Youth work in schools

Photo by moren hsu on Unsplash

Photo by moren hsu on Unsplash

Youth work has been wrapped up with schooling since its early days. We explore practice over the years.

There is a tendency in much of the literature to set youth work against schooling. Youth work is based on relationships voluntarily entered into, schooling, for the most part, is compulsory. Youth work is relationship focused, schooling is curriculum-driven. Such false dichotomies have hampered a proper appreciation of how they relate to one another. In fact, youth work has been wrapped up with schooling since it was first articulated as a form of social and educational intervention – and I have included a number of key references so that people can follow this up.

Later, in the construction of the notion of a ‘youth service’ as the fourth arm of education there was a failure to properly address the relationship of youth work to schooling and further education. In many respects, the debates that emerged around the writing and publication of Youth and Community Work in the 70’s (DES 1969) took these to new depths of misunderstanding. However, new forms of practice are emerging (and old ones being rediscovered) that give some ground for optimism. Unfortunately, these are still to be fully represented in the literature.

Early work

Our starting point must be that what we have come to know as youth work grew, in significant part, out of the activities of people trying to develop schooling initiatives. In particular, we need to look at the growth of Sunday schools, and the development of ragged schools and evening institutes in the mid-nineteenth century. Eagar (1954), for example, looks to the latter as a key feature in the emergence of boys clubs – but the same could be said of girls clubs. Girls workers such as Maud Stanley (1890) used a mix of formal schooling and recreation – and this can be seen as running on from her earlier work around Five Dials (close to Covent Garden, London). There she had worked with boys and young men (as well as young women) – encouraging them to participate in Sunday and Evening Schools as well as clubs.

The ragged school movement (see ragged schooling) grew out of a recognition that charity, denominational and dames schools were not providing for significant numbers of children in inner-city areas. Working in the poorest districts, teachers (who were often local working people) initially utilized such buildings as could be afforded – stables, lofts, railway arches. There would be an emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic – and on bible study (the 4 ‘R’s!). This mix expanded into industrial and commercial subjects in many schools. It is estimated that around 300,000 children went through the London Ragged Schools alone between the early 1840s and 1881.

As the schools developed, many gained better premises and broadened their clientele (age wise), opened club rooms and hostel and shelter accommodation, and added savings clubs and holiday schemes to their programmes of classes. A good indication of the widening of the work is given by S. E. Hayward’s illustration The Ragged School Tree (an illustration in Montague 1904). Along the branches we find coffee and reading rooms, Bands of Hope, Penny Banks, refuges, men’s clubs and sewing and knitting classes. This stood in stark contrast to the narrow focus on the 4 ‘R’s that remained, for example, in the voluntary National Schools.

Some of the ragged schools developed into Evening and Youths’ Institutes – such as that established by Hogg, Pelham and others in Long Acre, London in 1870. (Pelham was very active in developing boy’s club work. Other Institutes developed from scratch. Early Institutes like the one established in Dover in 1858, utilized a mix of opportunities for reading, recreation and education. Sweatman (1863: 42) argued that they could provide for young men’s ‘peculiar wants’ for, ‘evening recreation, companionship, entertaining but healthy literature, useful instruction, and a strong guiding influence to lead them onward and upward socially and morally’.

The difference between a youths’ institute and ragged school is a matter for some debate. It may be that the institutes tended to look more strongly to recreation than the ragged schools. With the passing of the Education Act of 1870 – and provision for public elementary schooling the role of the ragged schools changed – and the more welfare-oriented activities assumed a greater significance. Publicly provided schooling developed, for the most part, on narrow lines – following on from the work of the National and British Society Schools. Boys’ clubs and girls’ clubs continued with their characteristic mix of relationship-building, recreation, welfare and more formal learning opportunities.

Play centres and old scholars’clubs

We have seen how some key elements of early youth work were associated with attempts to develop schooling. Such initiatives often made use of classrooms and school premises. This is hardly surprising given the links, and the shortage of appropriate rooms that workers could make use of. As Tony Jeffs has argued, there has been a long history of ‘dual usage’. In the early twentieth century, three particular ‘school-based’ initiatives are worthy of some note in this respect – the development of play centres, old scholars’ clubs, and village colleges.

