This debate is, as the motion suggests, an opportunity for us to highlight the contribution that youth work and, specifically, youth awards make to our society and our young people. We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up, and to achieve that ambition we must ensure that our young people—particularly those who are impacted by poverty and inequality—receive the support that they need to develop their skills and aptitudes, and to be successful, confident, effective and responsible citizens.
The review of youth awards that was undertaken by Education Scotland makes it clear that we have much to be proud of in our approach to youth work. Since the establishment of the awards network in 2008, we have seen a 273 per cent growth in participation in and completion of youth awards in six years. That is a significant increase: translated into figures for 2014-15 it represents over 73,000 completed awards, which is a fantastic achievement by our young people. Each one of those 73,000 young people is a successful, confident, effective and responsible citizen. Every one of them is an individual story of success, and behind that figure of 73,000 awards will be thousands of hours of dedication and commitment by young people who have been inspired by youth work and youth workers.
I am proud that the Scottish National Party Government established the awards network in 2008. It was a timely and creative response to curriculum for excellence. The development of the awards network from 2008 to the present demonstrates a high level of public policy innovation emerging from the first national youth work strategy. It was two years ago that we gathered in this chamber to discuss and debate the national youth work strategy, and to thank all those who had worked tirelessly to develop it and who had played a key role in shaping and delivering its implementation. We can see some of the fruits of their commitment and dedication in Education Scotland’s “A review of youth awards in Scotland: Helping young people to be successful, confident, effective and responsible citizens”, which shows what has been accomplished to date.
On that point, I say at the outset that we will not support the Labour amendment—not because we think that there is anything inherently wrong with it, but because it is important that we acknowledge the curriculum for excellence skills that youth awards deliver for young people. The idea of turning young people’s achievements into a stand-alone formal qualification might put some young folk and volunteers off participation, and it might negate the very benefit that is derived from a different type of learning experience. That aside, however, we want to continue the vocational qualifications in other parts of the education system and to recognise youth awards in their own right. I will continue to accept the spirit of what was intended by the Labour amendment and to work with my colleagues to take forward the work.
I recommend that members read the report and digest the key strengths of the youth awards that are articulated in it. Those strengths highlight the increased confidence that young people get through the youth work approach. The report also demonstrates how youth work contributes to our wider ambitions to become a fairer society and a more prosperous economy. For example, according to the report a key strength of the youth awards is that they
“support young people in their learning and ... progress to further and higher education, training and employment on leaving school.”
The evidence backs up that finding. Youth employment in Scotland is now at its highest September to November level since 2005. There are now record levels of young people in positive destinations after leaving school, with two thirds of them in further or higher education.
Young people gain vital life skills through their achievement of youth awards. Those skills enable more of them to take up leadership roles and, by volunteering, to contribute back to their communities and society.
The report signals the transformative change that can happen in young people’s lives as a result of the youth awards and it highlights that, for young people who face particular challenges, the youth awards can be life changing. That is made plain by some of the reach that youth awards have; for instance, in Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution Polmont, young people are participating in the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, ASDAN—the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network—and YouthBank. This is from one young person:
“The Dynamic Youth Awards have helped me become more confident and I have expanded my knowledge. I have experienced things that I wouldn’t have done.”
The review findings, the data from elsewhere and, most important, the stories and experiences of young people themselves highlight the impact of the awards and their importance to our society and communities. The report provides evidence of an approach that is delivering for young people in Scotland. The impact of that approach cuts across portfolios throughout Government and society.
Quite recently, we gathered in Parliament to consider what more we can do to close the gap in educational attainment and to tackle inequalities in our society. The youth awards report points to the potential and effectiveness of youth work as a key way to contribute to and collaborate with efforts to raise attainment. The report states:
“Some young people stay in education as a result of their participation in youth awards”.
If a young person’s attendance is up, and they decide to stay in and remain engaged with education for longer, it can lead directly to increased attainment.
Moreover, the report describes that, for some who are disengaged from education participation, an award is a first step towards personal achievement and an increase in their self-belief and sense of ambition. The awards are therefore crucial in capturing and acknowledging young people’s successes and achievements—especially if their aspirations are low.
