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.
I am pleased to open this short debate for Scottish Labour. I would like to begin by joining the minister in welcoming the success of Scotland’s young people and Scotland’s growing youth work sector, and in welcoming the significant growth that there has been in young people’s participation in, and completion of, youth awards. That is great news, because the awards network has a key role to play in improving the life chances of young people, in supporting our communities, in ensuring implementation of curriculum for excellence in our high schools, in moving towards the aspiration that we all share of helping our young people to become successful, confident, effective and responsible citizens, and in making Scotland the best place to grow up in.
For some young people, youth awards and youth work more generally are not just things that equip them with greater confidence, motivation and skills: they can be life changing. As the minister outlined, young people’s increasing participation is a great bonus to our local communities. In fact, Volunteer Scotland recently found that young people are much more likely than adults to volunteer, with 45 per cent of young people volunteering compared to 27 per cent of adults. That is good news for the future of Scotland. I hope that that will continue when those young people become adults.
Scottish Labour very much welcomes the increased participation in youth work and the key role that it plays in supporting young people’s personal and social development, as well as in offering access to learning opportunities outside the formal classroom environment. Across Scotland, more than 80,000 adults work with young people through youth work as paid employees or volunteers, reaching over 380,000 young people across the country, the majority of whom—92 per cent—are aged 17 or under. YouthLink Scotland estimates that 53 per cent of young people in Scotland are benefiting from youth work. All that adds up to almost 13 million hours of volunteering a year. That is a record of which to be proud.
Like other MSPs, I was pleased to have the opportunity recently to meet some of my constituents who were keen to share their positive experiences of youth work and to highlight their national call to action, challenging politicians of all parties to better support our youth work sector. The young people whom I met had accessed youth work activities at the excellent Tower House youth hub in my Dunfermline constituency. A couple of them enjoyed it so much that they went on to train to become youth workers themselves. One young person I met—Liam—was referred to Tower House because he was refusing to go to school. He is a transgender young person, and he told me how his involvement in youth work did not just change his life but literally saved it.
Each of the young people to whom I spoke embodied what can be achieved through effective youth work enabling young people to develop and build positive relationships and allowing them to make a difference in their own lives and to the wider community. In particular, the young people whom I met were keen to see much better links between formal education and youth work. Tackling the attainment gap is rightly at the top of the political agenda, and one way in which we can make inroads is to ensure that there is much better recognition of the value of the achievements that are gained through engagement in youth work in informal and out-of-school learning activities. We must ensure that young people can learn in the way that inspires them most, because that can help to end the cycle of disadvantage that affects too many of our young people.
If we are to close the attainment gap and help those who are most at risk of underachievement, a real partnership between formal education and youth work is essential. That is why Scottish Labour’s amendment calls for the adoption of a universal Scottish graduate certificate that would encompass academic, vocational and voluntary achievement. The certificate would be pretty similar to what has been introduced in Wales recently. I know that there are already arrangements in place between some youth groups, including the Scout Association, and schools and that the Scottish Qualifications Authority has been developing ways in which to recognise wider achievement. However, we believe that we need more formal recognition of the value and diversity of achievements both inside and outside the classroom. That would be really important in the senior phase, which, at the moment, is focused too much on measuring success by SQA exam results.
I record our willingness to work with Cara Hilton and others on that. We want to capture all the achievements that young people take from the youth awards. The way in which that is articulated in the motion perhaps does not necessarily fit with Labour’s proposal, but that does not mean that we do not want to continue down the route that the member suggests.
I very much welcome the minister’s comments. We are not talking about a stand-alone certificate, as the amendment possibly implies. I hope that the minister will consider our proposal and look at what is happening in Wales, where the Government is ensuring that the diverse range of achievements and talents of every young person is recorded.
That fits in well with the vision that has been outlined by the chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, Jim Sweeney, who has said:
“If we are really going to tackle the educational attainment gap then 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.
A solid partnership with formal education would ensure all our young people can learn in a way that inspires them.”
