Creating an Institute for Youth Work : Singing as We Go!


The world of youth work in all its contemporary contradiction seems uncertain about an Institute for Youth Work [IYW]. Last week’s Development Day in Leicester sought to move things on. Unfortunately at first  the four papers circulated – see NYA Current Consultation – were in danger of being advanced as the last rather than the latest word in the debate. However as the day unfolded good sense prevailed. It was recognised that the pace of the IYW’s creation needed to take into account the significant cultural change across work with young people in recent decades – and the different places this has left both individuals and organisations. In Malcolm Ball’s analogy it was necessary to travel together as far as might be possible, crossing bridges when needed, seeking to keep everyone involved in a critical and constructive journey.

In tune with our initial response to the IYW consultations – Responding to an IYW – we  concentrated on the big picture rather than the detail. The central question remains what is to be defined as youth work in 2013 and how does this match practice?

As we have already noted in Towards an IYW : An Atmosphere of Ambivalence

in proposing to define youth work and the youth worker the IYW proposal falls between the hurdles. Thus it proposes that the IYW will offer membership to all in the youth sector [?], who claim to be holistic in their intent – a formulation, which begs many more questions than it answers. Adding to the confusion it goes on to say that all members will be able to identify in their practice the core values outlined in the National Occupational Standards for Youth Work [LSIS, 2012]. However the opening values clash with the lived reality on the ground, the increasing emphasis on prescribed and imposed programmes.

Young people choose to be involved, not least because they want to relax, meet friends, make new relationships, to have fun, and to find support.

The work starts from where young people are in relation to their own values, views and principles, as well as their own personal and social space.

In addition the IYW Ethics paper claims that it bases its understanding of youth work on both the National Occupational Standards [NOS] and that found in ‘ A narrative for youth work today’ [NCVYS 2011]. Our own response to this latter commissioned paper, Selling Youth Work to the Market,  expressed the concern that three fixatives glue its argument together.

  • Youth work is distinctive as an educational approach, easily transferable into ‘different contexts’.
  • It is about the transformation of character through the instilling of measurable ‘capabilities’, which lead to desirable social outcomes.
  • Prescribed programmes of activity and intervention are central to this enterprise.

At the very least we can but note that NOS and the Narrative are not crooning the same ditty. This lack of harmony is not surprising and in itself is not to be condemned. It reflects the dissonance of practice. It is why we continue to argue that we must listen to another’s voices.

And, if somehow we end up singing from the same score, how might an IYW be influential in defending and extending critical  and democratic youth work in a hostile climate and within constrained circumstances?

Of course it is necessary to pursue the crotchets and quavers. Therefore it was agreed to create sub-groups to explore further the specific recommendations around governance, membership, ethics and continuing professional development. As a Campaign we are committed to this process and will be looking to be involved in this ongoing work.


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