In the UK the development of play centres owes much to the work of Mary Ward and her daughter Janet Penrose Trevelyan. The first play centre appeared in 1897 at the Passmore Edwards Settlement, Tavistock Square (now Mary Ward House). Through lobbying and promotion the idea spread. The first school based provision open in London in 1904. By 1918/19 there were 32 centres in London with some 1.7 million attendances. They offered a range of occupations and activities including toy rooms, games, music, story-telling, dancing and physical exercise. Developments included vacation schools and organized playgrounds. See Mary Ward and the Passmore Edwards Settlement

Old Scholar Clubs have not been the subject of substantial published documentation or research. They were a localized form of provision and, as Dent (1944: 107) comments, ‘it is doubtful whether even those bearing the name could strictly justify it’. However, such clubs did attract a significant number of young people back onto school premises for a range of activities – and involved a significant number of teachers in out of school activities.

Village Colleges, by contrast, have attracted a considerable amount of interest – and looked to a more fundamental change in relationship between schooling and community organization. The work undertaken by Henry Morris in the inter-war years has had a lasting impact. Work with young people was a fundamental part of the vision – and the possibilities of the work were recognized by key youth work thinkers such as Josephine Macalister Brew.

The Service of Youth

As is well documented, the Youth Service emerged in a rather haphazard fashion during the Second World War. It was part of a piece. The failure to design or think about an education system to meet the whole needs of young people was very significant – as commentators such as Dent (1944: 107) identified.

The Service of Youth, however much politicians haveasserted to the contrary, has never been an integral part of the publicly provided system of education, and never can be so long as it operation is limited to the leisure hours of youth. In fact, it is today steadily marching away – or rather being pulled away – from the educational system, largely, it is true because of the increasing demands being made upon the adolescent for voluntary national service, but also because of its very nature. Education concerns the whole of life; the Service of Youth was deliberately restricted to part only of the life of the adolescent. Inevitably, the educational system and the Service of Youth were bound to drift apart.

Unfortunately, the 1944 Education Act confirmed youth work provision as directed at young people in their leisure hours. The future for youth work seemed to be bound up with developments in further education, especially the proposed County Colleges. The fact that these never materialized – and that the continuing education of young people lost out to more powerful demands from schools within the education system at a time of economic retrenchment – helped to leave youth work on the margins and confirm the drift identified by Dent.

Through the 1950s youth work appeared to wither – the numbers of full-time workers declined, the age attracted to provision dropped, and it was largely left to voluntary efforts (see Jeffs 1979). Little is documented concerning the experience of youth work within school settings. Following the various moral panics surrounding ‘teenagers’ and the appearance of the Albemarle Report (1960) there was some interest in school-based initiatives along with the general increase in provision. However, much of the expansion appeared to simply involve siting ‘Albemarle centres’ on school sites.

Youth and Community Work in the 70s (and beyond)

With the deliberations around the Fairbairn-Milson Committee (DES 1969) youth work’s relationship with schooling became a matter of debate. The Fairbairn sub-committee, considering the relationship of the Youth Service with schools and colleges, was committed to integrating youth work more fully into schooling (Davies 1986: 107). As Davies comments:

It pressed for more youth wings on schools and more community use of these; for more teacher-youth tutor posts;and for common appraoches, techniques and activities which, when listed, made the proposed youth club programme seem indistinguishable from a progressive school or college curriculum. It was logical, therefore, for the sub-committee to conclude that the ‘concept of youth service as a separate system should be allowed to atrophy’. (op cit)

The Milson sub-committee was bitterly opposed to this – and argued for a range of youth work provision – ‘the school should be seen to be part of the community rather than that the community should gather around the school’ (quoted by Davies 1986: 108). The result (DES 1969) was a compromise and the central problem identified by Dent in the 1940s – that of the relationship of youth work to education – remained unresolved.

