Services for young people

Memorandum submitted by Ofsted

The relationship between universal and targeted services for young people

1. Local authorities found it difficult to strike a balance between targeting support on specific groups and individuals on the one hand and providing positive activities for the full range of young people on the other.

2. The priority given to targeted support for a minority of young people seen to be at risk had often undermined the contribution which universal youth services made to the development of young people more generally. Too often, managers expected youth work to focus solely on problems such as anti-social behaviour rather than on helping young people to develop a wide range of personal skills and relationships.

3. Insufficient consideration was given to the relative value of universal local authority youth service provision in supporting the needs of vulnerable young people. There was a tendency to characterise targeting and universal youth activities as separate, if related, endeavours.

4. Inspectors noted good examples where ‘universal’ neighbourhood youth centres were providing a broad offer that included sport, music, opportunities to develop personal, vocational and social skills, and a place to meet friends. Work of this sort had a direct impact on the learning and enjoyment of the young people who attended, regardless of circumstance. Further to this, case studies exemplified how targeted groups, such as young travellers, were effectively integrated into a local universal youth project which, in turn, aided an appreciation of diversity and tolerance within the community.

5. In local authorities which perform excellently, children are generally well supported at each stage of their development in terms of their health, being kept safe from harm and having the opportunity to take part in a wide range of activities that will be of benefit to themselves and the rest of the community.

6. Young people, parents and some practitioners told inspectors that use of titles for targeted youth projects such as ‘self-esteem course’, ‘NEET drop-in’ or ‘inclusion project’ had negative connotations and acted as a disincentive to participation.

How services for young people can meet the Government's priorities for volunteering, including the role of the National Citizen Service

7. Most youth services support young people in their late teens and early twenties to take on voluntary leadership tasks, acting as role models or mentors. When properly resourced and managed, these volunteering schemes were of great value to the mentors and their younger peers.

8. The community-based nature of much youth work offered considerable opportunities for young people to develop an understanding of social and political affairs by taking part in voluntary work or community action projects. The most engaging volunteering invariably reflected young people’s interests and concerns.

9. Much evidence exists where young people are supported to be volunteers in, for example, young citizen’s forums and in running projects to promote understanding of a particular issue such as healthy lifestyles. Less visibly, the best youth work settings enable young people to gradually take on responsibilities and act as volunteers within their own project. Such approaches are often the most effective in terms of young people’s personal development.

10. Existing youth work settings, where young people are involved for a considerable period, provide a potential means of strengthening the national citizen scheme initiative.

Which young people access services, what they want from those services and their role in shaping provision

11. Ofsted has witnessed a steady shift within local authority youth services towards working with vulnerable young people. These services have however often sought to retain a universal or ‘open access’ element through neighbourhood youth centres which can provide a setting where work aimed at vulnerable groups can take place. Case study evidence identifies effective work with young people with learning difficulties, young carers, those at risk of offending and young refugees. Such case studies also re-enforce the fact that the most effective support provided for vulnerable young people accounts for the fact that they generally face multiple challenges.

12. Inspectors found too few examples where the targeted support arrangements for young people beyond 16 were as well developed as for those for young people below that age.

13. Although still evolving, in 2009/10, targeted support was, in most instances, creating more options for vulnerable young people. The most effective individual support enabled young people to meet friends, strike up relationships, learn social skills and have fun. Where appropriate, they could be referred to more specialist support.

14. There was growing recognition by local government of the value of involving young people in developing services and decision-making. In part, this was as a result of the more general priority given to it by senior officers and policy-makers, but it also reflected some very good practice by youth workers. In 2009, eight of the eleven areas visited by inspectors had mature structures, including youth forums and councils. These gave young people from a range of backgrounds regular access to elected council members and officers, and the opportunity to campaign on their own issues and to act as advocates for their peers. The most effective local authorities had embedded youth consultation in regular local practice and processes as opposed to sporadic one-off events.

15. Young people involved in projects of this nature often gained a useful insight into the workings of local authorities. Their organisational and political skills were sharpened, as was their understanding of others, often those with different backgrounds from their own. They also influenced decision-making.

16. The impetus created by youth participation has had beneficial effects within other council departments and services. Examples were seen where young people had influenced the development of services, and where architects and planners looked to youth forums for their opinions on, for instance, play spaces. Council officers were very receptive to young people’s views and noted that consultation of this nature supported their own work well.

