what future for youth work? the english five year strategy for children and learners

In July 2004 the Department for Education and Skills published its strategy. Here we reproduce the key section dealing with youth services - and discuss some of the key issues arising.

contents: introduction · what the strategy says · analysis ·conclusion · further reading and bibliography · links · how to cite this article

cover: DfES (2005) Five Year Strategy for Children and LearnersFor those wanting some insight into the changing English government view of the future nature and shape of youth services, the Five Year Strategy document published on July 8, 2004 provides some interesting pointers. It is clear that some familiar and powerful forces are shaping the government's overall strategy. In particular three aspects need highlighting:

The 'principles' underlying the strategy are: greater personalization and choice; greater diversity of provision and providers; enhancing the quality of the leadership and the skills and commitment of the workforce; freedom and autonomy to the front line; effective partnerships. The usual 'New Labour' elements are present:

Successful partnerships are a key element in ensuring that services are joined up and are more than the sum of their parts. We want Children’s Trusts to be the engines for reform in children services locally, joining together health, education and social services provision. And there is an expectation that schools, colleges, and universities will have ever growing links with employers and with the wider economy and community. (Introduction, para. 39)

Taken together these five principles of reform will, we believe, achieve our aim of world class public services for children, young people and adults: a new generation of personalized services where equity and excellence go hand in hand, enabling people to achieve their potential, to be economically secure and to be fully contributing citizens, contributing both to strong communities and a productive and competitive economy. (Introduction, para. 40)

The sections on services for young people make interesting reading. One particular element that will be awaited with some interest is a Green paper on Youth (promised for Autumn 2004).

What the strategy says

The Strategy document highlights two key aspect of services to young people - what it describes as 'A new, integrated youth offer' (how the language of marketing has consumed policymaking!) - and around young people leaving care.


A new, integrated youth offer

25. Greater choice, including a wider array of places to study, will bring real benefits to young people. But we should not stop there. We want to offer more young people more things to do and places to go in their communities – chances to get involved, and simply places to be and enjoy themselves. We know that for some young people these extra opportunities are taken for granted; but for others – particularly those in deprived areas – there is a real lack of interesting, accessible and affordable things to do.

26. We also need to make sure that young people are equipped and supported to make the right choices, both to manage more complicated and self-directed patterns of learning and to seize the opportunities available outside formal learning. We want to drive up the standard of careers education and guidance, making it more tailored to the needs of the young person and relevant to today’s world of work. Both of these ought to give particular support to young people vulnerable to disengagement from education, training or employment, or at risk of substance abuse, teenage pregnancy or involvement in crime.

27. A new offer for young people should address risks like these but also promote personal development and active citizenship. It should draw on the experience and knowledge of Connexions and other existing programmes by bringing together:

  • Access to exciting and enjoyable activities in and out of school or college that enhance young people’s personal, social and educational development and reflect what they want to do – including sport, outdoor activities and residential opportunities.

  • Easy access to the personal advice and support they need to fulfil and raise their aspirations, including high quality and personalised careers education, advice and guidance. We also want to continue to improve direct access to advice via the internet, mobile phones and in community locations.

  • Better and earlier support for those demonstrating risk factors associated with poor school attendance and behaviour, poor attainment, youth crime, drugs and substance misuse and teenage pregnancy, and greater access to specialist services where needs go beyond school and college pastoral care.

  • Support for parents and families, in a way that recognises their crucial role in supporting young people and helping them play that role throughout the important teenage years. Part of this support will include extended services offered by schools.

  • Opportunities for volunteering and mentoring, building on our successful Millennium Volunteers programme and recognising that young people are ready and willing to support others when they are given the chance.

  • The chance for young people to have a say in developing local support and activities. Only by involving young people in local service delivery will we be able to provide an offer that meets their needs and aspirations.

28. We will use Children’s Trusts to bring together those who are currently working with young people across the statutory and voluntary sectors in developing this offer for teenagers. Too much support for young people is fragmented at present, with different schemes with worthwhile but overlapping aims, and too many separate funding streams. It is important that we build on the principles and success of the multi-disciplinary and collaborative working introduced by Connexions to put in place an even more powerful offer in every area.

29. This breadth of ambition requires careful thinking and consultation. We will work together across Government with the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Social Exclusion Unit and the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, and propose to publish a Green Paper on Youth this autumn to develop our thinking in partnership with all those who will be involved, and especially with young people and parents.