There was an expansion of school-based provision in the 1970s – in part associated with the expansion of community schooling. In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was also some interest within schooling in approaches usually associated with youth work. Notions of active tutorial work (linked in a significant part with the work of Leslie Button) gained some ground within secondary schools. However, other than this, relatively little innovation surfaced in the 1980s. Although here was, for a time, a significant growth in the numbers of workers employed within further education colleges – and some fascinating developments within certain schools. Overall, there does seem to have been a continued movement away from the school-based youth club into more integrated and localized forms of working within the school.

Current developments

Schools now employ or host very few ‘youth workers’ but there is a range of practitioners engaged in:

  • what might be decribed as ‘detached work’ around corridors, cafeterias, common rooms and play areas;
  • work with various interest groups around things like social action, ‘voice’ initiatives and school councils and forums;
  • homework and study support clubs;
  • holiday schools and provision;
  • work with young people experiencing difficulties around schooling; and
  • pastoral and personal support.

Some are employed as classroom assistants or under titles like family worker, support worker, learning mentor and so on. In the area of specialist education there has been some interest in exploring the notion of the pedagogue or social pedagogue as a way of making sense of, developing, and recognizing, the distinctive practice involved. However, the impact of austerity measures on school budgets for a number of years in the UK has limited the use of monies on non-statutory activities – and the scale of the support work undertaken has been limited.

Youth work in schools – books

Bell, E. (1996) Counselling in Further and Higher Education, Buckingham: Open University Press. 142 + xii pages. Contains some useful material that parallels/ overlaps the interests that youth workers and informal educators have in colleges.

Button, L. (1974) Developmental Group Work with Adolescents, London: Hodder and Stoughton. 208 + xii pages. The focus is on group work skill – but the context for much of this work is the school. Chapters on meting personal need; making contact; social diagnosis; the programme and the experience; repertoire of techniques; the worker’s strategy; group work in the larger youth organization; group work in secondary schools; group work in the wider community. This approach was to become the foundation for active tutorial work in the 1980s.

Davies, B. (1986) Threatening Youth. Towards a natinal youth policy, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 167 + viii pages. Chapters on the schooling of youth and on youth work (social education or distraction through recreation?) contain some very useful material. Bernard Davies is currently working on a much needed history of the youth service which should fill in a number of the gaps identified above.

Dent, H. C. (1944) Education in Transition. A sociological analysis of the impact of war on English education, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. 238 + xii pages. Important study of education immediately prior to the 1944 Education Act with some significant commentary on youth work. Dent identifies the deliberate exclusion of work and schooling as sites for youth work as a major problem – and one that is bound to set youth work on a recreational course.

Department of Education and Science (1969) Youth and Community Work in the 1970s. Proposals by the Youth Service Development Council, London: HMSO. 175 + viii pages. Jointly chaired by Andrew Fairbairn (of Leicester fame) and Fred Milson, this report placed a particular emphasis on the community use of schools and the development of school-based work. There were considerable arguments within the committee as Fairbairn and others wanted to go further and to develop a youth service effectively based in schools (after the Leicestershire pattern). The result was the rather odd mix to be found in the report.

Department of Education and Science (1991) A Survey of School Based Youth and Community Work. A report by HMI, London: Department of Education and Science. Fairly pedestrian – but still a useful snapshot.

Dryfoos, J. G. (1994) Full Service Schools. A revolution in health and social services for children, youth and families, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 310 + xxiv pages. Influential US text exploring how various agencies can collaborate with schools in providing a full range of services in one place.

Eagar, W. McG. (1953) Making Men. The history of boys’ clubs and related movements in Great Britain, London: University of London Press. Aside from being quite the best history of early youth work with boys and young men, Making Men provides as with a sound picture of the interlinking of schooling interventions with the development of the club idea. See, for example, his account of the Laytmer Road Institute on pages 132-3.

Eggleston, J. (1976) Adolescence and Community. The Youth Service in Britain, London: Edward Arnold. This is a report of ‘micro’ research undertaken into local examples of youth work – one of which is a school-based club.

Hand, J. (1995) Raising Standards in Schools. The youth work contribution, Leicester: Youth Work Press. 78 pages. Following a short introduction, this is a collection of case studies of practice. This includes working with disaffected and disadvantaged young people; volunteering; advice and information; truancy; and working with Black young people. Short sections on further reading and developing a partnership with the youth service.