The relative roles of the voluntary, community, statutory and private sectors in providing services for young people

17. Ofsted has no evidence to suggest that one type of provision, whether it be private, voluntary, community or local authority youth provision-based, is of a better quality or demonstrably more efficient than others. There is some evidence however that a flexible, eclectic mix of providers leads to a greater variety of local provision.

18. In its overview report spanning 2005-08, Ofsted noted that, despite the previous Government’s commitment to extending the commissioning role of local authorities, too few of the authorities inspected were making best use of the opportunities to extend provision through the community and voluntary sectors.

19. Some progress has been made since that period. In 2009, the most responsive local authorities had ensured that the voluntary and community sectors were involved in planning and providing services to young people. The better local authorities were adopting an enabling approach and were introducing measures to build the capacity of the voluntary and community sector. They were looking to establish consortia that, without undue bureaucracy, could direct funding to small local organisations, often those well placed to provide work in particular local neighbourhoods. In their move towards outsourcing, these local authorities had been alert to the need to maintain support for existing good quality youth provision.

20. Commissioning within the youth sector has traditionally been limited and compared with other sectors, the ‘services to young people’ market is not well developed. Even long-established voluntary youth sector organisations had too little experience in long-term planning or in negotiating and managing large contracts. Few had the infrastructure or working capital to ensure on-going employment commitments.

21. Limited understanding among staff in the statutory and voluntary sectors about the nature and potential of each other’s work hindered progress.

The training and workforce development needs of the sector

22. One of youth work’s most enduring features is the eclectic nature of the workforce. It includes adult volunteers keen to provide help for young people, sessional youth support workers and a range of part-time and full-time professionally qualified staff.

23. There was a clear link between a local authority’s attitude and approach to continuing professional development and the extent to which staff were motivated, committed and ready to embrace change.

24. There were challenges in supporting the needs of such a broad workforce. Where workforce development was most effective it was an integral part of the day-to-day work of the service; in the worst, it consisted of no more than a series of unrelated training events. The most effective approaches focused on supporting a worker’s role, be that leading an area team, running a one evening per week youth club or managing partnership arrangements.

25. The best local authorities had delineated the roles and responsibilities of the workforce well; their expectations were commensurate with the youth workers’ or volunteers’ skills and training. In the case of professionally qualified staff, the best acted as ‘advanced practitioners’, trained and supported volunteer and part-time youth workers and worked competently with their communities.

26. In its overview report spanning 2005-08, Ofsted found that too many part-time youth support workers were not well enough equipped for their roles and had insufficient access to training.

27. The impact of the national training programmes for front-line workers and managers to support the integration of the various youth support services is not yet clear. From the limited evidence available to inspectors such training was helping services work together and integrate more effectively. There was certainly significantly better involvement in these training opportunities by the voluntary and community sectors than Ofsted had witnessed in the past.

28. Youth support workers often welcomed integration but managers allowed some to drift towards working in areas outside their professional training, knowledge and experience.

29. Current workforce development needs include:

n equipping volunteers and part-time staff better to deal with managing behaviour, organising effective youth work sessions and planning projects

n improving knowledge and skills in producing common assessments on young people

n affording professionally trained staff opportunities to learn more about the work of allied youth support organisations.

The impact of public sector spending cuts on funding and commissioning of services, including how available resources can best be maximised, and whether payment by results is desirable and achievable

30. In 2009, it was evident that the youth sector’s capacity to respond to the volume and rate of new guidance and policies emerging from the previous Government was limited. New initiatives were not being sufficiently consolidated.

31. Even in the better performing areas visited by inspectors, progress in commissioning provision from the private, voluntary and public sectors had been slow. This slow progress often reflected concerns about the future level and stability of funding, creating a reluctance to enter into contracts with external agencies. Typically, managers exercised caution during a period of structural re-organisation in local councils’ children’s services.

32. Local authorities, elected members and communities held unrealistic expectations of what youth services could achieve with the resources available to them.

33. The recent move towards integration of youth support services was enabling resources to be increasingly shared or pooled and vulnerable young people were beginning to gain more timely access to services.

34. ‘Engaging Young People’, covering the period 2005-2008, noted a continuing history of under-investment in accommodation for youth work. Poor quality buildings, coupled with limited resources, were proving unattractive to young people. The fact that many buildings were only used for short periods each week also raised questions about efficiency. Too many buildings did not allow easy access for those with mobility difficulties.

