The influence of Connexion on practice, interagency working and the support given to young people

To set the context, reflect and evaluate the influence of the Connexions strategy this assignment will: firstly give an historical background considering the wider political agenda and social policy nationally that underpins Connexions.

Secondly, focus on the Personal Adviser’s role in implementing and delivering Connexions in further education. By outlining and evaluating the role: in seeking to engage a group of young people on a field trip to India.

Finally, to aid reflection using extracts from a case study and published article, explore whether the delivery approach taken was demonstrative of the Connexions principles and strategies for implementing a young person centred service.

In conclusion the assignment will reflect on outcomes to consider ways forward for development.

Connections is a newly implemented Government backed youth service for 13 – 19 year old young people, which supports their transition into adult life by dealing with a wide range of issues. However the service is primarily measured by government on its success of increasing the movement of young people into learning, employment and training. The overall strategy of the service is to provide advice, guidance, support and personal development services through contact with a Personal Adviser. However, the service can be described as both “targeted” and “universal” at one and the same time, as it is meant to cater to all groups in need of the services outlined.

At the core of the strategy there are eight principles: raising aspirations, meeting individual need, taking account of the young person’s views, inclusion, partnership, community involvement, equal opportunity, tackling poverty and evidence based practice. Such principles, it could be argued, are meant to reflect the wider political climate for “joined-up-thinking” in tackling social exclusion. From the overall vision to implementation there have been social policy initiatives – Pre – Connexions and Post Connections – which have driven the current strategic developments of the Connections partnerships nationally. One instance being the move from “Modernizing Social Services” to that of “Preventing Social Exclusion”. (UCX Module 1 pg: 9)

The Connexions strategy aims to have far reaching impact as it influences change to organisational structures, organisational cultures, professional roles and delivery. This is in the drive for a seamless service, and a total move away from a “piecemeal” approach, which tended to be the norm Pre Connexions. (UCX Module 1 pg: 12)

One of the most fundamental changes that has come about with the implementation of Connexions – specifically in the Black Country region – is the impact on the organisational structure. There are two dominant senior, operational and delivery management structures – Black Country Connexions and Prospects Careers Service – in addition to partner organisations such as Youth Service, Education and so on. This may be described as a complex arrangement, particularly when one considers that the Black Country Connexions not only acts as a managing agent, but is also a direct delivery service and sub contractor. The above complexity can be said to have implications for delivery staff, in that there are on some occasions conflicting management decisions (strategic need at local level) which create confusion and inconsistency – in short barriers to effective organisational practice and service delivery. Discussed more fully later, in relation to considering the organisation as a complex system and the organisation culture. Also further to this in sections focusing on the role of the Personal Adviser implementing and delivering Connexions in further education.

The impact of this approach means, for instance that the Youth Worker, Social Worker, Careers Adviser as professionals dealing with young people under the Connexions strategy now become Personal Advisers. A generic job title with a generic job role, it would appear with no clear recognition at present for specialism – as contained in the previous title of Careers Adviser, and so on, which raises questions about modernisation and marginalisation for service practitioners. (UCX Module 1 pg: 10)

In evaluating the Connexions Strategy, questions about change need to be explored. “Is the service, better?” and if so, “better for whom?” “Is it about removing barriers or inadvertently creating complex barriers and cultures as a complex system with complex interactions come into being?”

Both Senge and Hornstein have theories that explore change.

Senge’s offers us a theory about systemic thinking, which is about looking at the “whole” rather than the fragmented world. By considering the Connexions strategy and Connexions partnerships and their systems in this vein we can contexualize change in a framework that helps us in looking at the whole picture, and how it fits together. Successful implementation would then be about introducing change from that basis of understanding. (Senge 1990 UCX Module 1 pg: 24) Whilst, Hornstien examines barriers to organisational change – organisational defensiveness and ways in which change to existing organisational routines, habits and cultures are defended as direct response to resisting change. (Hornstein 1986 – UCX Module 3 pg: 95)

As individuals working in a climate of change we could apply both Senge and Hornstien theoretical approaches. For instance, Senge offers eleven principles that could act as a framework (when applied) to understanding the synthesis of the dialectical process of change. (See Senge 1990 UCX Module 1 pg: 24-6)

In implementing Senge’s theory. Practitioners are invited to engage in the processes of change by adopting a reflective, analytical and evaluative approach to their practice – in short both reflective and evidence based. In order to do this the organisation in turn must therefore act in a systematic way to facilitate a learning culture. Which requires this new practise to be adopted both by managers and front line staff. In this way not only do practitioners become more informed about the influence of their organisation (as Connexions) but also empowered in the processes of change as they provide evidence based on practice. This necessitates change to organisation protocols; management systems and delivery practice so that participation in change achieves the strategic aim.

