'Youth organisations can do things that teachers don't have the time or expertise for'

3rd April 2016 at 10:01
youth work, youth organisations, school day
Community youth organisations can help the personal and social development of students, and plans to lengthen the school day offer opportunities for cooperation with teachers, the representative of a London youth organisation says

The chancellor’s plan to provide additional funding to lengthen the school day throws up plenty of challenges for teachers and leaders, but it could open a door of opportunity too.

As George Osborne was finalising the surprise detail of his Budget, a network of community youth organisations was exploring the implications of a report based on a survey of teachers and youth workers.

The LKMCO report, Youth Work and Schools: a partnership worth building?, was commissioned by London Youth and aimed at helping the hundreds of community youth organisations we represent to form new partnerships with schools.

Constraints of the curriculum

We found that – unsurprisingly – teachers recognise that, within the constraints of the curriculum and the school day, there are things that they simply don’t have the time, resources, or sometimes the expertise to do. These aren’t just nice-to-have things. Instead, they include opportunities and activities that could genuinely help the personal and social development of students, particularly those who face the biggest barriers.

So lengthening the school day – potentially to offer the chance for young people to get involved in community activities, learn to cope with transitions and explore complex issues within their own lives and those of their peers – is a welcome development.

We also found that there was an appetite for creative ways of offering these opportunities – in partnership with youth organisations, many of which have strong links within the community – and creating long-term trusting relationships with young people and their families.

One of the key challenges, though, is for youth organisations to show that they are places that teachers can trust: that they are not simply about recreation (though, of course, there is a huge place for fun in children’s lives), but actually can deliver highly effective methods for engaging and supporting young people in a wide range of circumstances.

The good news is that, despite cuts in funding and a general lack of understanding of our work, youth organisations can and do demonstrate statistically significant impacts on young people’s confidence, resilience and relationship skills – some of the key components of “character” that the extension of the school day is intended to support. A parallel report, Good Youth Work Works, highlights our learning, and the evidence base we’ve established to date.

Outmoded image

Schools aren’t totally ignorant of our transformation. The survey showed that some schools have seen beyond the outmoded image of youth work. They recognise our expertise in key areas, like learning in a different setting and providing opportunities for active citizenship. But there are still huge gaps in their understanding of who we are, what we do and whether we’re really any good at it.

For example, in recent years, the youth sector has built up huge – and proven – expertise in supporting the transition to work for young people facing the biggest barriers to accessing work. There is a huge opportunity to take this learning and apply it to support for young people, offering more teenagers effective work experience and careers guidance, supported by trusted youth workers who can also help young people with some of the other issues in their lives.

There are some clear barriers to partnerships between schools and youth organisations. Some 20 per cent of schools surveyed saw money as a potential barrier to working more closely with us. And there are views that we have incompatible priorities and ways of working, and that students could struggle to transfer the skills they learn through a youth-work intervention to a school setting.

Money is a practical issue – but one which we hope the chancellor’s newly announced funding will help us to begin to address. And more subtle obstacles around perceptions of the youth sector and its ability to deliver are also surmountable.

For our part, youth organisations have got to get better at making our case. We’ve also got to be clearer from the outset about expectations and resources. We need to recognise demands on teachers’ time and make even greater use of robust evaluation techniques.

Like any new or revived relationship, the partnership between schools and the youth sector has to start with both sides understanding the value of sitting down and having a conversation to explore common ground. If this latest Budget announcement provides the prompt for this mutually beneficial dialogue, it will be no bad thing.

Jim Minton is communications director of London Youth. He tweets as @LondonYouth

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