Bob Coles

BA (York)

  •  Honorary Fellow in Social Policy



Youth and social policy; the linkages between structural change, social policy and biography; vulnerable groups of young people; Connexions and youth policy development in the UK; youth transitions and post-16 education and training; Children's Trusts.

Brief Biography

Before joining the Social Policy Department in 1987, I was a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology. As a sociologist I specialised in the study of youth and, initially, this involved me in researching aspects of school-to-work transitions and youth (un)employment. I moved disciplines very deliberately in order to confront more directly, as teacher and researcher, practical issues of policy in the areas of education, training and employment and support for young people. I now teach options on Children, Young People and Social Policy and The Social Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence. I hope I am able to use the analytical and theoretical skills of the sociologist in the study of contemporary policy making. The development of youth policy in the UK has gather pace since 1997 and tracking and evaluating these developments has been at the forefront of both my research and teaching.

Changing departments has also allowed me to reflect upon the differences between the two subjects. As a sociologist I was interested in problems of theory and method and taught a number of courses in those areas. But I was constantly encouraging the awkward questions 'so what?'. Why should we be fascinated by the ideas of the founding fathers (dead nineteenth century men!) if they are not directly relevant to contemporary issues and problems? Some are. The twentieth century sociologist C. Wright Mills made great play of the important distinction (and interface) between what he called "public issues" and "personal troubles" which have also been at the heart of my own recent work.

To me, sociology is also at its best when it has a cutting edge to it and focuses on patterns of inequalities and the ways in which these are reproduced from one generation to another. That was its early tradition and there is little excuse for shifting its focus except to extend this interest to include gender, race and disabilities, and other dimensions of disadvantage and risk. Good sociology does this and good social policy is informed by that work. But it also takes it further by devising practical ways in which such inequalities and disadvantages can be reduced. In that sense social policy attempts to provide practical answers to the critical questions sociologists and social policy analysts ask. This version of the productive and constructive relationship between sociology and social policy is reflected in my own work as a teacher and researcher.

Since 2002 I have also been the convenor of a new degree in Applied Social Science: Children and Young People. This degree enables students to specialise in courses which are based in the social sciences but applied to our understanding of children and young people in terms of how childhood and youth is socially constructed, what this means for childhood and adolescent development, and how this can be helped or hindered by policy initiatives. Students taking this degree also undertake a "placement" in which they "work-shadow" a professional working with children or young people to examine policy being delivered in day-to-day practice. They can thus see how policy (as delivered in practice) can have a crucial and important impact upon the biography of individual children and young people. This interface of social policy and biography has also been the focus of my recent research and writing on vulnerable groups of young people.


Coles, B. (2014) NEET as a 'wicked social problem' [Presentation]. Keeping Young People in Employment, Education and/or Training: Common challenges - Shared Solutions, 10-11 March 2014, Palace of Parliament, Bucharest. View on SlideShare.

Coles, B. (2014) Small drop in NEETs but who counts the cost of the missing. The Conversation, Feb 27th 2014. Available online.

Coles, B. (2011) Youth. In In Defence of Welfare: The Implications of the Spending Review, Yeates, N., Haux, T., Jawad, R., and Kilkey, M. (eds), London, Social Policy Association.

Coles, B., Godfrey, C., Keung, A., Parrot, S. and Bradshaw, J. (2010) Estimating the life-time cost of NEET: 16-18 year olds not in Education, Employment or Training. Research conducted for the Audit Commission, July 2010.

Coles, B., Cusworth, L., Bradshaw, J., Keung, A., and Chzhen, Y. (2009) Understanding Social Exclusion Across the Life Course: Youth and Young Adulthood. London, The Cabinet Office.

Coles, B. (2009) Qualitative Research on Teenage Mothers in York. City of York.

