In 2013, NYA led a national commission on the role of youth work in a school setting. Its recommendations were picked up by the children’s commissioner for England who recently called for schools to be open at evenings, weekends and holidays, with youth workers in schools.
The children’s commissioner for England recently called for youth workers in schools. Picture: WavebreakMediaMicro/Adobe Stock
- Arad Research (2015)
This coincides with the new Ofsted school inspection framework (2019) which includes personal development beyond the academic, technical or vocational.
It chimes with the NYA Manifesto for youth work (2019) and its recommendations for two youth workers per school catchment area (2PS) within a team of youth support workers and trained volunteers. This will be taken up as part of the current review of statutory guidance and cited in the NYA Sufficiency Statement.
We can look to learning from Wales and an evaluation undertaken in 2014, when youth work was embedded within schools on a wider scale. This considers benefits to both the young people and the formal education system. The youth work provided is shown to not only develop the personal and social skills of young people, but to help prevent further reduction in attendance and attainment.
Youth work improves education outcomes
As a form of education youth work, via a voluntary and informal relationship-based approach, helps disengaged young people to relate more to the idea of learning – starting with learning about themselves and developing personally and socially. This provides a route into engagement between education and that young person with positive impacts on attendance, attainment and behaviour. In instances where more specialist support than youth work was needed, youth work enabled young people to access that support too.
It concludes: “The relationship between youth workers and young people is the real strength of youth work in schools – these kids look at youth workers in a different way to teachers and careers advisers. They relate to them.”
Skills and non-academic qualifications
For some young people the gaining of a non-curricular award through school, such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, can make the difference to future chances. For others, gaining respect and learning associated personal skills is more important. In some instances, youth work was adapted specifically to support the formal curriculum also with alternative accredited learning through other awarding bodies such as BTEC.
In all instances, through youth work the learning process was shown to also add value when continued across the school holidays, helping ensure that ‘de-skilling’ and disengagement did not take place during a period of school absence, whilst positive opportunities were provided throughout.
A national framework and core funding
At the time of this evaluation, all statutory youth services annually submitted monitoring data to the Welsh government and summaries regarding project provision and number of contacts across each local authority. The most comprehensive offer was in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) which provided two full-time youth workers per school, a youth participation officer who delivers out of school learning activities and after school activities, and a youth re-engagement officer who provides one-to-one support and group work through providing peripatetic services.
The two full-time staff had the capacity and resources to bring in other staff to deliver extended provision, for example staff delivering community services provision in schools. Both RCT and Conwy had their funding provided through a core local authority budget, and were deemed to therefore have the most flexible and sustainable methods for delivery, being able to extend delivery periods where necessary and utilise enough resource to alter provision according to specific emerging needs. Further links with schools are strongest when they are well-established and trust has been developed, therefore this long-term sustainability was deemed key.
Relationship between school and youth service
Several of the youth service managers described that they took part in strategic meetings or regularly presented to a group of school head teachers at cluster meetings or similar. This was seen as an effective method of maintaining contact at a strategic level with the school although challenges still remain in ensuring that those messages then filter down through the schools.
It was described that clear professional boundaries would be of benefit, given the pressure on school budgets, so that the youth worker is not drawn in to deliver other activities. Furthermore, it was noted that there is not an agreed approach applied consistently across all local authorities. It was suggested that such a framework, while beneficial, should recognise that the youth service has to approach each school on an individual basis and cannot offer a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Implications for practice
- Overall, there were clear benefits evident to youth work in schools, especially where the relationship between youth workers and schools was strong, established, funded and where youth workers retained distinct control of their practice.
- There is recognition that it is difficult to capture the impact of youth work in relation to aspiration and social skills as outcomes may not be evident until leaving school. However, the benefits for young people were numerous and had consequent improvements on school attainment, attendance and behaviour.
- Youth work is inclusive and can provide an extra step before school exclusion and the negative outcomes that can flow from that.