Archives For News

News items and stories relevant to informal education and work with young people

It’s been a while since I posted about the proposal for an Institute of Youth Work in England and I’m a little behind on this, but there is a consultation happening now and it’s important you join in!

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9 July 2012 — Leave a comment

Last week, Clubs for Young People (formerly the National Association of Boys Clubs) changed its name with a significant rebrand. The organisation is now known as Ambition.

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In case you missed it, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) have published the revised the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Youth Work. The purpose of the National Occupational Standards is to describe the knowledge and skills needed to perform a job role or work task. They exist for a huge number of vocations and provide a benchmark of good practice as they explain what needs to be done.

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I received the following from the National Youth Agency. Feel free to contact them directly if you’re interested!

Dear Colleague,

Opportunities to be involved in education training standards activity

The National Youth Agency is seeking suitably experienced and qualified youth work professionals to get involved in its education training standards (ETS) work through joining professional validation panels. These panels provide peer scrutiny and recommendations to ETS on the professional validation of higher education youth and community work programmes. The role will involve participation on a two-day visit, alongside three colleagues, to a higher education institution seeking validation. The frequency of involvement is flexible.

This opportunity is a voluntary post and validation panel members often find that their involvement brings additional perspectives and learning for their own work. All expenses will be covered. For more information please email Debbie Simms –

On Saturday, 16 Year Old Laura Dekker completed her solo round-the-world sailing adventure. The Dutch teenager started her record breaking voyage at just 14 years old – but only after winning a court case that allowed her to go.

Arrival of 16-year-old, Dutch girl, Laura Dekker in St.Maarten Yacht Club, in the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on January 21, 2012. She becomes the youngest sailor who ever sailed around the world solo. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-MICHEL ANDRE

Although Laura was born on a boat off the coast of New Zealand (and holds citizenship there), she lives in Holland where schooling is compulsory until 16. As a result when she made plans aged 13 to do a round the world solo voyage, the Dutch authorities stepped in with a court order and she was almost taken into care as it was felt she was too young to look after herself at sea. She eventually won the court battle on the conditions that she complete a first aid course and continue with her education via an internet-based distance learning scheme. The BBC have a good piece covering the full story surrounding her voyage.

However, the youth work aspect I’m interested in with this story is in finding the balance between encouraging young people to fulfil their dreams, and taking necessary precautions around their safety and wellbeing.

My initial reaction to hearing that Laura had completed the voyage was pride. Here was a young girl who has followed her dreams, achieved something amazing, and proved her critics wrong. But then I thought: what if I had been responsible for her? Would I have encouraged her to go, or maybe suggested she wait a year or two?

It’s actually the Social Workers in the story who I feel a bit sorry for. I understand their dilemma. As the BBC quotes:

“We have a duty to investigate. The law says you must stay in school until you are 16,” says Caroline Vink from the Netherlands Youth Institute.

“We also had to make sure that Laura was able to cope with the demands of such a massive challenge when she was so young; things like the lack of sleep and being on her own all the time.”

“It’s so difficult to judge a case like this and when you’re dealing with such a determined young woman.

“We never meant to make her life difficult, only to look out for her safety. I hope she doesn’t hold a grudge.

“In the end she has shown extreme strength of character both before and of course during her adventure.”

Apparently, Laura doesn’t think much of the Dutch authorities due to her experiences and is considering moving to New Zealand as a result!

Most of us aren’t involved in such a high profile scenario, but we do face similar dilemmas in our work. How do we best encourage young people to fulfil their potential while being realistic about their, and our, safety?

What do you think? Were the Dutch authorities right to try and stop the voyage initially? Should we allow young people to do risky and dangerous things, or do we have a duty to stop them? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

This week there’s been a couple of key reports released relating to the quality of life for children and young people in the UK.

Firstly the Campaign to End Child Poverty published new figures (estimates for mid 2011) that provide a child poverty map of the whole of the UK.

On average, one in five (20.9%) children are classified as below the poverty line (before housing costs). It’s 18% in my locality. In some areas of large cities, this rises to over half. At a more local level, there are even more serious concentrations of child poverty: in 100 local wards, between 50% and 70% of children face poverty.

Official government measures of child poverty are based on a national survey of family income which only shows poverty at national and regional level. The figures shown in this report use tax credit data to give the percentage of children on low incomes in local authorities, parliamentary constituencies and wards. Therefore although it is not the official measure, it is the closest data available on local levels of child poverty and very useful information to help us do better at eradicating poverty. As Alison Garnham, Executive Director of the Campaign, says:

“The child poverty map paints a stark picture of a socially segregated Britain where the life chances of millions of children are damaged by poverty and inequality. But it also gives us reason for hope. The child poverty target has already been met in the Prime Minister’s constituency and nearly a hundred others, so never let it be said that the targets are impossible to meet. If we can do it in Witney today, we can do it in Hackney tomorrow.

