Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking Philosophically

innovation inyw

The second chapter in the book finds Simon Frost and Mike Seal prompting us to think philosophically about our practice. They quote Grayling,

“The aim of philosophical inquiry is to gain insight into questions about knowledge, truth, reason, reality, meaning, mind and value.”

And they begin:

There are many ways in which the subject of youth work is talked about. For example, we might discuss the impact of youth work on the lives of young people or, perhaps, take a historical view of what youth work used to be and how it has changed. Much current discussion of youth work is related to how it retains its values when faced with the threat of cuts to funding. At the same time, youth work has a history of being anti-academic and anti-theoretical (Smith, 1988 cited in Seal and Frost, 2014: 8); with youth workers happy to take a more pragmatic, common-sense approach to discussion about youth work and what it ‘ought’ to be. We want to challenge you to fight such notions of anti-theory and to take a more philosophical approach which we believe will help you to be more considered in your thinking; helping you to argue clearly and precisely about the importance of youth work and the way you work with young people. In turn, we want to argue that thinking and working philosophically can also provide an opportunity for young people to think critically about their ideas and experiences; there is a need to move beyond discussions based on sentiment, common-sense ways of thinking and the passive acceptance of social norms.

To read in full, hover your cursor on This is Youth Work : The Book  in the brown header at the top of this page and click on Innovation in Youth Work : Thinking in Practice. This will take you to a designated page, where the full pdf of the book can be viewed. Simon’s and Mike’s succinct chapter is contained within pages 18 – 21. As ever responses welcomed.

Innovation and Reflection at YMCA George Williams

Tony Jeffs sitting comfortably

Tony Jeffs sitting comfortably



Innovation in Youth Work: Creative Practice in Challenging Times was a conference held on 13th May 2014 at YMCA George Williams conference. The event was part supported by the Big Lottery Fund’s ‘Awards for All: England’ programme through a bid held by the college.

The conference was attended by youth work practitioners and academics from across the UK and discussion focused on the positive and innovative practice that is taking place during the current Government austerity.

The main speaker sessions included:

– Tony Jeffs (Youth and Policy) on the current state of youth work and the challenges and opportunities the field faces in moving forward;

– Aniela Wenham (University of York) and Ian McGimpsey (University of Birmingham) on measuring the impact of youth work including both current problems in the way it is measured and ways to think creatively in moving forward

– Elaine Johannes (Kansas State University) on how youth work is developed and sustained in the USA where there is no state or federal requirement for investment in youth services.

Workshops were facilitated by practitioners from a range of organisations including, among others; In Defence of Youth Work, NUS, The Foyer Federation and The Boys Brigade.


Reflecting on the event

At a time of steady decline, rallying cries levied against those responsible for cuts to youth services seems to be falling on deaf ears. Why is this? Is youth work living though its final hours or is now the time for youth work to be reborn so that it can fulfil its telos? In his key note speech, Tony Jeffs argued that the withdrawal of the state, in funding youth work, is not a feature of austerity, rather the state has little interest in youth work now. Recent attempts to revive youth work have proved both costly and unsuccessful in the bigger scheme of things as seen with the Youth Service Development Fund, Transforming Youth Work, Connexions and, most recently, Myplace.

But is the writing on the wall for youth work? Outside state funded provisions it would seem all is well and good. Youth work in the faith sector and the uniformed organisations is thriving. Rather than responding to what funders want to hear, fighting for the scraps of targeted youth work being tendered out, we see youth work which has thought about what it wants to be rather than responding to what funders want to hear. Katherine O’Brien, a church based youth worker, talked extensively in her workshop about how she sees youth work as a way to empower young people through social action and a commitment to social justice. For those youth workers who were perhaps a little longer in the tooth, this was a rejuvenating experience allowing time to consider the importance of youth work that is political; working with issues that young people are really concerned with.

Similarly, the need to encourage a more politicised approach through collective action seemed to be one of the main messages coming from Ben Kinross and Sarah Kerton of the NUS as they sought to build links between the work of student unions and youth work.

In seeking to reclaim youth work’s raison d’etre, a call for rigorous research and strong philosophical grounding were both considered to be important principles for supporting and developing practice rich in intrinsic value, furrowing its own path rather than following the ploughed lines of political rhetoric and targets – now is the time to innovate.

Simon Frost, YMCA George Williams College.


We should also report that the YMCA is launching a Centre for Reflective Leadership – full details on their web site, including info on a new Masters degree and a range of short courses. Also see the pdf to be found below.

Centre for Reflective Leadership 2014 pdf.

Thanks to Naomi Stanton for the for the link and photo.