‘Inspiring young people to create their social change’- Institute of Youth Work conference, May 20 in Sheffield

Message from Adam Muirhead, Chair of the Institute of Youth Work



Adam Muirhead – ta to Justin Wyllie for the image


The 2nd Institute of Youth Work Conference and AGM, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, Youth Work Unit Yorkshire & Humber and YASY.

Saturday, May 20 at Sheffield Hallam University


We are coming together for our second ever ‘In the Service of Youth’ conference to explore this year’s theme ‘Inspiring young people to create their social change’. The cost ranges from £15 to £30 depending on IYW membership status (so for some it may be worth joining ahead of buying conference tickets).

More information on the programme workshops etc are being added soon but confirmed speakers include youth work writer Brian Belton, author of ‘Radical Youth Work’, and Pegah Moulana, UK Young Ambassador for BYC at the European Youth Forum.

We have moved the conference to Sheffield this year to try to meet those who may struggle to travel to London easily and acknowledge that our youth work world is not London-centric!

For more info and to register, go to In Service of Youth

Adam Muirhead [IYW] reports on the IDYW ‘Professional’ Seminar

We are very much in debt to Adam Muirhead, Chair of the Institute of Youth Work, for his informative and wide-ranging report on our seminar, ‘What does it mean to be Professional in 2016?’ It’s to be found on his blog at YOUTHWORKABLE – A PLACE OF YOUTH WORK MUSINGS AND REFLECTIONS. We’d encourage you to to read it in full, but here are some extracts to whet your appetite.

Bernard Daviesbernard-davies

The day kicked off with Bernard Davies and Sue Atkins discussing the history of the seminar’s subject.  Bernard usefully started by distinguishing practicing professionally from being a profession.Having himself been involved in the post-Albemarle struggles to get a JNC for workers’ terms and conditions with the trade union he talked about seeing the arguments for the case of constructing ‘the profession’ but rightly worries about the power dynamics between the inherent structures and the practitioners.  In particular youth work is a profession that relies heavily on volunteers as a large part of the workforce and how structures can exist that are exclusive of them and their needs.

Susan Atkins

Sue-AtkinsSue brought incredible stories of being amongst the first cohorts at the National College for the Training of Youth Leaders.  A prerequisite of joining was that you had to be at least 23 years old and, if it was targeted or otherwise, the courses attracted mainly working class men – famously dubbed ‘Albemarle’s boys’.  In fact, in Sue’s cohort, out of 147 students only 17 were women.  The yearlong residential training was a massive commitment and strain with lots of burn out.  This naturally gave those who did complete it a strong sense of achievement and they felt a significant change through gaining their professional status.  Yet it still wasn’t on a par with teachers whose two year course carried more kudos.

Nigel PimlottFYT-Nigel-Pimlott

Nigel’s Christian youth work background offered an extremely useful view of the professionalisation agenda in light of the fact that the majority of people doing youth work in the faith sector are volunteers or unqualified; a workforce that is “proud, but rarely described as professional”.

Helen Gatenby

Helen GatenbyFor Helen, being professional means being the best youth worker she can but she also recognised how one’s sense of professionalism is often tied up with others’ perceptions of you.

She also astutely noted that youth work is a highly political activity and as such will jar with professionalisation.  Her observation of the current state of play attests to this in that youth work has proved to be safest outside of the bureaucratic, ‘professionalised’ spaces.


Tony Taylor offered values such as a commitment to Social Justice, Equality,Diversity etc.. or pedagogical or communication skills are in no sense the property of youth work. He argued that we pursue those values and practice those skills in a distinctive setting. It is the setting, the voluntary encounter that makes us qualitatively different. I would be interested in exploring this further.

Mark Price from the University of Brighton offered an interesting parallel with professionalism and being paid, in so much as that he himself took the paid positions because it allowed him to do more of what he loved.  Amusingly, the switch for him from teaching to youth work (going back a few years) saw his salary jump from £6,000 a year to £9,000!

Mark also offered the term ‘professionality’ as a useful way to posit the discussions about people’s own sense of professionalism.  He suggested that a large part of a person being deemed professional, for him, was linked to their ability to be autonomous.

Adam MuirheadAdam-Muirhead

Representing the Institute for Youth Work (IYW) and acknowledging parts of its raison d’etre were around professionalisation I had the job of talking to how the Institute has been linked with the license to practice and qualifications amongst other things, such as the Code of Ethics ‘housed’ within the IYW.  Following a potted history of the Institute’s inception I offered up the pro’s and the cons surrounding a license to practice for youth workers.  In spite of a 2014 Children and Young People Now survey reporting that the majority of the workforce was in favour, recent experience with similar strategies, such as the ill-fated Youth Professional Status, showed that actually there just isn’t the appetite for such a thing; not least when the bill would be footed by individuals. There are interested parties out there but their arguments will need to be much better articulated to convince the current IYW membership, who seem to afford it a quite a low priority.