In its briefing for today’s debate, YouthLink Scotland also highlights the need for financial investment and longer-term funding arrangements, which are vital if we are to ensure that the youth work and youth awards success story continues. Ambition is great, but it needs to be backed up with resources. At a time when our councils are facing significant cuts in their budgets, it is vital that we continue to highlight how investing in youth work and in the preventative agenda makes sense. It is worth highlighting once more that research found that there is a return of about £13 for every £1 that is invested in youth work. In the past two years, through activity arrangements that have been co-ordinated and supported by YouthLink, local authorities have helped more than 7,000 young people into positive destinations. Those are the young people who are furthest away from the jobs market and college, so investing in youth work now can help to deal with future budget challenges.
I notice that I am running out of time to deliver my speech.
Youth workers to whom I have spoken are stressed about where future funding is coming from and would very much welcome longer-term funding packages from the Scottish Government. We must ensure that there is more sustainable funding, that youth workers are better supported and that the contribution of volunteers is fully recognised.
It is clear that our society is constantly changing; so are our young people’s aspirations, interests and hopes. Youth work and youth awards have a key role to play in improving the life chances of our young people and ensuring that they can play a positive role in shaping Scotland’s future. Like the minister, I am excited that 16 and 17-year-olds have the opportunity to vote in May, and I hope that they make the most of that opportunity.
It is vital that the Scottish Government and local authorities continue to invest in and support Scotland’s youth work sector, to ensure that it can continue to change lives.
I move amendment S4M-15380.1, to insert at end:
“, and believes that young people’s achievements of all kinds should be more systematically recognised by the education system through the adoption of a universal Scottish graduate certificate encompassing academic, vocational and voluntary achievement.”
I welcome the debate. Scottish Conservatives fully support youth awards in Scotland, which help young people to be successful, confident, effective and responsible citizens, and we very much welcome the 273 per cent growth in participation. Personally, I welcome youth awards’ benefits in terms of employability and opportunities for the future, which are not all about formal qualifications. It is interesting to note the link with attainment in the Government’s motion, as employers, colleges and universities will undoubtedly take into account a young person’s participation in awards such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s award and awards from the Boys Brigade, the scout and guide movements, the Prince’s Trust and many others.
Given that youth awards are gaining participation and recognition, it may be that the education system should adopt the proposal in Labour’s amendment for a universal Scottish graduate certificate. We think that it merits further consideration. Given the lack of detail at this time we will not support the Labour amendment, but we acknowledge the commitment in the report to do much more work on the issue. Although we welcome the proposal, more work needs to be done.
I welcome the briefings that we got today—there are too many to mention. YouthLink Scotland states that young people gain skills such as confidence, interpersonal skills, team working, leadership and employability, and they are supported in their learning to progress to further and higher education and training. The comments by the chief executive of YouthLink on educational attainment acknowledge that not all young people respond to formal education and that we need another approach that engages them and keeps them on the learning journey. That very much echoed Ian Wood’s words on vocational training, which all of us welcomed.
I am too consensual for my own good today—there are too many “welcomes” in my speech. However, like the minister, I welcome the cashback for communities scheme. It has given more than £9 million to more than 1,700 projects, which has benefited more than 315,000 people. Surely there can be no better investment for that money than to invest it in the development of and support for our young people in the communities in which they live, where they most need it.
The Princes Trust has a great story to tell. In Scotland it has helped 3,000 young people to get a job this year, 600 to start a business and 1,700 to reconnect with education. That is an example of an excellent partnership targeted at those who need it the most. Young people who need support do not just face minor problems. Many find their difficulties compounded by drug and alcohol misuse, crime and homelessness. Young folks may not always have the family support that they need, and those are complex issues for them to deal with on their own. The aim of the Princes Trust initiative—to ensure that no young person is left behind—is one that Conservative members certainly endorse. The new Wolfson centre in Glasgow, which has come about as a result of partnership with the council, Skills Development Scotland and Jobcentre Plus, will certainly bring everything together. Once it is up and running, I hope the approach can be rolled out elsewhere in Scotland.