DfES (2004) Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners, London: Department for Education and Skills - Chapter 6


The Strategy argues that whilst there may have been improvements in recent years, resulting from the Children (Leaving Care) Act, so that young people are better equipped to deal with the transition, there is still room for development. The following actions are proposed. To:


One of the interesting features of the Strategy is the reappearance of a declared interest in offering 'more young people more things to do and places to go in their communities – chances to get involved, and simply places to be and enjoy themselves'. Just whether this translates into anything significant is quite another matter. The document remains riddled with a concern for skilling and accreditation - and it seems unlikely that the English Department of Education and Skills will want to unhook itself from the sorts of targets associated with Transforming Youth Work. However, there are some countervailing pressures - particularly those arising out of the evidence surrounding the simple membership of clubs and groups and the cultivation of social capital. A number of ministers (although not necessarily in the DfES!) are known to want to place an increasing emphasis upon this.

The emerging institutional shape of youth services is a little clearer. The government intends to organize services around Children's Trusts; focus a great deal of work with young people around the school; develop careers advice and guidance; scale down aspects of Connexions work and eliminate Connexions as a separate service. There is also a significant question mark around the future of local authority youth services. All of this also has great significance for the shape and nature of the occupational groups engaged in youth work.

Children's Trusts

It is clear from the strategy document and subsequent briefings made by ministers that there is a strong determination to press ahead with organizing services under the umbrella of Children's Trusts. Margaret Hodge, Minister of State for Children, is reported as arguing that barriers between services need breaking down and that 'There are too many silos' around the youth field. 'Think of how often young people are assessed', she continued, 'They get assessed by drug action teams, by youth offending teams, by Connexions. It's crazy' (Young People Now July 14, 2004: 2).  Three things are especially noteworthy at this point. First, the terminology currently remains focused around children - there has been no bowing to pressure to include 'youth' in the title. Children's Trusts are intended to cover from birth to 19. Second, the announcement of a Green Paper, given the government's 'breadth of ambition' to bring together services to young people, indicates further substantial institutional change. Last, the commitment to the extension of children's centres is important (described as 'one-stop-shops for parents and children, offering early education and childcare, family support, health services, employment advice and specialist support on a single site, with easy access for parents and easy referral between services so that the provision is seamless' Ch. 2, para 11). By 2008 the Strategy indicates that there will be children's centre reaching 'all children in the 20 percent most deprived wards in England'. The document continues, 'But we want to go further than this and aim for a Children’s Centre in every community' (Ch. 2, para. 13). A significant number of these will be existing nursery provision - but we can expect some pressure to convert the focus of youth centres.

An enhanced role for schools

Much is made in the strategy document of extended schooling (various defined) as a significant means of organizing support services to school-age young people. The adoption of the full-service schooling model in Scotland (the new community schools) as an alternative to Connexions - and the generally positive response by the schooling sector was a significant factor in the DfES interest in the model. A further factor has been cost - extended schooling could prove to be a more cost-effective mechanism than having a separate service such as Connexions. It also articulates more clearly with the emergence of Children's Trusts. As the Strategy states, 'As well as the one-stop-shop Children’s Centres, Extended Schools – both primary and secondary – will increasingly act as hubs for community services, including children’s services' (Chapter 2, para 14).

While much of the attention has been on extended schooling three further elements also need to be noted. First, the impact of the remodelling of the school labour force which has been in train for a time is bringing about a significant increase in the numbers of learning mentors and youth workers in schools who are directly answerable to the school (rather than some external youth agency) (see the discussion of workforce remodelling in the piece on extended schooling). Second, the increasing numbers of youth workers and learning mentors has been considerably enhanced by initiatives such as Excellence in Cities. Indeed,  already in those areas covered by Excellence in Cities the numbers of learning mentors funded by it appear to comfortably exceed the number of Connexions workers.  Last, the strategy has also indicated a desire on the part of the government to remove control over school budgets from local authorities (with local authorities being more concerned with 'strategy rather than delivery'). They will also be able to work to three year financial plans rather than annual plans. This increasing degree of discretion is significant both in terms of the management of informal education activity within the schools, but also in terms of the potential influence that Children's Trusts may have over the activities of schools. A countervailing factor here, however, is the fact that a growing proportion of school funding has come directly via specific central government initiatives and it is likely that these will have conditions attached to them that will bring schools back to the Children's Trust.

