December 2013


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    Every parent wants their child to go to a good school and politicians and policy makers share a s similar ambition to ensure that all schools are good. So how do we make it happen? More
  • Expanding horizons
    Bill Lucas explores the concept of expansive education and what it means for teaching and learning. More
  • Life after levels?
    The government’s decision to abandon levels and leave individual schools to decide how to measure progress is understandably causing concern. However, says Andrew Thraves, many schools are already planning for a life without levels and some schools have already adopted a new system of day-to-day assessment. More
  • Clubbing together
    Youth workers who help with mentoring, PSHE and after-school clubs can also be a powerful tool in keeping students motivated and on track with learning. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Revision time
    The introduction of performance-related pay, although controversial, offers an ideal opportunity for fresh thinking on how leaders manage change, says Edward Gildea. More
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Youth workers who help with mentoring, PSHE and after-school clubs can also be a powerful tool in keeping students motivated and on track with learning. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

Clubbing together

When the town’s youth club closed because of spending cuts, Julie Bloor took matters into her own hands. Reports were beginning to reach her of pupils getting into trouble in the evenings because they were bored and had nothing to do.

Julie, Principal of Shirebrook Academy in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire secured funding from the school’s trustees to employ two part-time youth workers, a male and a female, to run after-school clubs and sporting activities and to deliver important aspects of the curriculum, such as sexual health education. The youth worker team also organised special sessions with vulnerable boys to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The annual £30,000 cost of employing the two youth workers is reaping benefits as the two employees fulfil a crucial role that would otherwise take teachers away from the classroom, Julie says.

“We have found having youth workers in school a very holistic approach to some of the challenges we face. The kids know that what they do outside the school gates and in the community is our concern and we always find out about it, so there is nowhere to hide. We have had to have some difficult conversations with parents too. The youth workers are another means of getting the messages out there.”

The children were very vocal about the youth services being cut, but they are “a voiceless group of people in the general population,” she adds.

“This is a socially deprived, ex-mining town and there is little for young people to do, and even less so now the youth club and services are gone. We started to hear about pockets of anti-social behaviour in the town and we were getting the fall-out of that in school. You always do when there are things bubbling over in the community but it was a situation I could not tolerate.”

Shirebrook is the only secondary school in the town so, in a sense, its pupils and their families are a captive audience for the youth workers, who enjoy direct links with them and receive help and support where it is needed.

“They know that if they get into trouble in the community then they will get into trouble in school too,” Julie says. “I believe what happens to them outside of these walls is my responsibility as well as what happens during school time.”

The approach taken by Shirebrook is increasingly being adopted by schools as local youth services decline but the challenges of social and economic deprivation continue to plague communities.

Less formal relationships

A National Youth Agency (NYA) Commission into the role of youth workers in schools reported in October that the links between the two services was crucial in promoting young people’s social and personal development. It has been shown to improve attendance and behaviour and to promote academic achievement by engaging and motivating young people, who develop entirely different, more relaxed and less formal relationships with youth workers than they may do with their teachers.

The commission, led by Tim Loughton MP, the former children’s minister, found that most youth work in schools was targeted at the most disaffected and vulnerable youngsters through drop-in provision and one-to-one support, and about 60 per cent of schools were working in collaboration with youth service providers. In many schools, these workers had a vital role to play in delivering personal, social and health education and sex and relationship education.

It found that many schools were now taking the initiative and proactively encouraging partnerships with local youth services or employing staff themselves to take on these important roles. Where youth workers were working in schools to the best effect, they were an integral part of the staffing team.

At North Oxfordshire Academy in Banbury, a scheme historically used to provide qualifications for less academic students has now evolved into a ‘grow your own’ youth worker project.

Sixth-formers with aspirations of going into teaching, youth or social work, for example, can study for a series of vocational youth work qualifications alongside their A levels that can give them a form of ‘cultural capital’ that can help them to stand out in university or job applications. These include ABC Awards, Levels 2 and 3 certificates and diplomas in youth work practice and certificates in community volunteering.

The students run after-school and lunchtime clubs and mentoring schemes and some work in teaching assistant roles alongside teachers in the classroom.

Sara Billins, the Principal, says, “We used to run a youth service vocational qualification for sixth-formers who weren’t particularly academic, but this has now been extended to anyone who wants to do it. About 30 per cent of sixth-formers participate and every year a handful stay on – effectively in Year 14 of their education – to do apprenticeships in business and administration or teaching assistant at Level 2 and are part of the school’s youth support team, led by Lee Davis, the school’s youth development worker.

“When some of our students apply to university, they may have the A level grades but they don’t necessarily have the cultural capital to put on their statements, which is just as important. They are helping to enhance the life of the school, and it gives them great experience.”

The benefits to the school are multi-layered, Sara says. Younger pupils become more aspirational because they see sixth-formers assuming roles of responsibility within the school while for the sixth formers, it gives them self-esteem, a high profile and status within the academy as role models.

“It makes them more saleable in the jobs market and better prepared for university,” Sara adds. “For some, it is a career choice and they receive training in child protection issues and anti-bullying work.

“At a time of shrinking external services it has enabled us to offer important provision. Pupils move seamlessly from their normal lessons and school life to after-activities afterwards in a safe and familiar environment. We also don’t have some of the conflict you might get when professionals from different agencies work together.”

Widespread improvements

From the perspective of the National Youth Agency, more still needs to be done to cement the links between youth work and formal education, although progress has been made. The report says that teachers ‘get’ the importance of the contribution that youth workers make in schools when they see improvements in the attendance, behaviour and academic achievement of all pupils and not just among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. But it underlines that local authorities (LAs) need to take a lead in promoting partnerships and collaboration.

“The cuts to youth work have been quite substantial. Local authorities have been telling of cuts of up to 30 per cent on average to youth work and there has been a knock-on effect in all provision including schools,” says Fiona Black, the NYA’s Chief Executive.

“Generally speaking, schools are not picking up this work, though they recognise that they have a responsibility in their communities and what happens beyond the school day. When you consider that 85 per cent of a child’s waking time is spent outside of school then this must have an impact on their attainment at school.”

In the most forward-thinking schools, there is recognition that engaging outside school will have an affect on what goes on inside it, Fiona says.

“But many schools are themselves hit by their own financial constraints. We hope to begin to see Pupil Premium being used for this purpose. What we would also like to see is more work being done by Ofsted on this, in recognising and understanding the value of youth work to formal education.

“One of the aspects we were particularly pleased to see was the high level of engagement between some schools and youth services at a time when we were not sure whether the freedoms given to academies would make them more or less likely to focus on youth work.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist. 

Read the full NYA report, National Youth Agency Commission into the Role of Youth Work in Formal Education, here: