Are targets killing good youth work?

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By Robert Mckenzie:

On a regular basis I hear youth work practitioners say “all the targets stop us doing real youth work”. My position on this matter is rather controversial for someone who is from the youth work sector. I believe that since Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) / targets were introduced at the level they are today; the quality of youth work has risen drastically. It has enabled a national standardization of a local authority youth offer, by this I don’t mean all young people receive the same level, quantity or quality of youth work in each Local Authority (LA) but the way in which we measure our work has the same bench-marking framework.

When I see organizations working blindly without any reference points or a framework to apply to their practice, I wonder how they can see their offer from a strategic level. Working in this way, with qualitative results, I believe you can only deliver operational projects and not see or lead your work with strategic aims.

NYA national benchmarks for youth work. (KPIs used by most LAs)

  • Contact (a young person is introduced to the service)
  • Participant (a young person becomes attends regularly)
  • Recorded outcome (a young person develops as a result of youth work intervention)
  • Accredited outcome (a young person competed nationally recognized accredited learning)

These KPIs used by LAs are reflective of youth work practice, in my opinion they are broad enough to allow flexible and responsive working, but they also promote (if not ensure) quality practice and value for money. When I say KPIs are reflective of our practice, I mean it is a direct reflection of a relationship our services should have with a young person. I.e. contact, we meet a young person and hopefully introduce them to our provision. Following this the young person begins to attend regularly as a result of building a relationship with the staff and peers that is a participant. Our staff should begin working with them and putting support plans / individual learning plans or even delivering ‘grassroots youth work’, we should be able to identify at least one recorded outcome from this. There seems to be confusion around what a recorded outcome is, so let me use this platform to clarify.

A recorded outcome is noticeable development from a young person that is a direct result of a youth work intervention; the young person as well as the youth worker must recognize the development. This brings me onto accredited outcomes, we are informal educators, so we should be preparing young people for nationally recognized accredited learning. Also these should be meaningful accreditations, and our morals and values should not allow us to deliver anything less.

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