The Chief Scout Commissioner emphasises informal learning in questioning the extended school day

 

Wayne Bulpitt

 

Whilst this piece appeared in the Times back in March I don’t think it has lost any of its interest or relevance. To what extent is the Chief Scout Commissioner, Wayne Bulpitt, on or off our wavelength when talking about the essentials of youth work – for instance his emphasis on non-formal learning? Of course he risks our wrath in not acknowledging the existence of paid youth workers. So too in my opinion his use of the notions of ‘voluntary’, ‘volunteers’ and ‘volunteering’ masks more than it reveals. All the same, despite perhaps our differing discourses, isn’t there a dialogue to be had?

The scouting movement has warned that plans to extend the school day until 6pm risks damaging youth organisations that offer alternative ways to develop character among children.
In an interview with The Times, the Chief Scout Commissioner appealed to politicians to re-consider plans for schools to offer “soft skills” as part of an extended day.
Such a move would hit long-established voluntary groups such as Beaver and Cub packs. It also defied the scouts’ experience that grit, leadership and service to others were best learnt informally with volunteers, he said. Wayne Bulpitt, Chief Commissioner of the Scouts Association, said the Government could do more to develop character in young people by encouraging voluntary work.

 

His intervention follows growing policy discussion on the need for schools to offer a more rounded education to young people in addition to academic learning.
This has been led by business leaders and was echoed by MP on a cross-party committee on social mobility. Michael Gove last month he wanted schools to open until 6pm to broaden children’s education with after-school activities, while Tristram Hunt said character and resilience should be taught in schools rather than left to chance. Mr Bulpitt said scouts welcomed the shift in debate onto issues that have been at the core of their programme for 100 years but said children developed such qualities via non-formal learning.

 

 The Scout Association is trying out ways of working with schools, including at an academy at Toxteth, Liverpool where scouting is taught in lessons as part of the curriculum. At another academy in Bradford, teachers have set up a scout troop with sixth formers among its leaders. A number of its 7,242 scout groups meet in school premises and many of its leaders are teachers, but it remains a voluntary organisation.
Mr Bulpitt said: “We would very much like Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt to talk to us because, whilst we are piloting work with schools, this notion that it has to be done in the classroom in an extended school day we don’t intuitively think is the right way. “Whilst we will pilot doing it that way, one of the things that makes scouting particularly successful is the voluntary nature of it, leaders are volunteering their time to help young people and young people are there because they want to.” Extending the school day until 6pm could particularly hit Beaver scouts: around 120,000 boys and girls aged 6 to 8 attend beaver colonies, which typically meet between 5 and 6pm. Cub packs, which have 150,000 members, often meet only slightly later. “For me some of the things I learnt as a 14-year-old patrol leader leading my small group of fellow scouts at that time are things that I still remember today – some of the mistakes I made and was able to learn from, things I never repeated . So offering those in a non-formal way, complimenting the formal education is something that scouting can do,” he said.

 

 

Mr Bulpitt also asked why Mr Gove – and Ed Balls, his predecessor – wanted to encourage combined cadet forces in state schools as a character-building activity but rarely talked about the scouts or similar youth organisations. “What we offer is a little bit different from what the cadets offer. It is not that one is better than the other but they appeal to different types of people,” he said. “On our part we would like scouting to appeal to wider groups of young people as well.”
He has already arranged a meeting with the Confederation of British Industry to emphasis the role in character development offered by scouting and to seek wider employer recognition of the Queen’s Scout Award, an alternative to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. Scouting has been growing for the past eight years, with 440,000 youth members and 110,000 adult volunteers. Its fastest growing membership is among its Explorer section for teenagers aged 14-18, of whom 40 per cent are girls. Later this year it will unveil changes to its 18-25 age group, aiming to establish many more groups on university campuses. It will offer adventure activities, such as climbing or canoeing, and international trips and projects through scouting’s worldwide network as well as links with scout troops near universities. This age group of scouts will have a new uniform, featuring polo shirts, sweat shirts or hoodies, and be a national membership organisation.

 

Thanks to Tony Ransley for the link.

Revisiting the Queensland Definition of Youth Work, Youth Affairs Conference, August 2014

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More on what to expect at the 2014 State Youth Affairs Conference

There are two types of youth workers – those on the ground and those who sit in the office. We need the office-sitters to write things up well but they also need to remain true to what’s happening on the ground.

– Regional Murri Youth Worker – Qld What is Youth Work Consultations, 2012

It’s now several years since I traveled around Queensland with Steve Fisher, listening to youth workers from varied regions and in diverse roles explaining what makes their work unique and what they considered essential to be included in defining youth work across Queensland. We held separate workshops for Murri workers and ended up with key information from Murris to the rest of the sector about the similarities and the differences in the way we all work. Face to face workshops were followed up with an on-line survey and in 2012, YANQ formally endorsed the first Queensland definition of youth work. See <link>

The definition emphasises youth rights, empowerment, practical support, youth centered practice (including young people entering into voluntary relationships with service providers), promoting strengths and change, culturally based practice and working ethically. All the youth workers who contributed to the definition were emphatic about their work being “values based”. Murri youth workers decided to endorse the general statement and added statements about respecting and working from accepted cultural protocols, accepting that this may be different to “usual” practice, honouring the different place of family and clan and the expectation that non-Indigenous workers would do their utmost to support Murri colleagues and to work appropriately with young Murris.

It was difficult to capture the passion with which contributors spoke about young people and their work and to write up the definition in clear English. A lot of workers, especially from Murri or rural/remote communities, said they were completely fed up with “jargon” and many commented on interference from funding bodies or from within their own management which prevented them from working in ways they knew actually worked for young people. Anything from limitations on home visits couched as “OH&S requirements” but interpreted by staff as “checking up on us” to being unable to record extra or different information to the restricted set included in a government constructed data base to having reduced capacity to provide “practical support” (e.g. bus fares, food vouchers, clothes). Some also spoke of deeper concerns – pressure to divulge personal information or break confidentiality with young people, programs which linked young people into involuntary relationships with workers and the subsequent difficulty in developing the sort of working relationship most likely to benefit the young person, restricted service criteria which limited the amount or type of contact young people were able to have with them…

Despite all this, many of the youth workers I listened to impressed me greatly with their determination to keep on working ethically and on acceptable terms to young people, along with their preparedness and ability to think so clearly about what was essential to include in defining their work and sector.

Several years on from this, after massive cuts to youth services by the Queensland NLP government and now the Feds, it is timely to touch base with the definition again. Does it adequately reflect our aspirations as youth workers and for young people? Is there any way of strengthening it to support our remaining NGOs and allies to uphold the qualities, skills and knowledge developed over the past 25+ years which we accept as indispensable in ensuring we can fulfill our purpose: i.e “to resource and support young people who want help to access, navigate and make the best of their life choices.” What can we do as youth workers and what can we request of workers with young people (e.g. diversionary workers, teachers, statutory care workers, etc) to support grass roots youth work? Where do our varied roles intersect and how can we work together to ensure the very things which are most valued by young people about youth work aren’t eroded and replaced by the very things young people mistrust or dislike about other approaches? How can we keep young people in the center of our responses?

I’m looking forward to revisiting the state definition of youth work during workshops at the YANQ conference and considering how it may be used to strengthen support for and understanding of Youth Work across Queensland. And I can’t wait to hear more from Tony Taylor about the UK experience and what we Aussies might be able to learn from this.