Youth work - Children's Workforce Qualifications and Training Guide

By Charlotte Goddard

| 27 August 2019

There are changes afoot in the youth sector.

The government is carrying out reviews into statutory guidance on services for young people, and has promised the development of a Youth Charter, at the same time that the National Youth Agency (NYA) is developing a Youth Workforce Strategy and carrying out its own review of youth work qualifications.

The government's review into the guidance for local authorities which sets out how they should secure activities and services will be led by the NYA and the Local Government Association, with feedback gathered via a series of national roadshows taking place between July and October 2019. The roadshows will also discuss the proposed Youth Charter, which aims to strengthen and coordinate national youth policy.

The development of a youth workforce strategy was one of the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs, which published the results of its inquiry into the impact of youth work in April 2019. The report called for such a strategy to include expectations for the ratio of professional youth workers, trainees and volunteers, and a training curriculum. Other recommendations included clear pathways for apprenticeships and career opportunities in youth work, greater support for training in the voluntary sector, a register of youth workers, and a probationary period similar to newly qualified teacher (NQT) status.

The NYA says its workforce strategy will include a focus on digital learning and blended learning routes. "We are looking at what we can do to keep youth work vibrant," says Amanda Fearn, development director at NYA. "We want to carry out research to find out where youth workers are, what a career path looks like. Graduates no longer follow a well-trodden path to local authorities as professional youth workers and are as likely to be employed by the voluntary sector, or in a whole host of jobs where youth work skills are integral but don't appear in the job title." There are also plans to look into fast-track routes into the sector, along the lines of the Teach First graduate scheme in education.

Youth workers are increasingly taking roles outside traditional youth work settings, such as housing programmes, within the NHS, and in social care or youth justice-focused programmes. Youth work degrees are evolving to reflect this, with modules covering social care, health, social enterprise and business development. The National Occupational Standards for the Youth Work sector have also been changed to reflect these new roles: the CLD Standards Council (Scotland) published new national occupational standards for the UK in May 2019, after consulting with sector experts.

However, as local authorities cut back on traditional youth work, funding that used to support youth workers through qualifications and training is dwindling. According to the NYA, only a quarter of the workforce hold qualifications in youth work, down from 75 per cent in 2012. While youth work is still a popular career choice, it is becoming harder to gain qualifications as the number of higher education institutions (HEIs) offering courses has fallen: according to the NYA, the number of higher education youth work courses available across the UK rose in 2017/18 to 41 offered by 29 HEIs from 40 offered by 32 in 2016/17.

However, in July the government announced it would provide funding to support new bursaries to boost the take-up of youth work qualifications and placements. A sum of £500,000 will be available for bursaries for those not otherwise be able to pay, benefiting up to 400 students. "This announcement of new funding is just a start in the renewal of youth work and investment in youth services," says NYA chief executive Leigh Middleton.

At a local authority level, youth workers can be youth support workers, with Level 2 and 3 qualifications, and professional youth workers at Level 6 and above. Take-up of Level 2 and 3 youth support worker qualifications fell from 1,800 places to just 600 in 2018, while graduate and post-graduate pathways have seen a two-thirds fall in new students since 2010 to 432 in 2017/18.

The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), which comprises a staff side and an employer side, is the body that sets the national framework used to grade and pay youth work jobs, and local authority youth workers are paid according to its salary scale. In September 2018, JNC staff side unions voted to accept a two-year pay deal, which gave workers a two per cent pay boost in 2018, with a further two per cent in 2019. The lowest paid workers on pay bands 7 and below will receive more than two per cent over the two years.

The JNC also endorses youth work qualifications via the NYA. While it is possible to work with young people without a JNC-recognised qualification, the recognised training is a Level 2/3 qualification in Youth Work Practice for youth support workers. The qualifications have 35 optional modules. For professional youth workers, the standard training is a JNC-recognised professional youth work programme available at BA (Hons) or postgraduate level. JNC qualifications are transferable across the UK and recognised by employers. The NYA is reviewing the Level 2 and 3 qualifications, a process that takes place every two to five years in collaboration with awarding bodies and the sector. The new qualifications will replace the old ones in early 2020.

The NYA and the Education Training Standards Committee are working with employers, unions, universities and others to establish flexible routes to qualification, including a trailblazer scheme to develop a youth work apprenticeship standard and degree-level apprenticeships. Standards have been developed for youth workers at Levels 3 and 6, and work continues to secure approval from the Institute for Apprenticeships.

The Institute for Youth Work continues to work with cross youth sector partners to develop and launch a voluntary register for youth workers that is intended to support raised professional standards and recognition for youth work nationally. Learning is being drawn from other regions of the UK, such as Wales, that have a youth worker register in place already. "The youth sector owning and leading a register for ourselves puts us in a stronger position to understand and meet our workforce needs as we gain professional strength," says Adam Muirhead, Institute for Youth Work chair of trustees.


Launched in March 2019, the National Youth Agency's Youth Work Academy provides a mixture of low-cost, high-quality accredited training and CPD workshops. "We recognise the sector is quite restricted in funds, and also that the issues affecting young people are constantly changing, requiring more knowledge from youth workers," says Katy Fielding, assistant director of operations at NYA.

In April the organisation ran its first workshops, focusing on child criminal exploitation, violence and county lines, in Cornwall, Leicester and York. "We are trying to look at where the need might be, and ensure we are not just London-centric," says Fielding.

Some training sessions are paid for by the participants, while others are funded by specific organisations. Building a Stronger Britain Together, for example, is funding training on creating safe spaces to challenge narratives of division and hatred.

In addition to continuing professional development, the academy is also offering the NYA's Youth Work in Practice Award or Certificate, a four day course at Level 2/3. Training is not just targeted at youth workers but anyone who comes into contact with young people, such as sports coaches or pastoral workers in a school, says Fielding.

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