Identifying best practice, showcasing innovation and highlighting where partnership working with allied organisations can benefit the outcomes of young people, are key aims of the National Youth Agency.
In recognition of the worrying rise in school absence rates following the pandemic – peaking at over 9% in May 2023; the myriad challenges facing young people (notably the risk of online harms, exploitation and the cost of living crisis); together with an unmet demand for mental health services, the NYA commissioned an independent review of the impact of youth work delivered with schools.
Call for evidence
The Better together: Youth work with schools report is the result of a call for evidence and a survey of schools and youth work organisations, as well as interviews with young people.
The report draws upon case studies and interviews collated from over 200 organisations, illustrating where youth work is taking place with schools and alternative provision, the different models of delivery and the impact on pupils.
What the review found
The report highlights how the holistic approach taken by youth workers, alongside teachers and pastoral staff can support young people to develop a positive relationship with their school and help address barriers to attendance.
It also shows that an overwhelming majority of submissions (95%) agreed that youth work in and out of schools has a positive impact on young people’s health and wellbeing, directly affecting their attendance, behaviour, and attainment.
It shows how youth workers, working in and out of schools, can help to identify the contextual factors which school staff may be unaware of and help young people to navigate and overcome some of the challenges they may be experiencing that may be preventing them from engaging with school.
A lack of funding and perception that youth work is an ‘add on’ rather than being an essential part of whole school or targeted approaches is identified as a challenge for rolling out youthwork with schools more widely.
One of the beacon initiatives featured in the report is the Oasis Waterloo Hub, in south London, which works with the Oasis South Bank Academy. Young people can self-refer to the Oasis Hub youth work provision if they are experiencing problems at home or school, or they can be referred in by school.
The review was overseen by a panel of experts from across the education and youth sectors, co-chaired by former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP and former Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green, OBE.
Abbee McLatchie, Director of Youth Work at the NYA said: “Young people supported by a youth worker identify their skills and passions, find their voice on issues which are important to them, feel more able to make safe choices and are happier. We believe that the model of youth workers linked to every secondary school, as part of a team of support workers and trained volunteers, rooted in the local Community, can have a transformational impact on young people’s lives.”
The report highlights that where youth work is taking place with schools, teachers are welcoming the benefit this is making to learning – not just by reducing poor attendance, but by bridging the gap between families with other support services and promoting pupil’s wellbeing, and personal and social development.
Anna Richardson, Principal at Oasis Academy South Bank said: “We know our students will face many different challenges as they grow up, and we do everything we can to help them through whatever life throws in their way. The relationships our youth practitioners build with students make a huge difference to building confidence and improving wellbeing, encouraging and supporting them to succeed at school, and keeping them safe. Youth work is an intrinsic part of our education offer at Southbank, and at the heart of what we provide to students and their families. It can be life-changing.”
Read the Better Together: Youth Work with schools report
Complementing formal education to change young lives.
New approaches to improving wellbeing and attendance.
The report concludes with a set of recommendations including:
- a dedicated Minister for Young People at the Department for Education to drive forward a National Youth Strategy joining up education and youth services
- dedicated, stable and joined-up funding is required that is supported by greater accountability from strengthened statutory guidance at national and local levels to put youth work on a surer footing with schools and facilitate more cross-sector working
- an enhanced Ofsted inspection framework with further measures and metrics to assess quality, consistency and longevity of external partnerships that aim to support the personal wellbeing of young people
- a joined-up approach for training and workforce planning between schools and youth work, such as integrating youth work values and approaches into initial teacher training and CPD training, and offering a transition pathway from teaching to youth work for recently qualified teachers who leave the profession
“Some of our young people are living with big challenges in their lives that go beyond what is happening in the classroom or at school. As youth practitioners were there to help young people navigate these, to offer positive opportunities that can divert and protect them from harm, to listen and support. Young people need to know they can trust us, and that we will work with them, challenge them, but also stick with them. We work alongside teachers and other school staff. We’re doing something different from each other, but we’re all part of the same team – it’s a partnership that puts the young person and their wellbeing at the centre.”
– Jordan Gayle, Community Youth Manager, Oasis Waterloo
Stuart Thomson, Youth Co-ordinator says: “A successful outcome is seeing the young person thriving and able to adapt to life, saying they feel better about themselves and feeling that they’re valued in their community.”
Read Oasis Hub’s story
Young people are referred to the Hub from six local schools. They may be facing a variety of issues including poor attendance, some may have made a safeguarding disclosure, or they may simply benefit from talking to a youth worker.
The support they receive may include 1-2-1 sessions with a youth worker (at the start of the school day); group sessions with other young people; as well as targeted and intensive support at a pre-arranged time each week. The young people also have access to a clinical therapist if they are struggling with their mental health.
The minimum amount of time they receive support is 12 weeks, with the average at 6 months.
Support includes chats over coffee and croissants; games and sports; small group sessions with other young people; as well as therapy sessions on the adjacent farm involving animal care and cooking in the farm kitchen.
Stuart Thomson said: “It’s all about empowering the young person to have a voice. We support them to deal with issues at school. Through the youth worker relationship, we gain their trust, so that we can work with them to own that space.”
Of the 65 young people referred to the Oasis Hub last year, 63 stayed at the Oasis Academy.
“A successful outcome is seeing the young person thriving and able to adapt to life, saying they feel better about themselves and feeling that they’re valued in their community,” added Stuart.
Stuart shared how other youth work organisations can broker relationships with schools in their areas: “Youth workers need talk to the Principles and Safeguarding leads in schools to understand how they can help them. It’s all about collaboration and demonstrating how youth work can help build a bridge between the school and the community.”
We are grateful to the panel members who contributed their time:
- Tim Loughton MP (East Worthing & Shoreham); former Children’s Minister
- Kate Green, Deputy Mayor of Greater Manchester; former MP and Shadow Education Secretary
- Abbee McLatchie, Director of Youth Work, National Youth Agency
- Somia Nasim, UK Youth, Education Development Lead
- Nick Brook, CEO, Speaker for Schools
- Damian Allen, CEO, Doncaster MBC
- Carole Willis, Chief Executive, National Foundation for Educational Research