The National Youth Agency (NYA), through its Education Training Standards Committee (ETS) is the recognised Regulatory Body (PSRB) for youth work in England. The NYA welcomes the recent ADCS paper on workforce development across the children and young people’s workforce, and supports its overall ambition and recommendations.[1]

The ADCS report acknowledges the importance of early help and early intervention across the age range; the costs of later intervention having recently been estimated at c. £17bn per year for the state.[2] Yet spending on children and young people is shifting away from early intervention and towards statutory protected services which require much higher thresholds of need and are far more costly.[3]

Youth workers in communities and in specialist projects have regularly been shown to play really important roles in supporting young people to make informed choices and deal with the range of challenges they encounter – from drugs and knife crime to mental ill-health and loneliness. In many cases, young people and the community themselves want more youth work above other services to help tackle these issues.[4]

However, despite this, and the clear cost benefits of earlier intervention, the youth work sector has been particularly hard hit by local government budget reductions since 2010, and has seen very significant reductions in budgets, provision and staff. Our analysis shows that local authority spend on services to young people has reduced disproportionally to other related areas; from c. £1bn in 2010, to just under £333m this year, a reduction of two thirds. Unison indicates that at a minimum 4,500 youth worker jobs have been lost since 2012.[5]

Increasingly, the loss of these wider services such as youth work has meant that for many people working with children and young people, they do not know where to turn to offer children and young people help and support when it is needed below statutory thresholds.[6] The same holds true for many young people themselves.

In this context of a disjointed children’s workforce NYA supports and welcomes the recommendations for a national workforce lead and a cross-departmental working group to ensure workforce development is appropriate for each element of the children and young people’s sector across England.

We wish to particularly highlight the context for youth work, which has an existing UK-wide (though un-resourced in England) structure for developing and validating qualifications at Levels 2,3 and degree level and above.

Key features of the youth work workforce include:

  • Youth workers work in many settings for employers in both public and voluntary sectors
  • They engage in open-access, community-based youth work as well as specialised support for groups and individuals with particular needs – from LGBTQ to those at risk of child sexual exploitation
  • The youth work workforce includes large numbers of volunteers as well as part-time sessional workers (such as NCS Team Leaders) and professionally qualified youth workers who often have key developmental roles in local services and communities
  • The ability to form trusted relationships with young people, allowing support for all and any needs they may have

Common, or transferable, youth work qualifications have been endorsed across the UK and Ireland, with sector-led organisations taking responsibility for professional validation and quality assurance of qualifications from level 2 to Level 7. In England, the NYA is the recognised PSRB for youth work, and works in partnership with other youth sector bodies through its ETS Committee as well as with its partners in the other UK jurisdictions and Ireland through the Joint ETS Committee.

Despite recent reductions in the number of professionally validated programmes at degree level and above, and somewhat patchy provision of Level 2 and 3 qualifications across the country, exacerbated by local authorities pulling out of delivery of these programmes, there continues to be strong support from the youth work sector to maintain and develop our qualification framework and standards.

At present, NYA is working on several youth workforce initiatives to address this and more, including:

  • The development of an England-wide Youth Work Workforce Development Strategy
  • Periodic review of Level 2 and 3 qualifications in Youth Work Practice
  • Updating the National Occupation Standards for Youth Work, in partnership with CLD Scotland and other UK partners
  • Developing Youth Work Apprentice Standards at Level 6 and Level 3
  • Launching a ‘Youth Work Academy’ to provide more training options across the whole sector workforce and to explore how to promote existing training on offer throughout the sector; including boosting the access to safeguarding training for volunteers
  • Refreshing the Quality Mark self-assessment framework to help service providers ensure good standards
  • Having redeveloped Hear by Right, a toolkit to enable service providers to better incorporate youth voice and participation
  • Exploring the development of a Professional Register for youth workers, in partnership with the Institute of Youth Work

The NYA is therefore actively addressing the workforce development needs for youth work whilst recognising wider children’s services. We welcome this opportunity for renewed vision and investment in the children and young people’s workforce as a whole, and look forward to working with ADCS and government on developing the recommendations in the ADCS report.


[1] For the full paper see;

[2] See; Early Intervention Foundation, The Cost of Late Intervention: EIF Analysis 2016 (2016).

[3] Children’s Commissioner, Vulnerability Report 2018: Overview (2018). And, Children’s Commissioner and EIF, Public Spending on Children in England: 2000 to 2020 (2018).

[4] See, for example; The Youth Violence Commission, Interim Report (2018), p. 8. And; RCPCH, What do Young People Want to Be Improved as Part of the NHS Long Term Plan? (2019).

[5] For figures detailing such reduction in workforce see; Unison, Youth Services at Breaking Point (2018), and Sian Berry, London’s Lost Youth Services 2018, (2018).

[6] The Sutton Trust, Life Lessons: Improving essential life skills for young people (2017).

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