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EACEA National Policies Platform


1. Youth Policy Governance

1.4 Youth policy decision-making

Last update: 25 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 29/07/2020 - 17:14

On this page
  1. Structure of Decision-making
  2. Main Themes
  3. The National Agency for Youth
  4. Policy monitoring and evaluation 


Structure of Decision-making

Central government

The Scottish Government sets out broad national policy for youth through its Cabinet Secretaries. Youth work lies within the portfolio of the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. Youth employment lies within the portfolio of the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.

Other Cabinet Secretaries who, along with supporting Ministers, have responsibilities for the following youth-associated aspects of policy are:

At executive level, the main responsibility for youth affairs lies within the Learning Directorate ; Advanced Learning and Science Directorate; Children and Families Directorate; and Justice Directorate.

The Education Analytical Services Division is part of the Directorate for Learning. It has responsibility, in relation to education and young people, for helping the Scottish Government and the wider public sector make decisions based on high quality evidence and analysis to deliver the right outcomes.

Other Directorates whose work involves young people include Healthcare Quality and Strategy; Culture, Tourism and Major Events; Local Government and Communities.

Education Scotland, established in 2011 as the national improvement agency for education, offers support and advice to Ministers in the areas in which it acts as a policy lead, including youth work. Work with young people is one component of community learning and development (CLD), which encompasses a range of community-based learning and personal development activities, provided by a range of statutory and voluntary organisations. The Community Learning and Development (CLD) team within Education Scotland supports the sector.

Local government

The Requirements for Community Learning and Development (Scotland) Regulations 2013 placed a legal requirement on local authorities to take the lead role in the provision of community learning and development. Guidance issued in 2012 entitled Strategic Guidance for Community Planning Partnerships: Community Learning and Development, while directed at Community Planning Partnerships, and recognising that a wide range of organisations and services played a part in provision, stated the Scottish Government's expectation that local authorities would 'provide clear leadership and direction' and 'drive the action needed'. The Regulations formalised this expectation.

Community Planning Partnerships are those organisations that cooperate at local level to carry out community planning, defined in the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003 as:

a process ... whereby public services in the area of the local authority are planned and provided after consultation and (on-going) cooperation … among all public bodies ... and with community bodies.

Main Themes

Community-based youth work

The National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019 has a focus on community-based youth work provision, delivered as part of Community Learning and Development. Collaborative and partnership working is emphasised. Under the strategy’s ambition to recognise the value of youth work, there is an aim that youth work will be embedded within the broader field of Community Learning and Development, within Community Planning arrangements. A key theme of the National Youth Work Strategy 2014-19 is supporting and valuing youth workers, whether paid or voluntary, through training and support. 

The Scottish Government has announced its commitment to a new National Youth Work strategy from 2020. See ‘Current Debates and Reforms’ in Youth Workfor more information.

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) is the Scottish Government’s rights-based approach to improving outcomes which underpins all policy, practice, strategy and legislation affecting children, young people and their families.

According the Scottish Government website, the GIRFEC approach is:

  • child-focused - it ensures the child or young person – and their family – is at the centre of decision-making and the support available to them.
  • is based on an understanding of the wellbeing of a child in their current situation - it takes into consideration the wider influences on a child or young person and their developmental needs when thinking about their wellbeing, so that the right support can be offered.
  • is based on tackling needs early - it aims to ensure needs are identified as early as possible to avoid bigger concerns or problems developing.
  • requires joined-up working - it is about children, young people, parents, and the services they need working together in a coordinated way to meet the specific needs and improve their wellbeing.


The Curriculum for Excellence was introduced in 2010, having been in development since 2002. It is intended to provide a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum for all children and young people, wherever their learning takes place. This includes the learning opportunities delivered through youth work. The outcome of the curriculum is expressed as the development and demonstration of four capacities in every young person: a successful learner; a confident individual; a responsible citizen; and an effective contributor.

The development process involved extensive engagement with teachers and practitioners. It built upon the existing good practice across all sectors of Scottish education and took account of research and international comparisons.

The National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019 identifies strengthening partnerships between school staff and youth work practitioners as a priority for the Curriculum for Excellence programme, particularly within the planning and delivery of the senior phase. Further information on linking the curriculum and youth work is available from Youth Scotland.

Youth employment

Current youth employment policy is set in the context of an improving economy and the Scottish Government's aim to improve youth employment beyond pre-recession levels.

