Monday, 30 July 2007

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Youth centres: are we allowed to ask questions? The government's youth centres strategy, flagged up by the Guardian a couple weeks ago, has been announced. Some questions crossed my mind. 1. Will this scheme be inheriting from ippr its unfortunate over-emphasis on structure? ('Youth clubs should be vetted to ensure they offer structure and activity within secure environments... An element of compulsion should be introduced to young people’s participation in structured, positive extra-curricular activities... The proposed activities should be vetted to ensure the activities on offer will benefit the participants'). (I haven't made this up. Suggestions that ippr are advising Putin on his youth camps have not been confirmed). And how, we should ask, do their recommendations sit alongside the decline in the amount of structured sporting activity provided at most schools? I offered some thoughts on this previously, shaped partly by thoughts from publisher Geoffrey Mann, and I think it's pertinent to repeat the point that unstructured time with young people is absolutely crucial: as a precursor to structured activity such as sport, drama, or volunteering; as a precursor to the provision of advice, information and counselling; and as something very important in its own right, largely because of the value young people attach to the relationships that they build up with trusted non-judgmental adults who let them be themselves and who listen. 2. The strategy uses 'money sourced from unclaimed assets that lie in dormant bank accounts.' No problem with that, except to ask, is that what we've been waiting for all this time? The taxpayer can pay for a war in Iraq and a nuclear submarine, oh and there's the Olympic debt to look forward to. But wait, look, here's some loose change down the back of the Treasury settee, let's treat the kids. 3. Could officials please move away from the wretched Blair tradition of using the words 'national,' 'institute/academy' and 'leadership' in close proximity, if at all, when devising strategies? I'm prepared to be persuaded by some as-yet-unheard argument that we really really need a 'National Institute of Youth Leadership,' but it's hard to see where that will come from; meanwhile I reserve the right to be intensely sceptical ('realistic') about the combination of wasting money on new jobs for established professionals, and a continuing, apparently endless obsession with forming elites. Apart from that I welcome the strategy, let's get on with it.

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