Be ambitious

Pg 10 Shettleston Fuse Youth.JPG

Shettleston Fuse Youth

Paul Johnston, Director General, Learning and Justice for Scottish Government, talks about the need for ambition in our work with young people.

Youth Work Changes Lives Expo

Youth Work Changes Lives Expo RBS Conference Centre 27 January 2016 Programme #YWExpo Picture: Alan Rennie

We know that youth work is changing lives, by supporting young people to make choices that will shape the rest of their life.

In many respects, we are already seeing great progress.

The OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) recently reviewed Scotland’s education system and said that there is a huge amount to celebrate:

  • We are seeing clear upward trends in terms of attainment and positive destinations.
  • Over 9 in 10 entered a positive follow-up destination in 2014.
  • Nearly 2/3 of school leavers continue in education.

They recognised youth work’s role in their review.

“Scottish young people work increasingly towards recognised awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Youth Achievement Award and the John Muir Award. There is thus recognition of young people’s personal achievements within and beyond school, including through partnerships which support learning.“

The OECD did make it clear that we have more to do. We are still not achieving the outcomes that we want to see for all young people, especially those from the poorest areas of Scotland.

Education Scotland inspections point to some communities where the collective work of schools, youth workers, the police and many other partners are allowing children and young people to fulfil their potential and really flourish.

2018 will be the Year of Young People, and now is the time to agree the action that will allow us to drive forward further significant improvement in the lives of children and young people by that time.

Coming back to Scottish Government as Safer Communities Director in 2013, I saw some incredible changes that had taken place during my absence. For some reason, these differences were not making the headlines. But I think they are truly remarkable.

  • Recorded crimes and offences by people ages 8 – 17 have reduced by 45%, from 78,572 in 08/09 to 43,117 in 12/13.
  • Children referred to the childrens’ reporter on offence grounds were 11,554 in 08/09. This dropped to 2,891 in 14/15, a reduction of around 75%.
  • Numbers of young people convicted of handling offensive weapons were 812 in 2006/07, which dropped to 165 in 2013/14, a reduction of around 80%.

What level can we get these figures down to by 2018 and what will it take? I know that the continued energy and engagement of youth workers will be crucial.

As we seek to make further progress, we must think carefully about how we are going to deliver improvement. How do we improve things? Improvement science tells us we need:

  • a clear aim;
  • a method; and
  • we need to measure it.

Those aims are there at a high level in the National Youth Work Strategy: think about it at local level, in the organisation or community that you work in. Get together with others to agree it. Be ambitious.

In my experience, it is crucial to test out different approaches, be willing to learn from others, and learn from success as well as from failure.

Finally, measure. If it works, share it, spread it. If it doesn’t, learn from it and move on.

I look forward to seeing more of the energy, inspiration and impact that youth work can bring, as we work together seeking to change the lives of young people across Scotland.

W: | Tw: @PaulJScotGov

Paul Johnston’s article is taken from the latest The Link, the youth work sector’s magazine, you can read the full magazine here:


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