Scotland’s strategy and implementation plan, Developing the Young Workforce: Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy (Scottish Government, 2014), sets out how, over a seven-year period, the Scottish Government will implement the recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce’s final report Education Working For All! (Scottish Government, 2014). The report’s recommendations built upon the Scottish Government's 2015 economic strategy, the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence and the extensive reforms of post-16 education.

The ultimate aim is to create a vocational education system which will reduce youth unemployment by 40 per cent by 2021. The Commission’s report was based on extensive consultations with leading figures in education, business and equalities groups.

In April 2019, the Scottish government published Europe 2020: Scotland's National Reform Programme 2019 which outlined action points to boost youth labour market participation and skills development. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has begun to show some impact on the youth labour market as outlined a June 2020 report for economic recovery:

 For the year April 2019-March 2020 compared to the previous year, the employment rate was significantly lower, a drop of 3.6% to 54.8%, and the unemployment rate was slightly lower at 8.8%.

The government has undertaken illustrative scenarios to hypothesise strategies to deal with the economic downturn due to the pandemic, as outlined in the above report. However it is acknowledged that a high level of uncertainty remains with regards to how and when the labour market will recover. 

See the chapter on ‘Employment and Entrepreneurship’ for more detail on youth employment.

The Arts  

Creative Scotland was asked by the Scottish Government to develop Scotland's first ever youth arts strategy. The main underlying principles of Time To Shine: Scotland’s Youth Arts Strategy (2013) are:

  • young people at the centre
  • coherence with related policies, particularly Curriculum for Excellence
  • collaborative working, involving both peer networks and work with local and central government
  • tackling inequalities.

Creative Scotland conducted a national discussion on the youth arts while developing the draft strategy with nearly 2000 stakeholders helping to establish the priorities.

Information on the background to developing the strategy, including the consultations and research and reference papers used, can be found in Time To Shine: What’s Behind It? (Creative Scotland, 2013).

In 2020, the Scottish government published a Culture Strategy to set the future direction of supporting culture and the arts in Scotland. This includes actions such as continuing to work on making the culture and heritage sector part of Scotland as a Fair Work Nation by 2025 and targeted support to help the Scottish Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland expand and develop. 

Youth Justice

Youth justice is identified in the National Youth Work Strategy 2014-19 as an area of youth sector work. The importance of preventing offending in particular was highlighted by the Scottish Government in 2009 in Valuing Young People: Principles and Connections to Support Young People Achieve Their Potential (Scottish Government and COSLA).

The Scottish Government’s youth justice strategy for 2015-2020 also places the emphasis on preventing offending. Launched in 2015, Preventing Offending: Getting it Right for Children and Young People advances the whole system approach, which includes early and effective intervention and opportunities to divert young people from prosecution. It also places a strategic focus on improving life chances and developing capacity and improvement.

This child-centred, preventative approach aligns with the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) approach and the Government’s overriding ambition to make Scotland the best place to grow up in.

The strategy was developed with a wide range of partners.


The National Agency for Youth

There is no government agency which fits within the definition of National Agency for Youth.

YouthLink Scotland is a charitable membership organisation and is the National Agency for Youth Work, a role recognised by the then Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government) in 2007. While its focus is youth work, it draws its memberships from a wide range of policy areas including health; education; youth participation; environmental protection; sport; volunteering; child protection; youth justice; human rights; and support for international development.

Its aim is to be the voice of both the statutory sector and the third sector, representing the policy and practice needs and interests of the youth work sector to government and other stakeholders through:

  • supporting the sector to demonstrate the impact and value of their work
  • promoting a positive image of young people and youth work
  • helping the sector to identify new sources of sustainable funding and make effective use of existing resources
  • representing the range of views and interests of the sector to all levels of government
  • being key partners with government in workforce development
  • encouraging more adults to volunteer or consider a career in youth work
  • providing information and support to the youth work sector and other partners
  • undertaking research that will contribute to a better understanding of the role of youth work and of the needs of young people in Scottish society
  • campaigning for equality of access to youth work for all young people
  • maintaining an independent approach to the prosecution of its mission.

Policy monitoring and evaluation 

There are no mechanisms specifically for monitoring and evaluating the implementation and effects of youth policies. A range of tools are utilised for general policy monitoring including in-house research capability, commissioned research, surveys, impact assessments, consultations, etc. Some surveys, for example, may be conducted at regular intervals and new policy documents generally include a statement regarding the timing of any evaluation.

Further details of policy making, monitoring and evaluation process are provided in the article on 'Evidence-based youth policy’.