Just imagine a highly intelligent creature landing on Scotland from a distant planet (not England!) with a name like Curious. Let's say it has come to examine the prospect of young people being able to cope with the complex challenges of our pre-independence society. Doubtless Curious would be impressed by most of our educational institutions – some of the finest in the world. However tuition is just one part of a young person's life. It's unavoidably structured with pressure to maintain routines that can at times be alien and therefore devoid of any sense of natural ownership.
Curious would observe that in urban settings young people are subjected to dense and intense conditions whereas in rural areas remoteness makes physical communication with friends dependent on inadequate public transport. This in turn can put dependency on good family relations and enjoyment of educational establishments reaching levels which, for some young people, are impossible to attain. So - is there a practical solution?
Surely the answer lies in what is no surprise – namely the proper provision of safe and secure Youth Clubs. They are so often that distinct space lying between home and school. For thousands of young people, the club is the hub of which they take ownership.
Then why, asks Curious, are Youth Clubs so low on the list of Government funding priorities? That is indeed the big question. Of course everyone realises there are Westminster-manufactured austerity cuts to contend with nowadays but remember: Curious is an intelligent beast! It sees that the crisis could be tackled from another angle. Its brain has calculated that many £millions is being spent on schools and universities and there are plans for even more to go in that direction. It submits therefore that a fair portion of that money should be set aside for the core funding of Youth Clubs – i.e. sufficient to pay a decent wage to the youth worker and the rent of the premises. That way the current perpetual fear of closure would become a thing of the past.
The need for the Government, Local Authorities and Society in general to understand the importance of supporting our future generation in this way cannot be overstated.
It is also absolutely essential that we disentangle absurd levels of bureaucracy from current operations. For example, Curious has discovered that youth workers of varying grades are caught up in spending about 80% of their time dealing with red tape and therefore only 20% on the front line with the young people themselves. Just a few years ago those percentages were in reverse which shows how far the distortion in prioritising our young people has sunk. Regrettably it seems that only when the consequence of that manifests itself in rising juvenile crime rates will the authorities responsible sit up and take notice.
Aside from these fundamentals, consideration should be given to what recent research has discovered about the misalignment of early years education. For far too long, the powers-that-be thought that children should dive into primary school when five years old and be subjected to tests regardless of the resulting stress they have to endure. Thanks to the excellent work of Upstart Scotland, there is now a well-researched realisation that nature has not imbued every child with the capacity to cope with formal schooling at such an early age. Constructive playtime is what matters most as many other countries have found with the result that the school starting age for them is at the sensible age of seven.
By the same token, there is a need for proportionality when dealing with young people - especially teenagers who have sadly become screenagers! They need to know that a viable Youth Club is within easy reach wherever they live in Scotland. In this context Curious was pleased to read the words of Jim Sweeney MBE when he welcomed John Swinney MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills to YouthLink Scotland in Edinburgh on Friday, 20 May 2016 and said:
"We welcome John Swinney's approach to engage with all of us working to improve the attainment and achievement of our young people. If the attainment gap is to be closed for those most at risk from under achievement then a partnership between formal education and youth work at local level is essential.
We need to realise that not all young people respond to formal education, they need another path, another approach that engages them and keeps them on their learning journey.
We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the members of the new SNP cabinet, and we congratulate John Swinney on his appointment to Education Secretary and look forward to working constructively with him. Now more than ever, it is imperative that youth work is an integral part of the Scottish Government's drive to improve outcomes for young people."
Jim Sweeney MBE
Such words need the force of action on the part of Government as a matter of urgency. Curious advises that cuts in Local Authority funding by 45% this year (compared to 5% last year) must be rectified without delay. For core Youth Club funding as mentioned above, it proposes starting with 1.37% of the £100,000,000 per year currently expected from Council Tax reforms. Wow – there's a real solution for counteracting the tendency to forget we are dealing with the most important people on our Planet!
If that were to happen, Curious thinks that not only would young people benefit as they deserve to, but Society as a whole would witness a fairer distribution of taxpayers' money. Furthermore the resulting opportunities for constructive use of that turbulent teenage time would go a long way to lowering the risk of wrong-doing which, in many cases, cost the taxpayer £millions – much more than would be paid for the preventative measures outlined by Curious so wisely.
Before returning to his advanced planet, Curious advised that the recommended reality check should be followed by a real cheque for John Swinney to sign! Now that really would be a sign of the times!!