Hand, J. and Wright, W. (1997) Youth Work in Colleges: building on partnership, London: Further Education Development Agency (FE Matters 2(1)). 64 pages. Examines youth work’s contribution to supporting young people in further education; management and support; and frameworks for guidance for self assessment and evaluation. Includes a number of case studies.

Hendry, L., Shucksmith, J. and Philip, K. (1995) Educating for Health. School and community approaches with adolescents, London: Cassell. While the focus is on promoting healthy lifestyles, the book looks at the implications of a child-cented approach to decision making – and of the contribution of informal educators and youth workers within schools and communities.

Hogan, J. M. (1968) The Relationship Between the Youth Service and Secondary Schools, Leeds: University of Leeds, Institute of Education. Unpublished dissertation.

Jeffs, A. J. (1979) Young People and the Youth Service, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 150 + x pages. Important study that has substantial focus on schooling and youth work. Chapters on the early years of youth work; the Albemarle Report; the development of youth work in the 1960s; the emergence of school-based work; and changes in the 1970s. For an update see T. Jeffs and M. K. Smith in O’Hagan (1991) The Charnwood Papers.

Joad, C. E. M. (1945) About Education, London: Faber & Faber. 172 pages. Contains a vibrant description a village college (Impington) and the way in which education need no longer be ‘a thing apart’ – bridging the gap between school and daily life.

Midwinter, E. (1972) Priority Education. An account of the Liverpool Project, Harmondsworth: Penguin. 191 pages. Influential account of the Liverpool EPA experiment with community primary schooling. While there is not a concern with youth work, the approach made innovative use of playbuses, home-school relations, community action and a social curriculum. It is useful to read as a flawed attempt to make sense of schools within a ‘community frame of reference. For a reasonably contemporary critique see Boyd, J. (1977) Community Education and Urban Schools, London: Longman. 82 pages.

Morris, H. (1924) The Village College. Being a memorandum on the provision of educational and social facilities for the countryside, with special reference to Cambridgeshire, Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. Also reproduced in H. Rée, (1985) Educator Extraordinary. The life and achievement of Henry Morris 1889-1961, London: Peter Owen. Brief, but eloquent exposition of the possibilities of the village college and the way in which they could become centres for the regeneration of village life. Youth work, adult education, village groups, communal provision and secondary education could be brought into ‘a new and unique relationship’ to create a community centre for the neighbourhood and ‘provide for the whole man, and abolish the duality of education and ordinary life’.

O’Hagan, B. (1991) The Charnwood Papers. Fallacies in community education, Ticknall: Education Now. Explores a number of fallacies concerning policy, the subversiveness of community development, positive discrimination, non-directiveness, the school as a site for youth work, home-school partnerships, national curriculum and power.

Poster, C. (1971) The School and the Community, London: Macmillan. 126 pages. Concise overview tracing the history of community education and exploring aspects of contemporary practice. Argues that the community school will play an increasingly important part in youth work through the provision of facilities; the co-ordination of activities; and the linking of youth and other sections of the community.

Poster, C. (1982) Community Education: its development and management, London: Heinemann. 184 + viii pages. Covers similar ground to the previous book but from a standpoint 10 years on and with a particular emphasis (as the title suggests) on development and management. Some attention paid to the place of youth work within this.

Pykett, P. G. (1972) Community and School: A practical study of school-based youth and community work, London: Church House.

Rennie, J., Lunzer, E. A. & Williams, W. T. (1974) Social education: an experiment in four secondary schools, London: Evans. Influential paper that largely focues on youth action / volunteering initiatives.

Schools Council (1971) Co-operation Between the Youth Service and the Schools, London: Schools Council.

Scottish Education Department (1968) Community of Interests. Schools, Youth Service, Community Service, Further Education Colleges, Evening Classes and Sports Organisations, Edinburgh: HMSO.

Scottish Education Department (1976) Non-teaching Staff in Secondary Schools. Youth workers, librarians, instructors. Report of a Working Party appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, (‘The Stimpson Report’), Edinburgh: HMSO.

