James celebrates the 12 youth work days of Christmas

James Ballantyne, blogger extraordinaire, leads us into the festive season. And all the best to you, James, for 2018. May your blogging continue to challenge us.


                                             The 12 youthwork days of Christmas

On the 12 days of Christmas my youthworker gave to me…

12 annoying icebreakers

11 months of funding

10 broken ground rules

9 (or ninety) games of ping pongImage result for table tennis

8 hr sessional contracts

7 jeffs and smith books

6 franchise projects (speaking of which..)

N….C…. S…….  (or if you cant bring yourself to say NCS, say D…B….S instead)

4 smart objectives

3 supervisions

2 junior leaders

and (deep breath) an annual report for the charities commission!

Just getting in there early with a bit of Christmas cheer, I hope your end of term, last few sessions, staff meal outs, final mentoring group for the term goes well, and that you have a restful and positive Christmas, ready for the challenges that 2018 might bring us all in the youth work community. Thank you for reading, sharing and being part of the ongoing conversation in youth work in the UK and I hope reflections from this site have been useful for you this year. Happy Christmas!




Standing up for being counted: The Centre For Youth Impact responds to Tony Taylor’s critique



Photo from the March 16 conference pinched unashamedly from the CYI web site


A few weeks ago I linked to a piece I’d scribbled for the new look Youth & Policy – Treasuring, but not measuring: Personal and social development. I must confess to being pleased that the Centre for Youth Impact has felt moved to respond in a generous, yet inevitably critical way in a blog, jointly written by Bethia McNeil, Pippa Knott and Matt Hill, the Centre’s core team – Standing up for being counted: When treasuring is measuring, and why we might need a rethink. Within it, they seek to address the challenges found in the current dominant measurement framework and propose a rethink of the value of measurement in youth work.

The blog opens as follows:

Back in March this year, we hosted an event focused on measurement in personal and social development. We were really pleased to see Tony Taylor’s recent article in Youth and Policy, following up on the discussion, and agree that it would have been most beneficial had there been more time and space to explore the themes. Indeed, these themes are so vital that we felt moved to add our voice to Tony’s in this blog. Overall, we were struck at the many points where we agree with Tony’s forthright critique of the dominant paradigm in impact measurement, but there also remain some areas of fundamental disagreement – perhaps as might be expected in such a complex and contested area.

and comment:

We agree that it might be harder to ‘measure’ the impact of youth work than other more targeted or narrowly defined forms of work with young people – but, for us, this demands that we develop how we measure and understand what really counts about youth work, and via a process that enriches rather than undermines practice.

I hope very much you will find time to absorb their argument in full and, as they propose, join a crucial and continuing discussion.

For my part, I’d like to respond afresh, but for the moment I’m struck by the significance of the position they articulate part way through the blog.

Our stance is that measurement is a fundamentally human activity that is woven into every aspect of our lives, and which helps us make sense of the world around us.

Changing just one word in this sentence captures, at least for me, perhaps the essence of our differing perspectives.

‘Our stance is that judgement is a fundamentally human activity that is woven into every aspect of our lives, and which helps us make sense of the world around us.’

To put it another way, we make judgements all of the time in our daily lives, whilst we take measurements only when appropriate.

And the debate will certainly continue in a week’s time at The Centre for Youth Impact Gathering 2017: Shaping the future of impact measurement

taking place on 11 September 2017, 10:00 – 16:30 at Platform Islington, Hornsey Road Baths, 2 Tiltman Place, London N7 7EE.

I’m not sure if there are still places available, but visit the above link to find out. I’d love to be there.









Must read blogs for youth workers includes IDYW

We’re not given to patting ourselves on the back for our endeavours so it’s gratifying to be given this thumbs-up from Aaron Garth over at Ultimate Youth Worker. And we’re very much in agreement with him about his other recommendations. Beware sycophancy we tell ourselves.


Youth work is a strange beast. We aren’t great at tooting our own horn. Even worse at sharing what we do. So when people step into the gap and share their thoughts, dreams, aspirations, research and their passion it is a fantastic sight to see. There have been many youth work blogs that have come and gone over the years (a testament to our sectors difficulties). With this in mind here are a few of the blogs for youth workers we read regularly that keep us up to date and get our creative juices flowing.


We have been keen followers of the crew at In Defence for the last six years. The mix of news and thoughts on where the sector is at in the UK always keep us interested and informed. Tony Taylor does a great job bringing it all together with the occasional guest post from others throughout the sector. In Defence have a great open letter to the sector which states their view on youth work and how it should run. This is a must read for anyone who wants to stay in the youth sector for the long haul.


Over the past year we have got to know the writing of James Ballantyne really well. James writes at the intersection of Youth Work and Youth Ministry and brings a detached youth work perspective to his writings. James has a depth of knowledge and wisdom that shows through in pretty much every post he does. Another UK Native James brings a strong dose of detached youth work to his readers, a concept we should all get our head around. This blog is a fantastic resource for youth ministers who are looking to develop their skills and knowledge, and is a fantastic read for the rest of the sector to see what youth ministry could be like with a bit of youth work injected into it.

