Bishop of Oxford’s Answers to Questions about Children and Youth National Posts

Well, these are the questions . . . and the answers (not the written ones, this is what was said in reply, taken from the audio recording from questions last night – Monday 6th February), I have transcribed, so any errors are mine – do let me know if I have missed words which would change the meaning of what was said!!

Question 4: “To allow for the possibility of consultation with Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officers and other groups who would be affected by the proposed removal of the post of National Youth Officer and National Children’s Officer, is it possible to delay the date of re-structuring in order to consider all of its implications more fully?”

Answer:  “Going for Growth was adopted by the board in November 2009 and is a high priority for the Boards work.  A review of what has been achieved so far shows that we are not meeting the targets we set ourselves.  Our current arrangements mean that our resources are almost entirely tied up in staff costs and the changes proposed is designed to enable us to use the existing level of investment more effectively and creatively.  The consultation closed as planned at the end of JanuaryI have now called together a small group drawn from the board to consider the comments received and develop the proposals further.  This means that the proposals will take a little longer than originally proposed, but given the importance of not extending the period of uncertainty for the officer concerned any longer than is strictly necessary, I intend to announce our conclusions in March.

Supplementary – Have the views of our national officers been made, what might they be?

Answer:  “We have been pretty well informed of what the views of officer are – there’s been, as you probably know a lot of emails and letters racing around – so I think we have certainly got the message and that will certainly be fed into the work that the reflection group will be doing.  We want to take those comments very seriously and see how we can refine them in the proposals and make them more effective for the delivery of Going for Growth – which is our real goal of course.

Question 5: “In the light of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year Message, with its focus on youth and children, and recent statistics underlining national decline in numbers of children and youth in churches, has the Board considered how we can best invest at a national level in supporting ministry in this vital area in the dioceses and parishes?”

Answer:  “General Synod and Archbishops Council endorsed Going for Growth as a firm statement of the Church’s mission to children and young people.  The Board approved a detailed work plan expressing appropriate tasks for the National Team.  The current proposals for restructuring the central staffing are a direct response to the pressing importance of this work.  They are designed to enable the same overall level of resource to be used by the Education Division in a more flexible and creative way so that Going for Growth can have a real impact.”

Supplementary – “Having trained originally as a youth tutor in Secondary Education I know work is so distinct from Primary or Nursery provision – so my question is “How Can the Board Support the same overall level of response while amalgamating these two fundamentally distinct children and youth posts into one while we are losing children from churches so fast?”

Answer:  “I am well aware of the importance (certainly the iconic importance) and specific importance of having people who have the particular skills.  I was a Diocesan Youth Officer myself and know the significance of that so it couldn’t be an easy decision to make – but, if you are driven by the demands of this policy this work plan that has come out of the overall Going for Growth policy then we have got to find ways of delivering.  So what we would look for is somebody who can oversee the work and make sure that the total resources, that is – the resources that are released as well – are used for the kind of project work that really will make sure that we deliver across the board.  I see the problem, but I think there is an answer which is driven by the needs of “Going for Growth” rather than simply, we have got to have one person looking after each area.”

Supplementary – Can I just ask whether you have considered the work done by the Church lads and Church girls brigade will be of value to this kind of work?  In my two years of doing promotion with it with my colleagues I have been amazed at how few people are aware of the organisation and it is the Anglican Churches Uniformed organisation, it does teach the faith, it does bring children into the Churches and actually their parents and I’m an example of that (you might wish I wasn’t – but hey, ho).  Have there been any ideas about how they might be of help and how they might be supported?

Answer:  “You’ve taken the opportunity to mention the Church Lads and Girls Brigade very well Ann, Excellent.  They are in the forefront of my mind constantly.  What we would look for is a totality of stakeholders and our DYOs and Children’s Advisers are key, but so too are organisations across the board which are doing similar very good work.  I affirm the Church Lads and Church Girls Brigade and how they will very much be part of our ongoing planning as we refocus on Going for Growth and make it deliver.

Question 6: “In the past decade the number of national posts covering children and young people have been reduced from four to two, and is now proposed to be reduced to one.  What long term strategy is in place to support this vital work?”

Question 7: “What effect with the replacement of the post of National Children’s Officer and National Youth Officer by a single “Going for Growth” Adviser have on the long term advocacy for children and young people?”

Question 8:  “In the light of the Archbishop of Canterburys New Year message calling us to work harder for children and young people, and the Archbishop of York’s lecture relating to the Good Childhood Report, does the Board of Education consider this to be an appropriate time to be cutting the number of national officers who support the church’s voluntary work with the young from two to one?”