In considering how the development of Connexions has introduced change with consequences affecting the individual working in such a context – namely the new role of Personal Adviser. What then is the new role of the Adviser? How has practice changed, If at all? Are there any barriers to practice? and are there areas for improvement?

The main roles of the Personal Adviser linked to a college of further education are subject to the needs and existing provision in an individual college, to ensure that students needs are met in terms of access to learning opportunities, information, advice and guidance, peer support and personal development. (Implementing the Connexions Service in Colleges 2002)

Where necessary the Personal Adviser refers students on for specialist support. Most fundamentally, the Adviser is required to be innovative in their responses to the need of the client group. Recognising that the young people in the locality have a multiplicity of need beyond merely those of learning and employment need. (Appendix 1 – Job Role 2002)

Despite the lack of formal procedure in supporting specific “innovation” at that time, the initiative was taken for organising a request that sought to develop new ways of working, the Personal Advisers role by participating in the college trip to the Indian. (Appendix 2 Request to Attend Field Trip 2003)

The fourteen – day trip to India aimed to encompass personal social development in a wider educational context, in that it introduced a cultural exchange. The students came from inner city areas considered disadvantaged socially and economically. The majority were deemed as having moderate learning and or behavioural disabilities and needs.

The gender and ethnic mix was diverse, but predominantly minority groups were represented from the Asian and African – Caribbean community and made up 90% of the group. The students encouraged to participate were drawn from the Integrated Studies course or What Next course with age range between 16 – 20 years plus. Such courses are targeted to meet the needs of young people who are at risk of, and or disengaged. (ibid) The overall planned outcome of the trip was to raise student’s personal and social development, by engaging them in the planning and implementation, of a cultural exchange. (ibid)

The main change to my job role in this instance, was one that implemented supportive and facilitative activities, which directly engage young people in personal and social development, for instance attending weekly planning and portfolio building workshops before, during and after the trip.

(ibid)

It is put forward that this was a significant marked change in the job role. As previously activities would have been specifically focussed on delivering support through careers education, advice and guidance sessions during tutorials, or one to one interventions. Not through this wider interpretation of engaging young people in education and personal development. Further, attending a trip of this kind in the old role as Careers Adviser would not have been deemed justifiable, as it would not have met with the traditional approach – one to one careers interviews, group work sessions and career education guidance model for delivery Pre – Connexions. (ibid)

The main barrier was in relation to whether the Personal Adviser would be meeting the Connexions business and delivery plan or the business and delivery plan of the College.

Which relates back to the organisation not having a designated procedure or protocol for this innovation – development.

Other issues were, “Who would the Personal Adviser be working for during the fourteen days? “Who would fund the Personal Adviser?” “Where and how would the time allocation be formulated?” took considerable time to be resolved. (See UCX Module 3 pg: 97) Perhaps these barriers when set against Senge’s eleven laws related to systems theory, could be explained as the system pushing back as old organisational cultures tend to be resistant to new ways of working. (Senge 1990 UCX Module 1 pg: 25)

Alternatively, such resistance to innovation may be explained in considering “organisational defensiveness” theory: when routines, habits and cultures are protected, decision-making styles continue to be based on the previous ways of doing things. Hornstien puts forward the theory of an “idea killer”, where new and threatening ideas are blocked in the preservation of status, control and so on. (UCX Module 3 pg: 95)

In evaluating the outcomes of the trip they were twofold: Firstly, in the main it provided the opportunity for the Personal Adviser to work with young people in a way that was definitive of the young person centred approach. As the day to day contact allowed for the full spectrum of interactions and interventions under the personal and social development heading – enabling and developing communication skills, student behavioural conduct, sexual health, general safety, challenging behaviour and conflict resolution, developing negotiation skills and so on.