I was struck by the case study of Tommy from Angus, who was excluded from school, was then excluded from college and faced a future in a secure unit but had that turned around by an education programme and support from the Princes Trust. That opportunity should be open to all children in this age and time and in such a situation.
The report that we are debating acknowledges problems with measuring levels of confidence, resilience and social attributes, but the fact that we are debating those issues and that Education Scotland is considering how young people can be supported to gain social outcomes is all good news. I welcome the acknowledgement that there is
“A need for evidenced based research exploring the role of youth awards in raising attainment.”
Attainment is much on our agenda, but we have never spoken about the link between youth awards and attainment.
When my son and daughter were at the High School of Dundee, the combined cadet force gave them some of their best times and fondest memories. I hope that it will be rolled out not only to private schools but to state schools so that state pupils can have the opportunity to enjoy it as well.
This is a really interesting subject. Every one of us who has the privilege of representing people in Scotland could reel off loads of examples in which young people in our communities have been volunteering for years, whether in organisations that have already been mentioned, in local churches or through their local schools, irrespective of whether awards can be gained at the end of it. However, over the past few years, I have really enjoyed seeing a recognition throughout society of how important that volunteering is.
I am also really pleased to see “A review of youth awards in Scotland” because, when the awards were introduced, there was some scepticism about whether they could be as successful as the then ministers suggested. It is good to see in the report by Education Scotland that,
“Since the establishment of the Awards Network in 2008, there has been a significant growth in participation and completion of youth awards.”
It has been pretty major. That has confirmed what many of us feel about volunteering for young people in all walks of life. It can develop confidence—the confidence that comes from the recognition of winning something is huge and makes a young person feel that they are a vital part of what is happening—interpersonal, team working and leadership skills and employability. It is important that we link those things up.
I am interested in a couple of the key strengths that the report identifies and how they relate to the aspects for further development. One of the key strengths that is noted is that
“For some young people facing additional challenges participation in youth awards is life changing.”
That is absolutely super to hear, but it has to be linked to the aspects for further development and a recognition that, sometimes, it is not those who could benefit the most who end up in such schemes.
Page 8 of the report says that there are
“Few examples of partnerships taking a well-planned strategic approach to increasing access to and impact of youth awards” and that
“There is scope for an increased focus on using youth awards to address prevention and early intervention.”
I do not take that as a criticism. It is marvellous that we have a monitoring situation further down the line—[Interruption.]
I am quite happy to talk in the dark, Presiding Officer, if you would like me to carry on.
I do not consider it a criticism that aspects for further development are mentioned in the report. It is an opportunity that we can use. We must try very hard to take the best opportunity that we can to reach as many people as we can.
In that—[Interruption.] You’re fine, Mr Dey. Thank you for offering me a torch, but I am just yapping; I am terribly good at rabbiting on.
I note that under the heading “Aspects for further development”—I can see this—the report says:
“There is an incomplete statistical picture that details the totality of participation, progression and completion in the full range of youth awards across Scotland.”
We have to look beyond that. Although I think that we are doing wonderful work in aiming at youth awards and so on, we sometimes miss the follow-on stuff or the stuff that can happen round about that. In my area, there are wonderful examples of schemes funded through the cashback for communities programme that try to get hold of people and give them a different path in life. Of course, that is all about the prevention agenda, but I sometimes worry that all of a sudden the people in question are not deemed as youths any more and are left with no other support. It is far too easy for them to fall back. I would like more of a build-up on the follow-on activity from youth awards.
I also want more of a focus on building stuff around the youth award work that is there for those who, for whatever reason, choose not to participate. Again, in my area, there is a smashing youth club called the Key, which is run by universal connections and South Lanarkshire Council. However, next to it is a skateboard park that is very well used by another group of youngsters, and it seems to be a case of never the twain shall meet. I am not convinced that that is the healthiest way to be going about these things; we should try to draw people together.