Question 9:  “Given the clear leadership provided by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his New Year message, that caring about young people must be central to how we judge society, how does the education division justify its proposals to halve the team dedicated to work with children and young people?”

Answer:  “To questions 6, 7, 8, and 9 together.  The proposals do not in fact involve any reduction in the resources to be made available to this vital work or any loss of key functions currently being carried out including advocacy for children and young people, both within the church and with Government.  The Board is committed to this vital work for the long term and will be looking to supplement what Diocese’ continue to fund through Vote 2 by seeking external trust funding for particular new ventures.”

Supplementary – If this is the case, then the 13 questioners today and 1055 people who have already signed an e-petition on this matter have obviously got the wrong message.  What do we say to those who have raised their concerns?

Answer:  “I think we do have to get across the correct information, you’re quite right.  There is no reduction in resource and I look to Synod before me now and say please do not reduce this resource.  The Vote 2 is vitally important to deliver, we need the same resource, but we need to make it more effective.

Supplementary – The Bishop talks about new items as part of the Going for Growth – we are very clear on what we are going to lose  . . . what are we going to gain in replace of it?

Answer:  “I think there are two answers to that, but would very much hope that the reflection group which I am setting up will be generating those ideas.  Already we’ve got some from the Chief Education Officer – we will actually, as a reflection group, be wanting to do some work on that in order to target the task of the new officer.  But secondly, I would expect that a new appointee would have that expertise and view as a first call on their time and intelligence to say, “how shall we use this liberated resource that we can now use in a much more flexible way than we could before with most of our resource being taken up on staff costs.”

Supplementary – Going for Growth Advisor – a laudable title, but similarly titled Going for Growth programmes are common to the Economic Forum in Davos, the retailer Amazon, the Health and Safety Executive to name but three.  Is it not possible to keep Children and Young People in the Advisers title so that everyone understands?

Answer:  “It may well be (smattering of applause).  I would certainly not preclude that we need somehow to value that this is a cross the Board  inclusive approach to this crucial work that we are doing because we are losing, have been losing children and young people from the centre of our church life for many years now.  I would just say though that we do have a million children in our schools every day.  What a fantastic opportunity that is as well.”

Supplementary – 10% go to Church Schools, 90% don’t can the Bishop put more resource into children and young peoples work rather than just the excellent resource that already goes into Church Schools?

Answer:  “Can we find more resource?  Yes, I very much hope we can.  And what we will be able to do I think is “match funding” which you can only do if you put some of your funding in first.  So we would be looking to identifying particular projects that did involve the possibility of involving, getting people who are from organisations and trusts committed to similar tasks and putting their funding alongside ours.”

Question 10.  “In the light of positive and public contributions made by the Archbishops on the subject of engaging with young people in January 2012, what consultations have the Education Division held in respect of its proposal to remove “children” and “Youth” form the titles of national posts?”

Answer:  “The title of the post will be something that the small group that I am convening will be asked to consider – and it may well be, in fact I think it quite likely that we must incorporate both children and young in the title.”

Supplementary – “When will the board publish examples of the type of project work which the resources following the reduction in posts will be redirected towards?”

Answer:  “As I said, there will be two stages of that.  One will be when we have done some work in that reflection group and have started to tease out what really are the critical areas that we are missing that we need to target.  We’ve got some ideas already.  But secondly, when we have got an officer in post that person will be very much tasked with identifying what are those things that would make a real difference, a real impact, its impact, its far end stuff, its outcomes we need to see with this particular policy.”

Question 11. “Would the Board explain the process, including the skills audit, which led to the proposals in relation to current staff in the context of implementation of the “Going for Growth” plan?

Question 12.  “With reference to the proposed staffing changes in the Education Division, why is it not more straightforward, more cost effective, and much better employment practice,  to offer the current staff members additional training, rather than creating a new post and making the existing posts redundant?”

Question 13.  “Given the strong emphasis within the 2010 Archbishops Council Education Divisions “Going for Growth” report on the deliver at national, diocesan and parochial level.

(i)                 Why is the proposed that the existing, distinctive and highly valued skills of the National Youth and Children’s Advisers be placed at risk and reduced by incorporation into a single new post and . .

(ii)               What wider consultation has taken place with those whom they serve?

Question 14.  “It has been reported that a new post of “Going for Growth” Advisor will replace the National Children’s and Youth Advisor posts in the Education Division.  The rationale behind this change in staffing structure has been explained as a way of delivering the outcomes of “Going for Growth” which require specialist skills that the Division does not have with the existing permanent staff.  Would the Board outline what these specialist skills are and what they entail in relation to the new role of Going for Growth Advisor?”