What now happens with the JNC was one of the issues that precipitated the seminar today.  Speaking on behalf of those members who responded to the IYW’s quick consultation on the subject, I recounted feelings of disappointment but resignation.  I will be very surprised (and happy!) should we win the battle to retain the JNC’s terms and conditions, but I don’t hold out huge hope.  Either way I would be up for a fight – there are ways to lose fights – that shouldn’t be overlooked.

[Unfortunately due to illness Jed Sullivan from the JNC Staff Side was unable to make his contribution to the debate. His message would have been that the JNC is far from over.]

Janet Batsleer

Janet-BatsleerJanet offered some concise points in order to promote discussion on what we need to consider for the future.  Many concepts linked with ‘how to affirm a practice’.

To mention these succinctly I’ve bullet pointed them:

* We need alliances and we need active young people

* It would be beneficial to enlist digital industries, film, social media etc that help us to create new narratives

* We’ve already handed over too much to the funders who would lead us away from the core tenets of our practice and towards the common misconceptions that youth work’s purpose is to counter gangs/drugs/etc.

* We need to develop a language about our practice that is worth shouting about and fighting for.

* Janet was keen to promote the theatres where theory of practice can be played out with an acknowledgement that the IDYW storytelling workshops do provide this.  We’d like to see more.

* Janet continued by explaining her theory that workers need to be secure in themselves and have a solid experience of being loved in order to actually be disruptive.  It’s a much more secure platform to launch radicalist activity from.

Adam captures well  a sense of the day’s volatile and stimulating discussion. The task in the coming months is to encourage a frank debate within the ‘sector’ [forgive me I’m still uncomfortable with this turn of phrase], responding to the Youth Sector Briefing, to the forthcoming TAG, ChooseYouth and IYW events, not forgetting our national conference in Leeds. Somewhere along the line, by the Autumn perchance, some sort of gathering of all the constituencies will be necessary if common ground is to be achieved. The odds may be against this happening, we can but try.


Jumping the Gun? The NYA to launch the Institute for Youth Work on September 1st

From the beginning we have been ambivalent about the proposed Institute for Youth Work, but have sought to be usefully involved in the process. Conscious of significant disagreement within our own ranks and the youth work field in general we have counseled caution as to the pace of events. Nevertheless the NYA has circulated the following announcement:

I am sure you are aware that there have long been plans to create an Institute for Youth Work (IYW).  The DfE originally funded a two year programme to develop the concept of the Institute (as part of the Catalyst Consortium) and now we are pleased to announce that IYW will launch 1st September.


This is an exceptional opportunity for individuals working with young people to join an organisation dedicated to promoting the highest professional standards of youth work and  be part of a ‘collective voice’ within the sector. As the information sheet shows (see below) members will have access to CPD opportunities and regular information on sector policy development and will sign up to an ethical framework for youth work.


Could I encourage you to circulate and display the attached information sheet, as well as promote the Institute for Youth Work as widely as possible within your organisation amongst all staff and volunteers working with young people.


However, beyond that, as a major player within the sector, we would like to invite you to become an ‘Organisational Supporter’, endorsing and promoting IYW to your staff and volunteers.  For £1,000 per annum you will be enabling any of them to join for half price, a benefit and encouragement they are sure to appreciate. Supporters will be listed on a dedicated page on the IYW website with a link through to their own sites. We are of course happy to discuss the Institute with you or your colleagues should you have any questions. Please call Alkesh Patel in the first instance on 0116 242 7350.

IYW Information Sheet and Flyer

From an IDYW perspective as ever we would encourage supporters to disseminate the information as widely as possible.

For the moment though two areas of concern leap off the page.

1. The NYA in its leading role continues to fudge the fundamental issues of what today is to be defined as youth work and what constitutes the youth sector. To pose these dilemmas is not an expression of ‘theological narcissism’ as Tom Wylie would have it – see his comment here. It is simply an expression of the need to be clear and precise – we might even say rigorous – about what we mean by youth work and the youth sector.

In contrast the IYW information sheet talks blandly of engaging ‘with all those in the youth sector who work to enable young people to develop holistically and to reach their full potential.’ Whilst the Draft Code of Ethics out of the blue speaks of youth work as being about ‘intervention, prevention and informal education’. Thus boundaries are blurred. Perhaps this is inevitable, necessary and good. If so, let’s be open and honest about the state of flux.