35. The more responsive local authorities had, however, taken steps to refurbish their existing accommodation stock or, in conjunction with partners, to provide new facilities which were often shared by several services. Examples included youth club buildings that had been rejuvenated, which were well staffed and provided young people with access to music, digital technology and other attractive resources. Improvements of this nature had a positive impact on young people. Spare capacity was let to other youth organisations.

36. More recently, shared capital and partnership building programmes were found to be on the increase, with many local permutations involving churches, colleges, extended schools, children’s centres, community associations, health authorities and Connexions. Such programmes often extended to mobile youth provision covering rural areas or housing estates. Joint arrangements were at their best when partners had a shared ethos about their work with young people.

37. Limited evidence exists in relation to ‘payment by results’. However, there was evidence of too much emphasis being placed on data alone as a measure of success, such as the numbers of people involved in an activity. The quality of what young people experienced was not sufficiently taken into account. A case in point was where commissioners only set referral targets for a youth information advice agency as a measure of success. This resulted in other agencies being exhorted to refer young people whose needs they could have met in other ways.

How local government structures and statutory frameworks impact on service provision

38. Local council structures, single or two tier, had little bearing on the effectiveness of youth provision. There is strong evidence, however, that good strategic leaders ensured a distinct role for youth services in the context of social care, schools and 14 ̶ 19 developments in education and training. In the best local authorities, senior managers were well informed about the contribution of youth work to local priorities and communicated these well.

39. Recent statute and supporting guidance (Section 507b of the Education Act 1996, which was inserted by Section 6 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006), requires that a local education authority in England must: ‘so far as reasonably practicable, secure for qualifying young persons in the authority’s area access to sufficient educational leisure time activities which are for the improvement of their well-being, and sufficient facilities for such activities’. [1] This has done little to tackle the great disparity in funding and support for youth work by local authorities.

How the value and effectiveness of services should be assessed

40. The most effective youth work viewed by inspectors helped young people develop essential personal and social skills and an understanding of their strengths and potential. It contributed to their understanding of their rights and responsibilities and how they can influence the decisions that affect their lives. Assessing its impact can be problematic.

41. The expectation of the previous Government was to provide evidence of measurable outcomes, related to specific targets. [1] Youth workers, on the other hand, often placed more weight on the less tangible personal benefits that young people can gain from involvement in such activities. The two approaches were not necessarily incompatible. For example, involvement in a youth work project can provide young people with an increased sense of community which may contribute to a reduction in the number of recorded anti-social incidents in an area.

42. In 2004, national youth work policy initiatives introduced a set of national indicators designed to allow services to review progress. Inspectors found that local authorities and funding agencies depended too much on quantitative data alone to determine the effectiveness of services. The imperative was to meet or exceed national benchmarks.

43. Targets had merit where they promoted benchmarking against similar local authorities, informed value for money considerations and planning, and helped managers identify trends and patterns in provision.

44. Too much performance management rooted in performance indicators gave insufficient weight to the quality of young people’s experiences and to what they gained from youth work.

45. The better local authorities took an informed approach based on several common features, including peer observation; consideration of the views of young people; sampling of work; thematic investigations; intelligent interpretation of data; and effective use of technology to report the findings. In effect, they considered a good range of qualitative as well as quantitative evidence.

46. More broadly, many Children’s Trusts used case studies and national indicators to measure impact. These had wide-ranging credibility, although officers in the Children’s Trusts visited were sometimes wary about drawing firm causal relationships between effectiveness and outcomes as measured by national indicators or, indeed, a single case study. Children’s Trusts were working on ways to measure their effectiveness. For example, one was developing an approach to measuring longer-term outcomes based on ‘the social return of investment’. This was based on calculating savings from potential future costs, such as a custodial sentence, as a consequence of non-intervention in the case of young people at risk of offending. Case studies were often powerful in demonstrating life-changing impacts on young people and parents.

December 2010

Further information


Engaging young people: local authority youth work 2005–08, 080141, March 2009, Ofsted;

Improving outcomes for children and young people through partnership in Children’s Trusts, 090234, November 2010, Ofsted;

Outstanding Local Authority Children’s Services 2009, 100040, August 2010, Ofsted;

Supporting young people – an evaluation of recent reforms in youth support services in 11 local authority areas (090226), Ofsted, 2009;

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2008/09, November 2009, Ofsted;

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2009/10, November 2010, Ofsted;

Section 507b of the Education Act 1996;

[1] Section 507b of the Education Act 1996 ; http://www. d .

[1] Engaging young people: local authority youth work 2005–08 (080141), Ofsted, 2009; .