A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Last week the Youth Work Unit (YWU) Yorkshire and the Humber co-hosted a roundtable discussion event to discuss the complex range of issues currently affecting professional youth work training. Twenty colleagues from across the region attended and enjoyed a rare opportunity to network and connect up with other colleagues in voluntary, Local Authority (LA) and Higher Education (HE) sectors.
The event arose from earlier discussions at National Youth Agency’s (NYA) Education and Training Standards Committee where the range of changes, challenges and issues currently facing initial professional youth work training had been highlighted and deeper consideration and potential creative solutions invited.
ETS members, HE and the YWU invited colleagues to explore and unpack the range of issues and see what action might be possible. Initially HE colleagues gave details of recent internal changes to admission tariff points, fees and number caps all; of which were impacting on youth work programmes. Some felt that this was part of an ever moving HE system and was simply something to be managed while others felt matters were more urgent.
Field based colleagues shared worries, on the basis of recent recruitment for a full time youth worker, that new graduates were inexperienced both in youth work but also life experience and were not well equipped for the challenges of a full time youth worker role, especially when compared to unqualified and therefore ‘cheaper’ colleagues with more practical experience and understanding.
The relatively recent shift to a degree level qualification was seen as having led to a younger, inexperienced and more traditional HE background in students, over and against the older and more experience, non-traditional entrants youth work programmes have attracted.
The power of placements
Placements were seen by all as more vital than ever as for many students their placements would provide their only real practical experience of youth work. However, it was recognised that it was becoming increasingly difficult to provide the range and variety of placements as well as strong support and supervision in the current climate of cutbacks, reductions in experienced staff, and away from open access youth work to targeted and specialist provision. These issues together with the inability to pay for placements over and against social work and other programmes were making strong placements even more difficult to find.
It was recognised that the current training model had been built on pre-qualifying Ramp access made possible by students (RAMPS) or Level 2 and 3 youth work programmes and practice before progression on to higher study, often with employer support and finance. This largely has broken down or disappeared with entry being via A levels or access courses and level 2 and 3 qualifications, with no UCAS points, are only considered as additional or exceptional experience.
Field based trainers confirmed a strong demand for pre degree level, but that supply was suffering with funding drying up or difficult to access, with many LAs discontinuing training and so level 2 and 3 programmes were becoming less available and more ad hoc.
While these problems may not be new, taken together youth work training was seen as facing a very serious challenge for which creative solutions are needed if quality youth work training is to continue to exist.
People welcomed the offer from new ETS Chair and staff member to engage with the issues and create the solutions. Suggestions ranged from:
• Creating hub or master placement settings where students could be moved through a variety of work areas from introductory, open access, to specialist, developmental, fundraising, management etc. therefore growing in experience and understanding. Organisations would be guaranteed a number of students and would be better able to plan ahead and develop their programmes, as well as working more collaboratively with HE to meet student, organization and HE needs.
• Supervision training possibly accredited, could be offered by HE to enhance field skill levels and practice learning but also as continued professional development (CPD) to staff as recompense for their involvement.
• New models for part time study could be developed, no longer funded by LA/ employer support but from student fees as part time students can now also access student loans. New 3 way partnership models between HE the field and the student are needed.
• Early interviewing and speedy offers could ensure places aren’t taken up and the HE cap reached before YW processes are completed – perhaps offering deferred places would help
• Better linkages between pre degree level training, the field and HE must be developed to cement professional requirement for both practical and academic learning and skill
• Perhaps programmes could be fast tracked with longer academic semesters so that full time degrees could be achieved in 2 rather than 3 years
• And perhaps some courses could double up to offer joint or dual e.g. in youth work and advice and guidance.
There were many useful suggestions, which will be fed back to ETS, but the overwhelming imperative was to become involved, to explore, to do things differently and develop new models if a strong youth work training offer at all levels is to survive.
What are your thoughts, experiences and ideas?
Miriam Jackson CEO Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire and the Humber