Youth workers are providing some pupils with a lifeline, but cultural barriers can be a hindrance
The role of youth work in schools should be part of the same curriculum guidelines as English and maths, according to Anne Gibson, the newly appointed national development officer for schools and youth work.
Ms Gibson, who is on secondment to Learning and Teaching Scotland from HMIE for two years, claims youth work has a "huge" amount to offer schools when it comes to A Curriculum for Excellence and its four capacities.
"Creating outcomes and experiences would demonstrate what to expect when young people engage with youth work and people would recognise this contribution to the curriculum," she says.
However, barriers to increasing youth work in schools exist, according to Ms Gibson. The biggest, she feels, is cultural: teachers have to recognise that informal learning has a key role to play and youth workers possess skills worth tapping into.
"Breaking down the barriers between professions is the biggest challenge," says Ms Gibson, who trained as a primary and secondary teacher but, prior to joining the inspectorate, worked in community education in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
She continues: "We often give up too easily on young people when the going gets tough. Youth workers can get in there and target groups with low self-esteem who lack confidence, who have relationship issues and who are experiencing difficulties at home. They know the drug misuse families, and they can provide advice, support, counselling and just be there for them."
A Curriculum for Excellence, she argues, is also about recognising young people's "broader achievements" outside school at, for instance, youth groups, Brownies and Guides.
Her first task as national development officer will be "mapping out the landscape and seeing what's out there", then making good practice public knowledge.
The YouthLink Scotland conference next week, with a whole day dedicated to youth work in schools, will be a "starting point".
She wants "inspirational examples" flagged up in HMIE's Journey to Excellence programme and on the LTS website. These would include Alva Academy in Clackmannanshire, which funds a full-time youth worker, and West Dunbartonshire where, with the help of community learning and development, pupil councils in schools have become genuinely representative, not just full of the "shiny bright" pupils.
Ms Gibson also wants to tap into new methods of communication like Glow, the schools' intranet, to spread the word.
Another part of the job, she says, will be making joint training available for teachers and youth workers. It is crucial, she says, that when youth workers enter a school, joint planning, setting of outcomes and joint review and evaluation take place.
"What sometimes happens with schools is, an agency comes in and agrees to do something and the school thinks: 'Thank God someone is going to do something with these kids.' But when it gets to the point where you ask for the evidence about how effective it's been, it's all anecdotal."
- YouthLink Scotland's annual conference takes place next week, www.youthlink.co.uk