Then yesterday, The Children’s Society published the The Good Childhood Report 2012. After interviewing 30,000 children aged 8 to 16, the report reveals that half a million children across the UK are unhappy with their lives. This is important information as the report states:

Children who have low levels of happiness are much less likely to enjoy being at home with their family, feel safe when with their friends, like the way they look and feel positive about their future. Children unhappy in this way are also more likely to be victimised, have eating disorders or be depressed.

Key findings include:

  • Choice and family have the biggest impact on children’s happiness.
  • The quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in.
  • Low well-being increases dramatically with age – doubling from the age of 10 (7%) to the age of 15 (14%).
  • Children as young as eight are aware of the financial issues their families face.  Children in families who have experienced a reduction in income are more likely to have low well-being.
  • Children who do not have clothes to ‘fit in’ with peers are more than three times as likely to be unhappy with their appearance. Children who are unhappy with their appearance are also much more likely than average to experience frequent bullying.

You can download the full report or the research summary to find our more, but these findings indicate that poverty (or a reduction in wealth) have a big impact on how happy a child feels.

Both these reports highlight some serious challenges for children and young people in the UK, and some big reminders of how those working with them must continue to provide support in this difficult time.

Do we need an ‘Institute for Youth Work’ and who gets to decide what it does? At the moment, it’s certainly not you and I.

Who makes the decisions?

Children & Young People Now reported last week (registration required) that ‘A consortium of youth organisations is exploring the creation of an independent body to provide youth workers with a strong voice and set standards across the sector… The body has been given the provisional title of the Institute for Youth Work and would champion the role of a broad range of professionals and volunteers working with young people.’

OK, I’m with it so far. An independent body to speak up for workers sounds like a good idea. So how does it work?

The consortium mentioned is called Catalyst, and is made up of the National Youth Agency (NYA), National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS), the Social Enterprise Coalition and the Young Foundation, with FPM (a training provider) also supporting the idea. Catalyst was awarded £2.6m in February by the Department for Education (DfE) and the money to set up the institute will come from this grant.

Right. So by independent, we mean a group of self-appointed organisations supported by the government. Not my first choice, and I get no say anyway.

Even more surprisingly, it seems the Institute might include a register of youth workers and set standards and ethics for the discipline. It could also lead to a licence to practice where workers could be struck off for malpractice.

Hang on a minute! So I’ll need to register to this Institute (who I didn’t get to vote for or choose), just so they can tell me the standards and ethics I should adopt and tell me off if I break them? How does one become a member of this brilliant organisation?

The institute would rely on individual workers paying an annual membership fee… Membership would potentially be open not only to professionally qualified youth workers and youth work volunteers, but also to staff in the field of information, advice and guidance, youth justice and others working with young people.

Amazingly I have to pay to be a part of it! We’ve heard all this before. I previously wrote about the NYA’s move towards registration in an article for Youth Work Now here.

Earlier this year, the NYA committed £30,000 to explore the feasibility of a voluntary register and discovered “considerable support among key stakeholder groups and individuals for a registration scheme”. The agency obviously didn’t ask me.

After some exploration of who will benefit from the scheme, I came to the conclusion:

So if it won’t directly benefit young people, what exactly is it for? If, as the NYA claims, there is demand for a registration scheme then it can only be about professionals wanting further recognition for their work. This may be a fair request given the breadth and diversity of the youth work sector, yet it would potentially be very damaging.

It seems my concerns are not alone. At the end of the CYPNow article last week, it quotes Doug Nicholls, (national officer at Unite) who has some stern criticism of the move:

“It appears that organisations with vested interests in the privatisation of public services have taken an initiative without the support of the profession or any consultation with youth workers,” he said. “It is likely that this could well be yet another money-spinner for cash-strapped organisations. The registration of workers and setting of standards is far too important to be left to unrepresentative bodies.”

I also note that Tony Taylor of the In Defence of Youth Work campaign has picked up on this and is asking similar valid questions about the motives here.

So what do you think?

Is an Institute for Youth Work a good thing? Is it right that a group of organisations can set themselves up to speak on behalf of youth workers and set standards for the field? Is a registration scheme for workers a good idea?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Changes to criminal checks

11 February 2011 — 8 Comments

'Caution' by rknickme on Flickr

This morning brings us news of the government’s Freedoms Bill being unveiled later today, which proposes changes to the overly complicated and bureaucratic criminal record checking system:

The new bill calls for a merging of the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority to form “a streamlined new body providing a proportionate barring and criminal records checking service”.