Certainly. My last point is that very good work is being done. The young people and organisations involved are fabulous, and the professionalism of the staff who run these youth awards and youth work in general is marvellous. However, although we have loads to build on and although this is a good story to tell, we could make it better.
I read Education Scotland’s report with interest, and I wondered whether I should declare an interest as a recipient of the Rotary International youth leadership award way back in the last century. I also note that the report goes even further back than that to highlight a lecture on education given in 1958 by John Macmurray. I thought that a few members might have referred to it this afternoon; its title was “Learning to be human”, which seems a simple but powerful place to begin.
As in life, part of learning is to make mistakes. At its most basic, teaching children to become adults is probably the most important task that each of us will undertake either as parents ourselves or as part of the village or community that surrounds, supports and raises each young person. Of course, it is also a task that we as individuals take responsibility for ourselves. What kind of person do we want to be and what contribution do we seek to make? It is not a task that we face only when we are young but a process of learning that never ends.
As we know, the thing to do with never-ending tasks is to break them down into milestones, objectives and achievements, and not just to rack up achievements and awards but to strive to improve on them. That aim should be at the heart of our ambition to continually improve opportunities for our young people and consequently for our society.
The report highlights many strengths of the youth work sector in Scotland and rightly credits the range of awards that young people are achieving. If the challenge of our job is, sometimes, to assist our constituents when things are not going so well for them or to seek to improve their lot, one of the very great rewards and privileges that we get is the many opportunities to engage with those who give outstanding service to others and who achieve great—or, indeed, simple—things for themselves and for our communities.
Many times in my past five years in the Parliament, I have had the opportunity to acknowledge particular achievements by our young people, whether through, as the minister herself highlighted, engagement with young people during the referendum campaign or more recently through mentoring young people on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association programme that I am grateful to the CPA branch here for allowing me to do. I have also judged debating competitions and have sometimes presented awards. However, probably more important was just listening to our young people, particularly those from the Save the Children young ambassadors programme talking about the challenges in their lives and their efforts to overcome them.
Whether it is in sport, music, citizenship or care, young people’s range of achievements needs to be recognised and rewarded by society. Many of the most amazing things that young people do are done quietly—sometimes out of necessity—and for many young people living in more difficult circumstances recognition of their achievements is perhaps hardest to find.
The award programme that I mentioned was specifically targeted at young people who might not otherwise benefit from youth awards. I remember taking part in it and being somewhat overwhelmed by the range of opportunities that some of the other young people I met had had. I think that that is an experience that many of us who had the opportunity to attend university will recall having when first arriving there.
Presiding Officer, I think that you are gesturing to me through the darkness in the chamber to hurry up, but I might have a bit of leeway as I cannot quite see you.
The minister will be aware of my previous involvement with the children’s panel system and the groups of young people she referred to in her speech. I certainly encourage every effort to widen the information that is available so that as many young people as possible can take up the available opportunities.
I will end, Presiding Officer, simply by commending all the good work that is going on. I am sure that the minister is aware of many other examples, but I can certainly commend the many organisations in my region of Glasgow that do an awful lot to teach our young people how to be human.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
It has always been said that I could speak in the dark, and it is literally true that I am doing so this afternoon. Drew Smith is quite right that it is difficult to see the Presiding Officer—that gave Linda Fabiani great latitude and let her make a four-minute speech last five and half minutes, which is commendable.
I acknowledge what Linda Fabiani said in particular about volunteering. One of the most genuinely enjoyable aspects of this job is presenting awards and being part of the celebrations that take place in every area of Scotland. Over the years, it has been my pleasure to do a lot of that in Shetland and to recognise young people, no matter their background and no matter what they have done, for the role that they have played. That aspect has been reflected in speeches across the chamber this afternoon.
