum for the Youth Service: Report of the First Ministerial Conference, pp 17, 18
  19. Tim Burke, 1990, ;Conference focuses on core curriculum’, Young People Now, No 20, December, p 35
  20. NYB, 1990, Towards a Core Curriculum – the Next Steps: Comments and Recommendations of the Ministerial Conferences Steering Group, Para 22, 32
  21. Tim Burke, 1991, ‘Curriculum creeps nearer after conference’, Young People Now, No 21, January, p 35 
  22. NYB, 1989, Towards a Core Curriculum for the Youth Service? Background papers for the first Ministerial Conference December 1989, NYB, Para 5.37, p 28,
  23. NYA, 1991, ‘Statement of Purpose’, Towards the Third Ministerial Conference, NYA, p 3
  24. Tim Burke, 1991, ‘“Service should embrace idealism”’, Young People Now, No 23,  March, pp 33-4
  25. Tony Jeffs, 1992, Concept Seminar: Youth Work in the 1990s, Moray House Institute of Education, p 13
  26. Janet Paraskeva, 1993, ‘National Youth Agency presentation’, Rapport, February, p 15
  27. HMI, 1990, ‘Initial Training for Professional Youth and Community Work: a report by HMI’, DES, Para 5
  28. NYA/DFEE, 1998, England’s Youth Service – the 1998 Audit, Youth Work Press, pp1 Para 4; p 25
  29. Bryan Merton and Tom Wylie, 2002, Towards a Contemporary Curriculum for Youth Work, NYA; See also ‘Towards a Contemporary Curriculum for Youth Work’, Young People Now, No 162, October, pp 18-19; No 163, November, pp 19-20
  30. Jon Ord, 2004, ‘The Youth Work Curriculum: and the ‘Transforming Youth Work Agenda, Youth and Policy, Spring, pp 43-59 
  31. Jon Ord, 2016, Youth Work Process ,Product and Practice: Creating an authentic curriculum in work with young people, (Second edition), Routledge
  32. Youth and Policy, 84 (Summer 2004); Youth and Policy, 85, (Autumn 2004)
  33. Department of Education and Skills, 2002, Transforming Youth Work: Resourcing Excellent Youth Services, DES Publications, pp 16-17, available at http://www.mywf.org.uk/uploads/policy/REYSDec2002.pdf
  34. Bernard Davies and Bryan Merton, 2009, ‘Squaring the Circle: The State of Youth Work in Some Children and Young People’s Services’, Youth and Policy, No 103, Summer, pp 5-24 
  35. In Defence of Youth Work, 2009, ‘The Open Letter’, available at https://indefenceofyouthwork.com/the-in-defence-of-youth-work-letter-2/; Bernard Davies 2015, ‘Youth Work: A Manifesto For Our Times – Revisited’, Youth and Policy, No 114, May, pp 96-117, Jon Ord, 2016, Chapters 5 and 6