That body will provide what ministers say will be a more “proportionate” checking service for about 4.5m people who work “closely and regularly” with children or vulnerable adults.

Teachers will continue to be vetted – but those who do occasional, supervised volunteer work will not.

Critics of the current system which has been accused of treating the public as criminal suspects, are welcoming the news, but others have concerns for child safety by relaxing the amount of people who need to be vetted.

Personally, I’m pleased that the process is being simplified. At times I have had up to 4 separate CRB checks for different agencies simultaneously, and regularly have to do checks on fully supervised volunteers who only do a few hours in a whole year. Under this new Bill, these volunteers would be exempt. It does however place more responsibility on organisations to ensure volunteers are properly supervised and appropriate procedures are in place.

How will this change affect your work? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

From Children & Young People Now: Report underlines youth clubs’ role in combating mental health problems in young people.

Youth clubs can help reduce young people’s chances of developing mental problems, according to an interim report published by Clubs for Young People and Young Devon.

The report Somewhere to Talk — Someone to Listen looks at research evidence from across the children, youth and mental health sectors.

Keith Coulston, author of the report, argues that research shows that youth clubs help to develop young people’s resilience, and reduce the risk of vulnerable young people experiencing “low level” mental health problems from developing a more severe mental health problem.

Flicking through the report, I tend to agree with its findings. My only criticism is that it seems to prove its conclusion by gathering evidence about the emotional needs of young people and then relating it to what is understood about the role of youth clubs rather than hard evidence.

Members of the Working Group and Steering Group have contributed their knowledge and expertise to the process of designing and analysing questionnaires and developing briefing papers and this Interim Report. Specialist support provided by the Mental Health Foundation has enabled the production of two papers (a) The emotional needs of young people and (b) the role of youth clubs which have been incorporated into this report.

Obviously different youth clubs are run in different ways and so will provide very different experiences for young people attending. Personally I’d like to see some more solid research on what clubs do provide young people, and then analysed against the medical evidence of mental health needs. I could be entirely wrong, but the methodology here feels flawed even if the conclusion is right.

Judge for yourself by downloading the full report here.

This is a very interesting piece of news where the outcome will affect the youth work landscape in the UK for a long time: Select committee chairman blasts youth sector for lack of evidence.

The chairman of the education select committee inquiry into young people’s services has accused the youth sector of failing to make a strong case for government funding. Speaking during the opening session of the inquiry today, Graham Stuart MP said: “It does seem an extraordinary failure that you [the youth sector] can’t make a better fist at explaining the difference you make.”

A select committee is a committee made up of a small number of parliamentary members appointed to deal with particular areas or issues. The education select committee is currently holding an inquiry into the role of universal services such as youth clubs and cultural activities for young people, and targeted youth services for vulnerable groups. They had been hearing oral evidence from larger youth organisations including the British Youth Council, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, the National Youth Agency (NYA) and UK Youth about the need for services for young people. But from the headlines, it seems they have not been able to back up their claims with any evidence. Even more frustratingly, the heads of these organisations seem to be making excuses:

Charlotte Hill, chief executive of UK Youth, defended the lack of evidence available. “Lots of organisations haven’t been able to invest in researching their outcomes,” she said.

Susanne Rauprich, chief executive of NCVYS… had investigated setting up a system to measure the impact of its membership organisations, but was told it would cost around £2m. “We simply don’t have £2m to spend,” she said.

Fiona Blacke, chief executive of the NYA, added that the agency stopped producing its Local Authority Youth Service Annual Audit in 2008… after the previous government pulled funding for the programme.

There is a great deal of anger on the CYP Now forum that these big youth organisations who supposedly represent all of our work, have failed to make a strong case for what we do. As mas says:

Are those the organisations the youth work sector would have chosen to represent them? Who made the decision they should represent and on what basis? I’m intrigued that the excuses given relate to cost. Is it really the case that in these circumstances they couldn’t find a way to support all those they represent to put together the huge amount of evidence they must have collected for their various work?

Then later he writes:

how bloody ironic that despite it all “The chairman of the education select committee inquiry into young people’s services has accused the youth sector of failing to make a strong case for government funding.”
Surely youth workers and organisations across the country are now screaming ‘what about this huge pile of evidence I’ve been gathering for all this time?’ – aren’t they?

What do you make of this development? Can you prove that what you do with young people is effective? Is it even important to do so? Discuss.