2. The Draft Code of Ethics, to which we must sign up to be accepted, is out for consultation.  Early signs indicate a range of concerns, not least the nature of the machinery, which might expel someone for transgressing the code. In this context is it not somewhat premature to embark on a recruitment campaign?

At this moment in time would you join up or is NYA jumping the gun?


A Framework of Ethics : Useful or Ornamental?

The basis for today’s would-be Institute of Youth Work meeting in London is the following document circulated by the NYA in March.

IYW proposal 3 of 4 – ethical framework march 13

We will be represented and our steering group has put together the following initial response.



We are conscious of time limitations re the discussion on April 25, 2013 so we will content ourselves with expressing four areas of concern.

  1. At the heart of the debate remains the question of defining youth work. The NYA paper continues to fudge the issue. It seeks to retain definitions, which stress the voluntary and young person-led character of the work, whilst referring to a commissioned NCVYS paper, A Narrative for Youth Work, which explicitly calls for an acceptance of the imposition of prescribed outcomes on the youth work relationship and process. Meanwhile in the field many youth workers are all but youth social or youth justice workers in name.

  1. A renewed engagement with Ethics demands that we talk Politics. To take but one glaring example from the 2004 Statement on Ethical Conduct, social justice is first and foremost a political rather than an ethical concept. The struggle for social justice is fundamentally a collective project. Indeed this is partly acknowledged in the background notes which talk of actively seeking to change unjust policies and practice. Unfortunately there is a gulf between rhetoric and practice here, which cannot be ignored. Over the last couple of years a large number of workers have been warned under threat of discipline not to get involved in campaigns against unjust social policy – with or without young people.

  1. This observation leads us to the possible Code for Employers, which is to be welcomed. However for now we will register concern about a future in which workers bound to the IYW’s code of conduct are employed by agencies, who refuse to be part of the overall deal. More immediately a management commitment to staff development, to the encouragement of critical internal debate has in the main been conspicuous by its absence. In this context too we note another contradiction that this discussion about an Ethical Framework with its focus on professional guidelines is taking place within a culture of profound mistrust with regard to worker/professional autonomy. Indeed we suggest that the managerial fixation upon predetermined outcomes is the antithesis of the youth work tradition of improvised young person-centred practice. It is at odds with the very notion of the distinctive, trained youth work professional, be they paid or voluntary.

  1. Our final point is perhaps obvious. The shift from Ethical Guidelines to an Ethical Code is highly significant, even contentious. Ethics can be a minefield of differing interpretation. The danger with moving to a Code is that it suggests, even if this is strenuously denied, the possibility of generally agreed ethical judgements on, say, what constitutes ‘clear evidence of danger’ or ‘the nature and limits of confidentiality’ or indeed appropriate behaviour outside work. Inevitably this caution is heightened if the Code is to be used as a regulatory mechanism to decide who is fit to be a youth worker. All manner of issues are thrown up. For example, can an individual member of IYW charge another with unethical conduct? At the very least we are obliged to unravel the present formulations with a great deal of care.

In the light of this final expression of concern we think that a pluralist Ethics Working Group should be set up to take things further. If possible the next draft of a Framework should be less sprawling than the present version on the table.

The IDYW Steering Group

Our latest response to the Institute of Youth Work debate

Further to the request from the NYA to consider different forms of support for the proposed Institute of Youth Work – see NYA asks for our backing – we have sent the following response.
Dear Maralyn,

Further to your request for partners to back in kind the IYW project we need to make the following observations. These flow from Steering Group discussions and our first tentative attempt to use SurveyMonkey to gauge opinion amongst our supporters.

1. Our campaign is utterly committed to the process of establishing whether the creation of an IYW is in the best interests of youth work and young people.

2. Thus we wish to facilitate the fullest possible debate about the proposed Institute. In this context a link on our home page to IYW pages would not be a problem. We are not quite sure what you mean by ‘advertorial or editorial’ column space, but of necessity wish to give the widest airing to material produced by the NYA about the IYW throughout the process.

3. As an independent, voluntary group with no external funding or staff we are unable to respond on the financial front. Indeed this request touching on such issues as pay-roll deductions seems somewhat premature, along with the suggestion that partners via senior management should be recommending the Institute.

All this aside we look forward to a continuing engagement with the unfolding process, confident that this holds out the best possibility of a measured and educated decision about the future of an IYW.

Best Wishes

As we understand it the JNC staff side remain opposed to the establishment of an IYW, seeing it as a threat to very JNC structure itself. However in a piece in the April edition of Rapport, Ben Cochrane, the newly elected Youth Work Convenor asks of the possible Institute.