Coles, B. (2008) The Transformation of the Youth Labour Market in the UK. Youth and Policy. No 100. Summer/Autumn 2008. pp119-128

Coles, B. (2008)Young People In: Rawlingson, R. et al (eds) Students Companion to Social Policy Third Edition. Oxford, Blackwells.

Coles, B. (2007) For the Benefit of Mr Kite: Some-assaults on Connexions. Youth and Policy. Spring 2007.

Coles. B. (2006) Youth Policy 1995-2005; From "the best start" to "youth smatters". Youth and Policy No. 89 pp 7-19.

Coles, B (2006) Policy: What now for Youth Policy? Young People Now 01. 02.2006.

Coles, B., Britton. L. and Hicks, L. (2004) Building Better Connexions: Inter-agency work and the Connexions Service . The Policy Press.

Coles, B., Britton. L. and Hicks, L. (2004) Inter-agency work and the Connexions Service : Joseph Rowntree Foundation Findings , Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Coles, B. (2004) 'Better Connections? Welfare Services for Young People', in J. Roche, S. Tucker, R. Thomson, and R. Flynn  Youth in Society (2nd ed.), London: Sage.

Coles, B. (2003) 'Young People' in A. Erskine et al. (ed.) Students Companion to Social Policy , Oxford: Blackwell, pp296-302

Coles, B (2003) 'Connexions: An outbreak in purple and orange', Benefits: A Journal of Social Security Research , Policy and Practice no37, vol. 11, 2, pp93-98.

Coles, B., Hutton, S., Bradshaw, J., Craig, G., Godfrey, C. and Johnson J. (2002) Estimating the Costs of Being Not in Education, Employment or Training at age 16-18 , Sheffield: Department for Education and Skills.

Coles, B. (2002) Joined-Up Youth Research, Policy and Practice: A new agenda for change?, Leicester: Barnardos and Youth Work Press.

Coles, B., Hutton, S., Bradshaw, J., Craig, G., Godfrey, C. and Johnson J. (2002) Literature Review of the Costs of Being Not in Education, Employment or Training at age 16-18 , Sheffield: Department for Education and Skills

Coles, B., Britton, E., Chatrik, B., Craig, G., Hylton, C. and Mumtaz, S. (2002) Missing Connexions: The career dynamics and welfare needs of black and minority ethnic young people at the margins , Bristol: Policy Press

Coles, B. and Mail S. (2002) 'Children, Young People and Crime', in J. Bradshaw (ed.) UK : The Welfare of Children , London: Save the Children.

Coles, B.and Kenwright, H. (2002) 'Educational Achievement', in J. Bradshaw (ed.) UK: The Welfare of Children , London: Save the Children.

Coles, B and Mail S. (2002) 'Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use', in J. Bradshaw (ed.) UK: The Welfare of Children , London: Save the Children.

Coles, B. and Edwards, E. (2002) 'Truancy and School Exclusion', in J. Bradshaw (ed.) UK: The Welfare of Children , London: Save the Children.

Coles, B. (2002) 'Young People' in A. Erskine et al. (eds.) Students Companion to Social Policy (revised ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.

Coles, B and Craig, C. (2002) Disconnected, Zero2nineteen .

B Coles et al., Literature Review of the Costs of Being "Not in Education, Employment or Training" at Age 16-18 . Department for Education and Skills research report RR 347, 2002.

Coles, B. (2000) 'Changing Patterns of Youth Transitions in England and the New Germany: Vulnerable groups, welfare careers and social exclusion' in R. Silbereisen and J. Bynner (eds.)  Adversity and Challenge in Life in the New Germany and in England , London: Macmillan, pp266-288.

Coles, B. (2000) 'Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Youth Policy and the Work of the Social Exclusion Unit', Social Policy Review 12.

Coles, B, J. England and J. Rugg (2000) 'Spaced Out: Young People on Social Housing Estates: Social Exclusion and Multi-Agency Work', Journal of Youth Studies , vol.3, no.1.

Bob Coles

Contact details

Bob Coles
Honorary Fellow in Social Policy