I spoke a while ago about youth work in schools and since then have been progressively more engaged with the concept of youth work in secondary schools.
Today sees the launch of the National Youth Agency’s final report for the ‘commission into the role of youth work in formal education’. And there a lot of things we can all learn from this, even if we are not actively engaged in youth work in schools.
Since the coalition government took power in 2010, there has been a decrease in local government funding for youth work and there has been an increased need for us to look for alternative ways to fund and sustain our work.
Although many see youth work in schools as a way to help gain some much-needed cash it would be naive of us to push on, blaming a schools unwillingness to engage with youth workers without considering the increased financial and political pressures they are also under.
When we consider youth work in schools the key thing to remember in all of this is how both ways of working are totally different but can be complimentary to one another and create a better overall service for young people.
Young people are facing many more challenges as they make the transition to adulthood and youth work has a key role to play in promoting young people’s personal and social development, something which does make a difference in their formal education.
The report highlights how good youth work within schools can help improve attendance and behaviour, promote achievement and improve home and community links as well as allowing young people to learn about themselves, others and society through non-formal educational activities.
Many people reading this will assume this is a new concept, however the commission has shown that currently 60% of schools are currently working with youth work providers and a further 20% have worked with them in the past and there has been a trend on the past 5-10 years where schools act not only as a place for education but as a central hub for the whole community. This already, in my opinion is an area youth workers could provide an invaluable resource to schools in the sense that they operate largely through building relationships with both young people and the wider community.
The report goes a long way in suggesting possible youth work contributions to the education system however I will focus on my own work and how what I have been doing has contributed to the life of the school I am working in.
First I will start by saying that teaching staff and youth workers should be able to see the benefits of each other’s work, both are very different but together can provide a very coherent and relevant joined up approach to working which focuses on the whole young person. This is something I found to be an issue in my own work, at first teaching staff didn’t really understand what I did, in the same way I didn’t fully appreciate the work teacher do on a daily basis.
In my current work I provide targeted sessions which relate to a need identified by staff at the school as a barrier to young people’s learning, the school recognises that they are not best placed to offer more provision so it was requested I make time to work with identified students. At first this did not sit comfortably with me, because the youth work relationship should be voluntary. However once I witnessed the rather severe impact this lack of self-esteem was having on the learning of these young people I realised my feelings towards this would have to change, if we left it to the young people to sign up in this instance there is a real possibility no one would turn up. I came to the realisation that although the young people had been asked to come to the session, their engagement in the session and the relationship I build with the young people is still voluntary and as such is still able to have the same impact as any other youth work intervention.
As well as this work I offer drop-in or “general access” provision meaning I am still interacting with the wider school audience on a more traditional youth work level. The combined efforts of both styles of working within the school make for a very effective youth work intervention and allow me to maintain my youth work identity whilst also working alongside teaching staff in a formal environment.
One issue I raised as part of the commissioning process which has only been touched on lightly in the report is the fact that it is so deeply ingrained in our being to set ourselves apart from teachers that it can be difficult for us to imagine a time the two can work together, I have found that those who are now tasked with educating a new age of youth workers can at times be a driving force in this division, making it difficult for the new era of youth worker to go against what they have been taught. I accept there is a need to maintain the unique value of youth work however I think there needs to be a more progressive movement to our teaching, allowing us to be more open to changes and less defensive in the face of policy developments. I would never suggest we learn to roll over and accept anything which is handed down to us, but we must learn to work effectively in an environment we weren’t educated for.
The full report is available at http://www.nya.org.uk/commission-on-youth-work-in-education and I would welcome you to ask me questions on my thinking around the subject.
The report contains many interesting case studies and examples of good youth work in school and has a large chunk on funding streams, something which I have stayed clear of in this post.
If you would like to ask me any questions please comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
**In writing this I have drawn on many different influences, I work as a youth worker at a high school and as a local authority school governor. I was also involved in the formal evidence gathering session for the commission**