Was it there to advocate or regulate? Unite maintains that it can, and should do
both. Given the diversity of bodies already committed to advocating on behalf of youth work and youth workers (trades unions, In Defence of Youth Work, NYA, CHYPS and TAG amongst others) the niche position for an IYW could be found in the latter role.
Given that as things stand anybody can call themselves a Youth Worker, open a
youth club and begin working with young people without any checks or quality
assurance measures whatsoever, the proposed development of a professional
body such as the IYW presents a golden opportunity to bring in some degree of
regulation and safeguards. The technical, ethical and practical detailsof how a regulatory body may function are clearly a source of contention. Debates around an inclusive or exclusive membership of such a body are complex
with valid concerns on both sides. Unite’s policy is that we should continue to
explore the development of an IYW and remain critical friends of the process.
I believe this is the correct position while the door remains open to introduce some form of regulated membership, possibly based on a code of ethical practice, and we are still able to argue the case for a revocable licence to practice and protection of the title Youth Worker within that context.

In this context both UNITE and our Campaign are in agreement about being a critical friend to the process. However across the diversity of our supporters the question of IYW as a regulatory body based on an interpretation of what constitutes ethical practice is seen by more than a few as deeply problematic.

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.


Responding to an Institute for Youth Work : Your Thoughts

We’ve been asked by Mike Counsell, Chair of the Education and Training Standards Committee, to respond to the idea of an Institute of Youth Work – see the original letter below.

IYW letter to IDYW

As of now we are posting this draft response, which, true to the Campaign’s raison d’etre,  focuses on the fundamental question of what is meant by youth work.  Any comments would be appreciated either using the COMMENTS facility on the site or by mailing Tony direct at tonymtaylor@gmail.com before the end of the week. We are conscious that you may well have already contributed via your trade union or professional body such as the Training Agencies Group.


We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate around the concept of an Institute of Youth Work [IYW]. In truth opinion is divided across the diversity of our supporters. Some believe strongly that such a body is vital to the future of the work and the profession. Others are much more cautious about the appearance of a regulatory body with the prospect of a licence to practice dangling on the horizon. Whilst pragmatically many wonder whether such an Institute is financially viable in these straitened times. In this context we remain agnostic about an IYW, not yet ready to lend our endorsement to the initiative, but committed to a serious involvement in the unfolding process and debate.

Leave aside the differing stances in our own ranks, given the thrust of our Campaign, we are at one in questioning whether the Institute will be committed to defending and indeed extending youth work as a distinctive practice, as informal education through voluntary association founded on young people’s agendas. Our concern is sparked by the definition of youth work and youth worker offered in your letter.

By the terms ‘youth work’ and ‘youth worker’ we mean those who are engaged in work to enable young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, so they develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential.

The omission of any reference to the centrality of the voluntary principle is striking. We make no apologies for repeating that the voluntary relationship has been at the heart of youth work theory and practice from the early pioneers through to McAlister Brew, thence to Davies, Jeffs and Smith, right up to Batsleer today.

The omission, we presume, is not an accident. Indeed it is even understandable. Across the last fifteen years successive governments have undermined open access youth work in favour of targeted programmes based on imposed outcomes. Under the Coalition this tendency has deepened. Thus in the present shifting landscape many youth workers are now finding themselves undertaking work with young people, arguably valid and valuable on its own terms, which is located in the fields of social care, youth justice, employment and training, social inclusion and so on. Within the withered remains of many local authority services youth workers have had no choice, but to become youth social workers complete with referred case loads.

Clearly a viable Institute has to embrace this contradictory array of youth workers across this miscellany of settings. In our view though it is misleading and counter-productive to call these forms of involuntary intervention youth work, which begs therefore the name of the Institute. A more accurate if clumsy title would be the Institute for Work with Young People, but we might well agree ‘what’s in a name?’

In our eyes it is vitally important to preserve the distinctive identity of youth work, all the more so that we can hold a critical and respectful dialogue with youth workers, who find themselves involved in prescribed forms of work with young people. Our passionate advocacy does not stem from an inability to grasp new ways of thinking as some would have it. The essence of the voluntary association is its optimism and its creativity. In these troubled and oft authoritarian times it is our responsibility to protect this inheritance. We hope that an Institute can rise to this challenge, at one and the same time as responding necessarily to the messy reality on the ground. We doubt whether the contradictions of practice can be resolved by using youth work as a ‘catch-all’ to describe any work with young people that attracts funding.

In closing we do think that your proposed time-scale and appropriate sense of caution makes very good sense and should allow a weighty process of ongoing discussion and action.

Apologies for the change in font – still trying to sort it out!!