I want to reflect in a more positive way on Iain Gray’s amendment. I absolutely take the minister’s and Mary Scanlon’s points about the detail and I am sure that they are right about that. However, it seems to me that Iain Gray’s amendment has something quite strong and important about it—indeed, I thought that the remarks by the minister and Mary Scanlon reflected that—which is that the awards that we are talking about and the others that are mentioned in members’ considerable lists are not always recognised in the school points systems that reflect on individual pupils’ futures. I recognise that that might be more of a formal system and that it might need some work, which no doubt Iain Gray will describe. However, were the awards to be more recognised, the type of learning experience that we are seeking to achieve through our education system—and, in particular, that we would like employers to recognise—might be worthy of the approach that is proposed in Iain Gray’s amendment, although I take the minister’s point about the detail.
As the minister and others have made clear during the debate, and as Jim Sweeney’s excellent briefing for this debate makes clear, some young people find it hard to achieve formal education qualifications. That point was behind the Wood commission’s report and it is one that we are all strongly supportive of on a cross-party basis. It therefore seems to me that the learning partnerships in the senior phases of our high schools between youth work, schools and teachers is part of the approach that we want. The argument about parity of esteem seems to me to be particularly important, and we should possibly see that as the change that would provide the positive benefits of the blended learning that we are looking to achieve.
The other point relating to the minister’s wider comments that I want to reflect on is what I suppose some might describe as the current barriers to youth workers playing a greater role in schools. I think that it would be very positive indeed if they played that role. Some work has been done already that shows how effective that can be. After all, youth workers are trained and professionally qualified in the area. There is much to be gained for our education system, not least because of the introduction and practical implementation of curriculum for excellence, if the Government would take that forward in the best possible way. That might need further work and consideration and the kind of research that the Education Scotland report touches on, but it seems to me that putting skilled youth workers in schools to work with teachers to benefit pupils is very much what we are after.
I want to recognise the important work that is done in my constituency by Shetland Islands Council youth services in relation to positive destinations for young people from all backgrounds. Cara Hilton rightly made a point about the wider pressure on youth services budgets in every local authority area in Scotland. I am sure that the minister is working hard to win the internal argument about the necessary resources for that.
I also want to mention the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which does great work with young athletes.
That is 10 seconds going on a minute and a half, I guess, based on what happened earlier.
The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust transforms the lives of disadvantaged young people. It is an important initiative that is being taken forward in conjunction with employers such as BP and local authorities, which seems to me to be the kind of partnership that people want.
So far in the debate, no points have been made about young people’s mental health. It is essential that voluntary organisations that promote mental health, such as Mind Your Head in Shetland, are supported because of all the work that they do with youth volunteering. They make an essential and positive impression on a very difficult issue. Young people benefit from such organisations, as well as from the awards that the minister has rightly raised this afternoon.
Although I absolutely acknowledge the success of the awards network and formal youth work in general, I will focus my speech—given the clock, it will be curtailed—principally on individual young people and on the role models that they provide and the contribution that they can make to shaping services.
One young constituent of mine, Michael Hands, is a fantastic example of both of those. Michael, who is visually impaired, recently travelled to Brussels to participate in the European Commission’s day of persons with disabilities event. Last year’s conference focused on children and young people with disabilities, their access to education and how it contributes to the equal participation in society of children and young people with disabilities. Michael has also been appointed to serve as a member of Education Scotland’s young ambassadors for inclusion programme. The ambassadors will share their views and experiences of inclusive education and will act as a voice at a national level. I applaud Education Scotland for launching the initiative and wish Michael and the other participants well with it. It is young people such as Michael who, by their actions, make the voice of young people heard and in so doing remind us all of the kind of good citizens that we are raising, as the minister referred to earlier.
Young adults such as Laura Burdin, another of my constituents, demonstrate that the upcoming generation are just as capable as we were of carving out careers and in so doing acting as an example to their peers. Laura, who is from Carnoustie, was named Skills Development Scotland apprentice of the year and higher apprentice of the year for 2015. After starting her job at a hotel in the town, Laura was quickly promoted, undertook qualifications and is now working for a global hotel chain as a meetings and events co-ordinator. That is another young person from Angus and another young Scot to be proud of.