The awards can also change lives in unexpected places. Some of our most vulnerable young people in secure units, care homes and young offenders institutions now have the chance to have their positive achievements recognised, and to take the opportunity to change their lives. The impact that that has on reoffending and building positive relationships with trusted adults offers a positive route out of destructive cycles of crime and offending and benefits society as a whole. The report confirms what we know—that youth work builds confidence, capacity, resilience and skills in young people. That strength needs to be continually harnessed in our endeavours to reduce the attainment gap.
However, the review highlights the need for evidence-based research to explore the role of youth awards in raising attainment. I am happy to confirm today that I will take that recommendation forward and will consider how we can understand the impact of the awards, with a view to ensuring that youth work, and youth awards in particular, are able to contribute effectively to collective efforts to raise attainment.
The diversity and range of awards that are offered by the awards network enables young people to choose which award suits them. Young people can achieve regardless of their background, ethnicity, faith or experiences—all of them can find a place to belong to and in which to participate. That is why it is important that we continue to invest in youth work in a range of sectors and settings.
In December last year, I was pleased to announce the allocation of £12 million funding through our children, young people and families early intervention fund and adult learning and empowering communities fund to support the work of more than 100 charities. That includes funding to empower communities and organisations with a sole focus on youth work.
Since 2008, our cashback for communities programme has contributed £75 million to improve the quality of life of our young people. By harnessing the proceeds of crime, it is has significantly contributed to youth work by opening up opportunities for young people to explore the arts, culture and sport and by creating diversionary youth work projects. We remain committed to investing in youth work in all its forms in order to enable young people to achieve their potential and to make a wider contribution to our ambitions for our society and communities.
The report also makes clear that young people contribute significantly to their communities through volunteering while participating in youth awards. Scotland leads the way in the United Kingdom. A report on behalf of the Cabinet Office seeking to determine the proportion of young people aged from 10 to 20 who are involved in social action showed that 49 per cent of young people in Scotland are involved in meaningful voluntary activity compared with 39 per cent in England and Wales and 36 per cent in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development review of Scottish school education noted that the links between schools and their communities is strong and that youth volunteering is one of the ways in which that link is maintained. That international recognition is to be welcomed. That means that there is a strong contribution by young people—in and out of school—to community development. Participation in youth volunteering prepares young people to be active and responsible citizens.
That community activism and determination to be involved in society was evident in the recent referendum, which saw 16 and 17-year-olds being given the opportunity for the first time to have a say in the direction of our country. Young people were entrusted with that responsibility and they grabbed the opportunity with both hands. This year, they will have the chance to shape this Parliament, which I am sure is something that we all welcome. It is another reason why we want to celebrate young people, and we will do so in 2018, the year of young people.
Further to the evidence that is contained within the report about the value of the youth award network, Scotland has a strong evidence base to draw from—uniquely within the UK—as a result of the fact that, here, youth work is recognised and reported on through inspection. Two hundred learning community inspections over the past seven years have shown us that the impact on young people and communities is now very good or better since 2013-14 in over 80 per cent of learning communities. That covers every local authority and all the main youth work agencies. Inspections also show that the sector has a good track record on partnership working.
There is recognition at the highest level in Government in the national improvement framework of the valuable contribution that community learning and development partners, including youth work, make to delivering on national and local outcomes. The national improvement framework noted the role of youth awards in improving educational outcomes for children and young people.
One aspect for further development that is highlighted by the review is that we need more strategic planning to increase access to, and the impact of, youth awards. Again, I am happy to confirm that we will explore fully how that can be achieved through community empowerment measures and community planning partnerships, in particular.
The review also highlighted the potential scope for increased focus on using youth awards in prevention and early intervention, which suggests that there is a role for youth work and youth awards in our getting it right for every child approach.
We have a good story to tell, but there is clearly more that we can do to push forward the potential of youth work. I record my thanks to the volunteers, youth workers and especially the young people themselves who are contributing to our society. I hope that we will be able to support that work as it continues to develop, grow and contribute to our society.
That the Parliament notes the recent publication of the Education Scotland HMIE Report, A review of youth awards in Scotland: Helping young people to be successful, confident, effective and responsible citizens, highlighting the success of the Awards Network; welcomes the growth of participation by 273% since 2008; recognises the importance of youth awards across Scotland, and appreciates the clear articulation of the benefits of youth work and its role in terms of attainment, employability, youth justice and contribution to Scotland being the best place to grow up.