Youth workers are seen as second-class citizens by teachers, who think they are best suited to tackling youth crime and anti-social behaviour.
The claim was made as Jane Davidson, education, lifelong learning and skills minister, identified youth workers as key to delivering the Assembly government's 14-19 learning pathways reforms, which envisage a wider choice of vocational and work-based courses being offered to teenagers.
At the launch last week of a national strategy for youth services in Wales, the minister said youth workers would be first in line to become 14-19 learning coaches - forging one-to-one relationships with pupils.
But Rob Williams, head of Flintshire county council's youth and community service, said his workers were more often viewed as crime fighters, not educationists. He said attitudes had to change for Welsh schools to fully embrace the new 14-19 agenda.
Speaking at the launch in Cardiff, he said: "Youth workers must hold on to their educational purpose. We are not an informal police squad parachuted in to tackle anti-social behaviour and reduce crime.
"Youth workers these days are about so much more than running youth clubs.
We now deal with really specialist areas, such as drugs, health, sex and relationship education.
"All too often, though, we are seen as second-class citizens."
Mr Williams said the service would have an increasing role to play in widening the learning experiences of pupils who are not expected to gain five or more grade A*-C GCSEs.
Raising achievement could only happen through switching on pupils not tuned into the national curriculum, he said.
His comments were backed by Veronica Wilson, chief executive of the Council for Wales Voluntary Youth Service. She said youth workers did not gain the recognition they deserved and were not appreciated at school level.
Both youth work representatives also said more internal funding, rather than external grants, was needed to boost the Wales-based service - the only one in Europe to have government support. Short-term funding and sustainability were blamed for inadequacies within the service.
At the strategy's launch, Assembly government official Elizabeth Williams told how more youth workers would be drafted into schools over the next few years to help ensure pupils' achievements in non-formal learning areas, such as community and voluntary work, was recognised.
More emphasis would be put on raising attainment through the use of fully-qualified, well-trained youth workers, she said.
Pilots of learning coaches started back in 2004. The Assembly government's revised 14-19 learning pathways guidance, published earlier this month, says they will help pupils identify their goals and learning needs, and plan their learning route to qualifications.
Ms Davidson said: "The youth service is already contributing so much. This new strategy will see that contribution flourish."