The young people who I come into contact with as an MSP leave me with every confidence in the next generation. Some have had their achievements marked by awards, but many others contribute in largely unrecognised ways. As the first part of the motion’s title says, we should celebrate the success of our young people, and we should do so in all its guises and whether or not it is publicly recognised.
This has been quite a debate and it has at times been full of all the atmosphere and excitement of a Barry Manilow concert, or at least what I imagine that to be. I pay you the compliment, Presiding Officer, of saying that you look so much more electable with the lights out.
I compliment the opening speakers on their briskly delivered speeches.
In the past few years, a number of strategies have been launched in Scotland concerning young people’s employability and skills development, of which the Wood report and the youth employment strategy have been the most high profile. I compliment all those involved, including the Scottish Government, for the support, encouragement and leadership that they have shown. The debate has proven useful to discuss the wider context in which young people develop those capacities and it is a welcome opportunity to congratulate the sizable number of young people and adults who are involved in youth work in Scotland.
I noted with interest the figures in the YouthLink Scotland briefing, which said that national youth work organisations are engaging with more than 380,000 young people in Scotland, who are supported by some 80,000 adults, many of whom work on a voluntary basis. That is a significant number of people and it demonstrates the importance of getting our national strategy for youth work right.
I also like the Volunteer Scotland study, which found that 45 per cent of young people volunteer, compared with 27 per cent of adults. Would that that acted as an incentive to the many adults whose voluntary contribution would be valued, whatever their age.
Much of the work that goes on is helped by Big Lottery Fund awards. The young start grants programme has made 393 grants, which total more than £16.5 million. Of course, there will always be demand for more.
We heard many examples from Cara Hilton and other members of how transformative youth work can be for young people. I think that all members have experience in that regard—it is one of the more energising engagements that MSPs have.
Without quantification, it can be challenging to capture what is going on at a national level, and there is a tension in that regard, because there is a desire to avoid youth work being seen as a box-ticking exercise. To some extent, the position can be demonstrated by quantifying the growth in the number of young people who achieve awards. I was impressed to learn from the Education Scotland report that the Duke of Edinburgh’s award has grown by 82 per cent in the past five years. The award is one of the most well-known, deeply respected and long running extra-curricular awards that a young person can gain. I was also impressed that the number of John Muir awards has increased by 68 per cent, no doubt because of the John Muir Trust’s efforts to reach out to pupils in a wide range of schools and its booklets on how the award complements many parts of the curriculum for excellence.
When the national youth strategy was launched in 2014, my colleague Liz Smith said that hard and fast evidence was needed on what works in youth work policy, so that resources can be channelled in the most effective way. I am not sure that we are further forward on having that information to hand. Moreover, there must be a focus on ensuring that employers have a full awareness of the outcomes and what is involved when a young person achieves an award, if awards are to contribute meaningfully to employability. Let us not forget that many of the highest awards are gained during the most challenging academic years in a young person’s schooling.
I will finish on a slightly truculent note. I express my dismay at the clown in the Administration—whoever that was—who categorised participation in cadet schemes as preparation to be “cannon fodder”. I am sure that that sentiment is not shared and would not be expressed by either of the ministers in the chamber. I was educated at a school that has a war memorial trust, and I can say that the experience had quite the opposite effect on me, giving me a lifelong appreciation of volunteering and a determination to ensure that anyone who serves in the armed forces is never, ever put in the position of being cannon fodder.
Members will know how keen I always am to find opportunities to celebrate the success of Scottish Government initiatives. On many occasions I struggle to find such an opportunity, but not today, because the youth awards are a huge success, as the numbers tell us. As the minister said, there has been a 273 per cent increase in five years, and there were 73,000 youth awards last year. The initiative’s success has been described by members of all parties—as far as I could see, given that most of the debate has taken place in the dark.
