This chapter sets out to critically evaluate leadership in youth work. It argues that an understanding of leadership must be grounded in an appreciation of the complex interactions between practice and broader neoliberal policy agendas. As well as drawing on the policy framework for youth work, this chapter also explores the related policy landscapes of early years and formal education. It examines the demands and constraints of a policy agenda which is driving change in both youth work and a wider range of approaches to the education and welfare of young people and children. The chapter will argue that policy interventions extend their reach through performance management, target setting, national qualiﬁcation and curriculum frameworks as well as through the mechanisms of Ofsted inspection regimes. It is further argued that this policy climate severely limits the capacity of leaders to lead, and on the contrary, leaders are becoming mere conduits for national policy directives. This raises fundamental questions about the implications of an uncritical acceptance of current leadership discourses and concludes by suggesting an alternative ‘democratic’ approach to leadership must be built across professional boundaries. Appropriate forms of leadership for youth work rest on beliefs and values about the
nature and purpose of the work we do, and these do not exist in isolation of political, social and economic contexts in which practice is located. This chapter explores how neoliberal policy discourses aimed at surveillance and control of educational engagements are positioning the role of leaders in a changing service environment which transforms youth work, education, employment and training from a right to a duty evidenced by the objectiﬁcation of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEETs). The chapter goes on to draw on evidence from targeted interventions in the early years and in schools, concluding that not only should the dominant discourse of a particular type of transformational leadership be challenged but that this is best done by establishing networks across related professions.