Secondly, as the work had to be evidenced by the Personal Adviser producing a case study for the Connexions Service National Unit (Appendix 3 Connexions Service Case Study 2003) and articles for Prospects Service newsletters (Appendix 4 Gateway to India 2003). This gave the opportunity to share new ways of working, good practice, which is important for establishing “evidence based” practice. (UCX Module 2 pg:60 – 72)

Working in partnership with the college staff who attended, taking a team approach, which focussed on the students well- being, their opinions and needs, their personal development and educational goals, was central to everything done. This required an awareness of the college’s and the staff ways of working. Coupled with the willingness to put into practice and maintain an open, honest, reflective, adaptable, supportive and close team relationship. (UCX Module 3 pg: 79)

In analysing both the “young person centred approach” and “effective interagency working”, the main challenge was that this new way of working required an adaptability and flexibility of the job role and called for the Personal Adviser to perform various inter-changeable roles as:

Befriender/advocate, defender/supporter, peacekeeper, reality checker, bridge builder, before, during and after the trip. (UCX Module 2 pg: 54)

In order to perform these successfully the Personal Adviser has to utilise a range of skills: communication, negotiation and networking, which in turn was underpinned by prior knowledge of the college, its ways of working – organisational culture – coupled with Connexions and the college shared goals and differences. (UCX Module 4 pg: 115)

These skills underpin the Personal Adviser’s capacity to implement a “young person centred approach” by being coherent, pivotal, and impartial. By considering this aspect to the role, the Personal Adviser has an opportunity to define and analyse this approach, which is dependent on “effective interagency working”. In order to meet the young persons needs effectively, and keep them central, the Personal Adviser at all times needs to recognise that they do not work in isolation, rather, in networks and partnerships in a bid to broker the necessary service or opportunity. This approach is vital to the achievement of the overall aim of facilitating progression, movement into learning, employment and so on, to meet the principles of Connexions.

What were the outcomes of the trip? First, in terms of the students, 90% of the young people involved completed the International Challenge award. With careers guidance from the Personal Adviser and support they have progressed into positive outcomes, which include education and training. The trip can be said to have helped to intensify aspects of the “young person centred approach”, and “effective interagency working”, that would normally have required a longer consistent and coherent investment of time. (Appendix 3 Connexions Service Case Study 2003) There are now firm procedures “in-house” which future Personal Advisers can effectively adopt in enabling other young people to benefit from such practical activities. (Also see UCX Module 2 pg:73-4)

On reflection both the students and members of staff gained in that overall learning outcomes for the field trip were met. The outcomes also high-lighted areas for development for instance the Personal Advisers individual training needs, specifically for working intensively with young people with a multiplicity of needs which effect communication, and social skills in many areas of their life which could hinder their transition to adulthood. (Appendix 4 Gateway to India 2003)

One pertinent criticism that can made against developing new ways of working, and the role of the Personal Adviser implementing Connexions, is that there is still a major role for specific careers guidance. Engaging young people through “this” activity or “that” does not remove the fact that in order for them to make realistic and achievable progress, they will require careers guidance.

The main challenges to developing the role of Personal Adviser would be related to time. In essence to be effective in meeting all the eight principles underpinning the Connexions strategy, practitioners will need time, specifically in evidencing everything they do. To provide intensive targeted support to young people will take time by definition, as clients needs are more assessed as being more demanding of inputs.

Finally, as a service that is targeted – specifically – and at one and the same time universal in its approach, it could be argued that this is a contradiction in terms. The Personal Adviser will struggle to be effective in meeting all the needs of all young people in need of intensive support or otherwise.

In conclusion the Connexions Strategy and Partnerships have impacted change – an evolutionary process – which creates a complex system. Whereby there are implications for management strategic planning and implementation, practitioners job role development and delivery practices. Which in turn impacts on the service user – young people and interagency working.

This is evidenced by the Ofsted report (July 2003) which high lighted that the Black Country partnership whilst improving, there were areas for further improvement – specially related to strategic management, quality and cost effectiveness. Generally, support and guidance to young people, and links schools and college was praised. (Ofsted 2003) Connexions is a valuable service, however to be effective there needs to be recognition of specific professional expertise – that whilst other professional groups have a role to play, it is imperative that the role of expertise of the Careers practitioner becomes the core of the service to young people. Failure to recognise this will ultimately lead to a “revolving door” for young people.

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