Exploring Youth Issues

Alan Mackie is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh who’s areas of interest include education and youth work. His blog brings articles o politics, young people, youth work and education together to give us a smorgasbord of thoughts. Alan’s blog is one of those We go to if we want to challenge our thinking and the way the world sees young people.

Radical Youth Practice

A New blog on the block is Radical Youth Practice from Rys Farthing. Rys was a lecturer of Aaron’s at RMIT over a decade ago and is now based in the UK. We expect a lot from this blog and it delivers in spades. Challenging the way youth services see political action as they worry about biting the hand that feeds them is an early taste of what’s to come from this powerhouse author. Its early days but we expect to see Rys around for a long time yet.

We can’t recommend these blogs for youth workers enough.

Go and check them out.

Blurring the Boundaries conference : Immediate Reflections 1

Much to my delight, heeding my plea for thoughts on Friday’s conference, Jon Ord and Fiona Factor filed these instant reflections before their trains even reached their destinations. Much appreciated and more to come on a stimulating and sometimes disconcerting event. Just to send too a message of thanks to Martin and the staff at the Birmingham Settlement, who could not have been more helpful or welcoming and to Kev Jones, pressed at the last minute into being unofficial photographer.


Today, Jon  : Tomorrow, Fiona

Making the most of the opportunity of being able to attend this year’s annual IDYW conference – thanks for making the venue at bit more geographically central – at the Birmingham Settlement, I have to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… Leaving Plymouth at the crack of dawn I wondered whether the gathering would be much more than Tony Taylor, Bernard Davies and a couple of their mates. What I found however was a very pleasant surprise – one of the largest gatherings of youth workers and youth work educators I have been a part of for quite a while….
The event began with an excellent discussion of the principle of voluntary participation facilitated by presentations from Annette Coburn and Sinead Gormally who advocated a cogent argument for embracing  the new settings that youth workers find themselves working in, where young people may not have chosen to attend and an impassioned reply by Tania De St Croix.  She reminded everyone that we turn our backs on traditional open access settings at our peril as they provide a unique set of dynamics which can’t be easily replicated, as young people have very few places where they are not either under surveillance or being coerced into some outcome or another.
This was followed by an informative input from Paul Fenton from PALYCW / TAG who shared the findings from 6 consultation events – Shaping the Future – across England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. He concluded that whilst he was heartened by the degree of integrity at the heart of youth work in the UK – however challenges do remain around the need to be more innovative. Overall though he was optimistic about the future.
After eating our ‘butties’ as Tony euphemistically referred to our sandwich lunch, we took the opportunity to continue some of the stimulating conversations from the morning session. The afternoon began with an input from Kirsty and Amina from Aspire Arts, and Malcolm Ball from Lewisham, who shared innovative responses to the changing contexts of practice. This continued in smaller groups, where some of the accounts of the swinging and brutal cuts were difficult to hear…

Coming together at the end of the day to share our experiences of the conference and offer suggestions as to a way forward we all felt it was a resounding success – providing a unique opportunity to bring youth workers together in difficult times – sharing our experiences , providing invaluable support and going some small way to ‘defending our unique practice’.

Jon Ord

Take a Break, then Start Blogging! Enjoy Easter!

We’ve more than a few questions and dilemmas to share, but we’ll go slow over the next few days, hoping you might be pinching a few days’ break. As you relax you might care to contemplate Matt Lent’s appeal.

Why Youth Workers Should Blog

For my part I suspect I’ve thought something similar for many a year, long before blogging entered the dictionary. Whether I’ve been the editor of the trade union  or Youth Service newsletter or indeed co-ordinator of this web site today, I’ve longed for, prayed for contributions to put me out of my isolated misery. It’s difficult to articulate the joy I feel when someone responds to a post or, marvel of marvels, sends in a link,  a video or, most precious of all, initiates a discussion. Of course, see Matt’s blog, the reasons for folk not contributing are varied and understandable. The one thing I would add is that if you do shake off the shackles and blog [or its equivalent] you will put a smile on the faces of people you don’t know, glad that you made them think.

As for now, seeing Greek Easter is five weeks away – the vagaries of differing Christian calendars – I’d almost overlooked today is Good Friday. Memories in the North of England, at least, that the chip shop was open serving the obligatory battered cod. Any road I hope you can spend the weekend as you think fit. To underline the contradictions of existence, as an irreconcilable atheist, I’ll turn to Johann Sebastian Bach for inspiration and consolation.

And in the words of Dave Allen, the sit-down comedian of yesteryear,

“Thank you, goodnight and may your God go with you”

Enjoy Easter!

Tony Taylor

[Apologies –  I should have posted this as Tony Taylor not indefenceyw, but pressed the wrong key – too much village red, methinks!]