Answer:  “Together with 12, 13, 14.  I have explained the process which led to the proposals in an earlier answer.  The review of the Boards “Going for Growth” work plan demonstrated the need for a more radical approach to achieve the impact to which we are committed.  Simply continuing to tie up almost all of the available resources in staff costs isn’t necessarily the way forward.  As I have explained, the details for the new proposals will be further developed in the light of the comments received during the consultation.”

Supplementary – “Will the small group that the Bishop has mentioned, looking further at the proposals consider consulting with the networks of Diocesan Youth and Children’s Staff about the proposed Job Description for the Going for Growth Advisor – given that some of the tasks detailed at present would represent a duplication of what is already being done in Diocese – such as the organisation of regional conferences and collection of statistics.”

Answer:  “Thank you yes, there is some dispute I think about whether that is being done but yes I take your point.  We are at a time of reflection, not consultation.  The consultation, the formal consultation finished at the end of January.  Never the less, a lot of comments have come in and those who are on the group are very much in touch with constituencies as well so there will be I’m sure a continuing debate and consultation in that informal sense but its actually a reflection group at work now, and needs to work fairly quickly.  We will do our best to make sure that all interests are represented in our discussions.”

Supplementary – “Can the Chair of the Board expand on what he means by a radical approach and what this would look like in practice?”

Answer:  “I’d like to be able to do that in some detail but don’t think it would be fair to do that before the reflection group has worked; before the appointment has been made.  What we are looking at is how we can take on the first phase of “Going for Growth”, which for three years has achieved many things – but actually, has not achieved others.  It’s those “others” that need to identify very clearly, very sharply, get the projects that are working that will make a difference there and then apply them.  So at the moment, I think it would be premature for me to give more detail

Supplementary – “The Bishop explained quite clearly, thank you, that there won’t be a reduction in funds because the single post will be supplemented with project work – the thing about project work of course is that project work comes to an end.  Id the Bishop prepared to make a guarantee that the current spending levels will not reduce in future years when projects do come to an end?”

Answer:  “I very much would like to give that guarantee and I look to members of Synod to in a sense, make that mental note now, that you will not reduce Vote 2 in the future.  Because this is where the power lies, its here where the vote is made when the budget is put together.  But I regard nothing as more critical than our work with children and young people in our churches and in our schools and put together, we can make a huge impact for young people who – remember, The Good Child Report is showing are much disadvantaged in terms of well being and happiness in our society – so we have a terrific task on and mustn’t reduce our resources.  Synod please note.”

Question 15.  “With reference to the proposed staffing changes in the Education Division, will the Board outline how the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC) will be resourced in the future, and if there will be additional support could they explain what form this would take?”

Answer:  “The Board remains fully committed to the Youth Council and ensuring that it is properly supported.  This is an area to which the small group which I’ve convened to develop the proposals further will give particular attention.”

Supplementary – “Is there any scope for a representative of the CEYC to be in the reflection group you have convened or could somebody from the small group meet with CEYC to discuss the support we need?”

Answer:  “I think that latter idea is a very good one – that a member of that group should indeed make contact with the Youth Council.  You need to remember that there are all kinds of interests presented here, but the CEYC is crucial.  That would be a good conversation.”

Question 16.  “With reference to the proposed staffing changes in the Education Division, can the Board provide details of the following:

(i).      The duration of the contract of the proposed “Going for Growth” Officer.

(ii).     whether there will be an opportunity to evaluate the new position after a trial period, and

(iii).    Whether the Board would consider involving CEYC and the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officers networks in an evaluation, if one occurred?

Answer:  “I am grateful for these suggestions and they will be considered as the proposals are further developed.  More generally, responsibility for the delivery of Going for Growth objectives lie with the Chief Education Officer and policy oversight is provided by the Board of Education on which two members of CEYC sit as observers.  The comments and reflections of those members are an important part of the Boards discussion and decision making.”

Supplementary – “It has been suggested that “Going for Growth” will run until 2015.  With this in mind could the Chair of the Board clarify whether he foresees Going for Growth time limited or an ongoing strategy?”

Answer:  “Our strategy for prioritising Children and Young People must be a continuing priority for any church that takes its present life and its future life seriously.  So I trust that a Going for Growth concept, whether it is called that or not, will be ongoing.  How long the actual particular content of Going for Growth in terms of the work plan that has come out of it will survive beyond 2015 I don’t know – but certainly, we’ve got an awful lot to do in the next three years and so that particular work plan has got a time scale and then we see where we have got to and review.”

My brief comment:  I will do something more substantive as I enter my own period of reflection on the above . . . but would be very hapy for any comments in the meantime (I will post again before the weekend with additional thoughts).  If you supported the petition – Thank You.