Most members took the opportunity to give examples of youth work in their constituencies—Cara Hilton, Linda Fabiani, Tavish Scott and Graeme Dey did so. That is to be expected, and I think that I am entitled to do that myself, because I am pleased to say that East Lothian is singled out in the report “A review of youth awards in Scotland”. It says on page 13:
“In East Lothian there is an effective level of leadership in the development of youth awards. A good range of opportunities are available in all six secondary schools in the authority and within community groups and uniformed organisations.”
I think that that entitles me to mention one or two organisations. Recharge, in Tranent, recently celebrated 10 years of working with youth in the town. Its origins are in the social inclusion partnerships of 10 to 12 years ago, which were funded by the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive, and it is still going strong. Indeed, last year, there were 5,000 visits by 500 young people to Recharge’s drop-in and other evening sessions. That means that almost all young people in Tranent engage with Recharge. The secret of its success is the youth manager system, whereby young people who have been attending the youth work of Recharge become managers of the programme themselves. Many of them go on to become adult volunteers thereafter.
East Lothian Council can claim some credit because it runs a successful youth council, which is currently scripting, filming and producing a documentary on the impact of poverty in East Lothian. I take this opportunity to tell colleagues that the documentary will be shown in Parliament at a reception on 10 February; I hope that all colleagues will try to attend.
I feel obliged to speak about the other awards that Jackson Carlaw just mentioned—the John Muir awards—which are very successful and have seen 68 per cent growth in five years. They were, of course, inspired by the life and example of John Muir from Dunbar in East Lothian. Not surprisingly, one of the most enthusiastic participants in the awards is Dunbar primary school.
I want to take a couple of minutes to say a little bit more about our amendment. Although the minister’s response has not been entirely negative, I am slightly disappointed. Our amendment is an attempt to look at the success of the youth awards and at what the next step should be. The review itself says that such work is required:
“The Awards Network has limited capacity in its current form and funding model to improve and increase its scope further.”
Here is a success, but the review states that the awards will need some support to move on.
I thank Iain Gray for giving way because I want to express the concern that I had when I read the amendment and ask for his opinion on it. When I first read the amendment, I was a wee bit concerned that a young person at school who, for whatever reason, could not participate in voluntary work might end up being disadvantaged in future by not having such work on a certificate.
The proposal in the amendment is primarily based on work done by the educationist Danny Murphy and the example from Wales. The idea is not just to create comprehensive schools in the senior phase but to create a comprehensive system in which exam results, vocational skills and achievements and involvement in the kind of award schemes that we are talking about today are given some parity of esteem and proper recognition. It is not about giving particular recognition to one type of attainment and achievement over another; it is about balancing that up and making sure that people get recognition for what they do.
It would also be a great way of doing what Tavish Scott suggested and bringing school and youth work much closer together so that pupils who do not currently get the benefits of youth work schemes would have more chance of doing so. There are places in Scotland where that has been tried already. North Lanarkshire has a diploma and Renfrewshire has its certification of achievement.
Our amendment simply seeks to take the stepping stone of the success of the Scottish Government’s scheme and move it on to something bigger, better and even more effective for our young people.
I thank all members for an interesting and positive debate. I also give my thanks for the briefings from what other members have described as the fantastic youth work sector; I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment.
I will touch on comments that have been made and start with those of Cara Hilton. I appreciated her positive remarks, her description of Tower House in Dunfermline and the powerful story of the transgender young person who described how youth work saved his life. The power of that demonstrates the significance that we need to attach to what youth work can achieve.
Cara Hilton recognised youth work’s potential to reduce the attainment gap, which is the territory that we are in. The Education Scotland report acknowledges that youth work can keep young people engaged in education for longer and can enthuse and inspire the young people who are often the furthest from attaining school qualifications. We absolutely want to take the debate further in that regard, so I appreciate Cara Hilton’s comments.