Venables, E. (1971) Teachers and Youth Workers: A study of their roles, London: Evans / Methuen. 128 pages. Report of a research project that addressed three key questions – a. what have teachers and youth workers to offer towards the clarification of the two roles? b. do the jobs call for two different kinds of people in terms of personality and attitudes? c. what can be learned about the planning and future development of realtionships between the two? She concludes, ‘It is manifest nonesense for the dedicated academic to be despised because he is not a ‘group worker’ or for the ‘activity centred’ youth leader to feel perhaps he ‘ought’ to be a counsellor. If we do not want a standard child we must abandon any thought of a ‘standard’ teacher and plan our schools, colleges, and youth centres along with groups of ‘unattached’ educational social workers as co-operative enterprises between young people with a multiplicity of needs and adults with differing personalities and a multiplicity of skills (1971: 76).

Youth Service Information Centre (eds.) (1969) Debate. A collection of professional papers on the future of youth and community work in the 1970s, Leicester: Youth Service Information Centre. Collection of papers, several of which focus on school-based work: training workers (Button); school-based youth work – rebirth or death knell? (Davies); school-based youth work – some negative factors; provision for young people on a school campus (Willcock).

Youth work in schools – articles and chapters

Booton, F. (1980) ‘Deschooling the Youth Service’ in F. Booton & A. Dearling (eds.) The 1980’s and Beyond, Leicester: National Youth Bureau.

Burley, D. (1990) ‘Informal education: a place in the new school curriculum?’ in T. Jeffs & M. Smith (eds.) Using Informal Education, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Davies, B. (1969) ‘School based youth work: rebirth or death knell’ in YSIC (eds.) Debate. A collection of professional papers on the future of youth and community work in the 1970s, Leicester: YSIC.

Fairbairn, A. N. (1969) ‘Youth Service in a community school’, Adult Education 41(6).

Fairbairn, A. N. (1970) ‘The relationship of schools and youth service’ in I. Bulman, M. Craft and F. Milson (eds.) Youth Service and Interprofessional Studies, Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Griffith, A. (1978) ‘Youth action. Community service in schools, a missed opportunity’, Youth in Society 27.

Hamilton, R. (1970) ‘Oh where, oh where did the youth service go?’ Information Bulletin, April.

Hayman, P. (1970) ‘The school-based youth worker’ Youth Service 10(5).

Haywood, H. (1969) ‘School based youth service: some negative factors’ in YSIC (eds.) Debate. A collection of professional papers on the future of youth and community work in the 1970s, Leicester: YSIC.

Jeffs, T. (1987) ‘Youth and community work and the community school’ in G. Allen et al (eds.) Community Education. An agenda for reform, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Jeffs, T. & Smith, M. (1988) ‘Youth work and schooling’ in T. Jeffs & M. Smith (eds.) Welfare and Youth Work Practice, London: Macmillan.

Jeffs, T. & Smith, M. K. (1991) ‘Youth work. Fallacy: the school is a poor base for youth work’ in B. O’Hagan (ed.) The Charnwood Papers. Fallacies in community education, Ticknall: Education Now.

Jones, A. (1972) ‘The All Purpose All Age Community School’. Youth Review No 22.

Scottish Journal of Youth and Community Work, Autumn 1973. Contains articles by Gillian Sheldon on the role of youth workers in a secondary school and Katherine Wright on youth and community wings in secondary schools.

Spilsbury, P. J. (1971) ‘Youth workers based in schools’, Youth Review 21, Winter.

Stone, C. (1987) ‘Youth workers as caretakers’ in T. Jeffs & M. Smith (eds.) Youth Work, London: Macmillan.

Willcock, J. B. (1969) ‘Provision for young people on a school campus’ in YSIC (eds.) Debate. A collection of professional papers on the future of youth and community work in the 1970s, Leicester: YSIC.

Webley, I. (1971) ‘The youth wing’ in T. Rogers (ed.) School for the Community. A grammar school reorganizes, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Youth Service (8), September 1977. Contains articules by Cyril Poster on school-based work; Allen Clifford on youth work – needs and networks; and Frank Booton on deschooling the youth service. There is also a short bibliography.

© Mark K. Smith. First published July 1996. Revised 2019.