Strengthening careers provision

There has been a growing body of criticism concerning the performance of careers advice within the Connexions framework. Schools and colleges, in particular, have been voicing their doubts about the advisability of ending separately dedicated careers services. There also appears to have been some concern on the part of the Careers service companies not to become deeply embroiled within the Connexions framework. It seems likely that we will see the reappearance of a separate, dedicated careers service in some guise. This has already happened in at least one Connexions area (East Anglia) where dissatisfaction with the quality of careers provision, especially expressed by schools, has led to the removal of the careers element into a dedicated organization.

The end of Connexions and municipal youth services?

One of the noticeable features of the document is that there is only indirect mention of Connexions as a continuing institutional service. It might remain, one suspects, as one Minister has put it, as a 'brand' - but from the direction the report takes it is clear that the days of Connexions as a distinctive personal adviser service are becoming numbered. Indeed, there has been some briefing that the new Green Paper will propose the end of Connexions as a separate agency (see Children Now July 14, 2004, page 2). One alternative is that the Connexions brand becomes largely focused around careers advice, guidance and placement. Another possibility is that it becomes associated with 16-19 year work leaving the remainder of its work with Children's Trusts and, in particular, schools. A third possibility is that youth services are rebranded as Connexions and take on work that falls outside careers guidance and advice. However, this assumes that there will be separate youth services.

A number of principal youth officers such as Chester Morrison have raised the question as to whether there is continuing role for a separately constituted local authority youth service in Children's Trusts. The rise of children's centres and extended schooling (and other developments in schools) does seem to imply a potentially diminished role for a separate local authority youth service. If Ministers follow the logic of their strategy around schooling then it is likely that local authorities will have a more strategic role (linked to Children's Trusts) and could give over the remainder of their directly-provided youth work to schools, colleges, specialist companies and voluntary agencies. There could well be some power over the granting of funding - especially for social and leisure provision retained by local authorities (some of it linked to housing departments).

Occupational groupings

Another set of questions arise around the emerging shape of occupational groupings. One of the most significant developments linked to Children's Trusts is a new Sector Skills Council for children’s services. This council 'will lead in the development of a common core of skills, knowledge and competence for all who work with children, young people and families, and a complementary set of qualifications' (Ch. 2., para 41). This is an interesting choice of words - especially given that youth work has opted to go in with the proposed Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council. Of particular significance is the use of the term 'educare' in the Strategy document:

Particularly in the earliest years, children learn through play and exploration, and making an artificial distinction between education and childcare is unhelpful. Our aim is, wherever possible, to bring together nursery education and childcare into a single integrated offer for pre-school children – ‘educare’ (Ch.2, para. 15)

One of the things to watch in this area is whether what emerges as an occupational sector is something close to the German model of social pedagogy.  There has already been some discussion of the notion of social education in policy circles (see IPPR [2003] report: Passing Time). If this is the case then there will considerable overlap with elements of the youth worker role currently envisaged within the proposed Lifelong Learning Sector Skills Council.


The Green Paper (when and if it arrives) will presumably begin to answer key questions. Will Connexions continue as anything other than a brand? What relationship will local authority youth services (if they still exist) have to the new Children's Trusts? Will there be a proper appreciation of youth work as something freely entered, open and convivial? What shape will the emerging occupations take? What we can be sure of already is that the site of state-sponsored youth work will increasingly be associated with Children's Centres and schools. A range of initiatives has already contributed to an increase in the numbers of youth workers and informal educators within schools. In some local authorities we have seen how some youth and play provision has effectively been traded for children centres (sometimes via Sure Start funding) - and it may well be the case that more youth centres are turned over. However, there are some countervailing trends. There is some pressure within the housing sector, for example, both from social landlords and tenants groups for open, convivial, youth provision. Just how all this works itself out at a time of  slowdown in the expansion of government funding is difficult to predict.

Further reading and bibliography

DfES (2003) Every Child Matters, London: Department for Education and Skills.

DfES (2004) Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners, London: Department for Education and Skills.

Edwards, L and Hatch, B. (2003) Passing Time: a report about young people and communities, London: Institute of Public Policy Research.  Key findings are available in the informal education archives:; full report:


Download the strategy in pdf or Word:

How to cite this article: Smith, M K. (2004) 'What future for youth work? The English five year strategy for children and learners', the encyclopaedia of informal education,

© Mark K. Smith 2004