Mary Scanlon rightly pointed out the benefits of youth work for employability and mentioned other social policy areas where youth work has an impact, such as homelessness and health. Youth work’s reach is vast, so we must harness its potential fully while being vigilant about the need to understand its impact in an evidenced way.
Linda Fabiani recognised the positive outcomes for young people that youth work can bring. I reassure her that we will continue to build on what we have in a responsible way to recognise what youth workers are doing across the country.
Drew Smith spoke about the importance of listening to young people and engaging with them appropriately. There is nothing worse than adults assuming that they know what young people want, so it is important that we continue to be vigilant about engaging with young people and taking cognisance of their views. He also spoke about his experience of youth work. As I am a former member of the Girls Brigade in Scotland and a former attendee of Kinrossie youth club, which was supported by Youth Scotland, it would interest me—and the youth work sector in general—to understand how many members’ lives have been impacted by youth work. That might be an interesting project.
Tavish Scott pointed out that the youth work workforce is trained and professional and should be respected for its skills, which is an important point to reiterate. The distinctive way in which it can engage with young people is valued and can add value to our wider educational approaches. Mary Scanlon talked about youth work’s reach. Tavish Scott recognised the youth work workforce’s reach in tackling mental health issues, which it is important to note.
In the same vein, Graeme Dey described how inclusive youth work is for young people with disabilities. It is important to remember that we get only one shot at childhood, so the happy memories that youth work can provide by being so inclusive are priceless. We should always value that.
Jackson Carlaw rightly noted the impact of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. I am sure that we will all unite to wish it a happy 60th birthday, which it will celebrate this year. Jackson Carlaw pointed out the danger that assessing impact could descend into a box-ticking exercise. We want to avoid that and we will be driven by gathering the richness of youth work activity across the country.
Jackson Carlaw mentioned the cadet schemes. In relation to what happened over the weekend, an important point was missed. I have engaged on the issue with the UK Government, which wants to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to the cadet system. We needed to make it clear that the UK Government should take cognisance of our youth work approach in Scotland, which is demonstrating good results. When we are working collaboratively with the UK Government in a devolved policy area, we do not want it to lose sight of the fact that in Scotland we have something that we should be proud of and which the UK Government should take cognisance of. I hope that that clears up the issue. We as a Government appreciate the role of the cadet service in Scotland.
In the few minutes that remain, I want to acknowledge fully youth work’s role. From the debate, we have got a sense that the future of the youth awards network looks positive. I note that the awards are included in the national improvement framework, which outlines the opportunity to explore a wider range of awards. That shows our commitment to designing and achieving a systematic means of recognising confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors as well as having qualifications that recognise successful learning. If we can do that, we will be global leaders in recognising the full contribution that young people make to our society.
That recognition has significant implications for employers and pathways into work. I know that schemes such as investors in young people Scotland are looking at how companies can better understand the skills that young people bring. The youth awards are important in demonstrating the soft skills and interpersonal skills that employers tell us are so important for tomorrow’s world of work.
The Scottish Government is looking at how we can raise awareness of the awards among our employers. We must also explore how youth awards can link to the careers education standards and the work placements that young people undertake in secondary 4, and how young people can be enabled to demonstrate the soft skills that they have gained through the awards programme.
In my remarks to Cara Hilton, I said that Iain Gray’s amendment does not articulate the case that he presented. I have clearly indicated that I would work with him and others on how we build on the success of youth awards in an appropriate way for the youth work world. We all agree on the principle—that we want to build on the awards in a responsible way—but Iain Gray’s amendment does not capture that, which is why the SNP unfortunately cannot accept it.
We have a good story to tell—there has been a 273 per cent increase in participation in youth awards since 2008 and there are 73,000 stories of young people endeavouring to do what they can for their communities and to contribute to our society’s wellbeing. We should be proud of that.
I am glad that the Parliament has united behind that. I look forward to building on that to make sure that many more young people can contribute to society and get lots of rich experiences through what youth work can bring to them.