The Centre for Youth Impact has received over £607,000 of National Lottery funding through the Big Lottery Fund to lead a three and a half year (Apr 2018- Sep 2021) test and learn project for a ground-breaking quality improvement initiative. The Youth Programme Quality Intervention (YPQI) was developed in the US, and has never before been piloted in the UK. Through extensive research, the YPQI has been shown to improve outcomes for young people, to create a sustainable and supportive culture of organisational reflection and improvement, and to refocus evaluation on the quality of relationships and setting. This pilot project will test the YPQI in all four nations of the UK, to learn from its impact on culture and practice, and assess its applicability to different policy and practice contexts. It will build the foundations for wider roll-out, through establishing a community of practice and cohort of trained coaches. It will translate the YPQI for the UK context. It is an exciting and potentially transformative opportunity for the UK youth sector.
Quality improvement and impact measurement in the youth sector
The drive to measure, demonstrate and prove impact is strong within the UK youth sector, though it has evolved at different ‘speeds’ across the four nations. Regardless, a uniting feature is a policy narrative that connects sustainability and funding to evidence of impact, which has led to an over-focus on the measurement of outcomes in isolation in an effort to prove impact at the expense of improving services. Refocusing on the quality of practice would create the opportunity for two profound shifts: firstly, it would direct energies to the improvement and observation of quality alongside the monitoring of outcomes, and secondly, as a consequence, it would create the potential for the observation of quality to become predictive of outcomes for young people.
At the same time, there has been a concerted development of quality standards across the UK youth sector, which although welcome, have a different focus to the YPQI. Indeed, the systematic and embedded reflection on continuous improvement that is at the centre of the YPQI approach is both different and complementary to formal quality assurance processes.
The Youth Programme Quality Intervention (YPQI)
The YPQI is a systematic approach to quality improvement, developed in the States during the 1990s. It is based around an observational assessment tool, the Program Quality Assessment, and training in Youth Work Methods from qualified coaches. It follows an assess-plan-improve sequence to help youth organisations focus on and improve the quality of their provision.
The YPQI looks at quality in four domains of practice: safety, support, interaction and engagement, which together create a set of key developmental experiences for young people. The assessment of quality is based on observation, by peers and youth work managers. The YPQI creates a context where quality improvement is prioritised, provides technical support for providers to improve, and builds capacity within providers to put continuous quality improvement into practice. It has been subjected to an experimental trial, which highlighted its positive impact on the quality of provision, and thus outcomes for young people.
 See Smith, C et al (2009) Managing for Positive Youth Development: Linking Management Practices to Instructional Performances in Out-of-school Time Organizations.; and Smith, C. et al (2012) Continuous quality improvement in afterschool settings: Impact findings from the Youth Program Quality Intervention study; both Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment.
The UK pilot plan
The UK pilot is being led by the Centre for Youth Impact in partnership with the David P Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality. The pilot will work with its first wave of organisations in England (starting Autumn 2018), followed by Scotland and Wales (starting Spring 2019) and finally in Northern Ireland (starting Autumn 2019). We will be working with partners in each country to help support and guide the pilot. Alongside the piloting of the YPQI itself there will be substantial research and evaluation that aims to understand both the experience and success of the approach in different contexts and assess the link between the quality framework and positive outcomes for young people.
The Centre for Youth Impact will work with partner organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to recruit and support pilot organisations and build the infrastructure for further roll-out beyond this project. Specifically, the goals of the pilot are to:
The ultimate goal of the pilot is to both increase the availability of high-quality provision for young people in the different countries of the UK, and to develop an in-depth understanding of the relationship between the quality of practice and outcomes for young people.
For more information please contact Matthew Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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