Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

Reclaiming Language


This is the second part of Charlee Bewsher’s blog from Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire and Humber. In today’s blog, Charlee explores the change in terminology when talking about non-formal education and the role youth workers could have in supporting learners in formal education using informal approaches.

Character Education, the new buzz phrase coming from the Department of Education. It means ‘Educating for the development of character’ through ‘non-formal learning activities; activities that can help young people to build vital character attributes’ according to a recent Demos report. The report identifies the benefits of non-formal learning activities such as drama, debating, and sport on life-long positive outcomes. The research also showed that ‘young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have enough opportunity to take part in non-formal learning and are therefore at risk of not developing key skills important for success’. This report recommends the use of non-formal learning techniques in schools, with teachers receiving training in ‘non-formal education pedagogies, and a greater use of uniformed groups to provide opportunities including the Scouts and Cadet forces.

Don’t get me wrong, anything that improves outcomes for young people, helps them achieve and make a positive transition to adulthood is brilliant, but I can’t help but think I recognise this from somewhere?

‘A planned programme of education designed for the purpose of aiding and enhancing the personal and social development of young people through their voluntary involvement, and which is complementary to their formal, academic or vocational education and training and provided primarily by voluntary youth work organisations.

Youth work is above all an educational and developmental process, based on young people’s active and voluntary participation and commitment. It is often defined as ‘non-formal education’

– National Youth Council of Ireland

So has youth work, traditionally defined as non-formal education, been redefined as non-formal learning? And as the term ‘non-formal education’ was interchangeable with ‘informal education’, which was also used as a definition of developing soft skills, it appears that youth work is back in vogue. This leads to a number of questions…

How as a profession do we take advantage of this new upsurge in popularity? How do we explain that we have been doing this for a century? That there is a fully trained and committed work force out there, willing, able, and, I should point out, doing! That we classify ourselves as non-formal education providers. That we are used to working in partnership with schools and other organisations. That we have always seen our role as encouraging young people to make the most out of all opportunities, vital to informal education, as we know what happens when they don’t. That you don’t need to increase the burden on teachers by asking them to take on yet more work. That a youth work approach works because of the principles that underpin it, and if you take these away you cease to offer non-formal education.

How do we encourage the Department of Education that recognises the value of non-formal education to spread the word, to encourage both central and local government to provide adequate resources? For funders, to recognise that all young people benefit from these opportunities, not just the ‘deprived’ or ‘hard to reach’? That ‘Providers’ are ‘direct beneficiaries’, who need support too; a space to talk, reflect, be challenged, to be kept informed, to access to networks, seminars, conferences, as well as training to develop practice and keep fresh?

Charlee Bewsher

Development Director

Youth Work Unit – Yorkshire & Humber


One comment on “Reclaiming Language

  1. Paul Fenton
    July 20, 2015

    Hi NRYWU

    Just a note to thank you for your recent blog.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I have reposted this blog on our website in order to promote the work of the NRYWU across institutions that offer youth work training in the UK.

    I would be pleased to continue to support your work in this way if it is of support?

    Best wishes

    Professor Paul Fenton PFHEA

    Support and Development Officer

    0208 787 5830


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