Informal Education, Youth Work and Youth Development: Responding to the Brathay Trust Case Study

Davies, Bernard; Taylor, Tony and Thompson, Naomi. 2015. Informal Education, Youth Work and Youth Development: Responding to the Brathay Trust Case Study. Youth and Policy, 115, ISSN 0262-9798 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

YOUTH WORK as a distinctive process-led, young person-centred educational practice has been on the wane for at least two decades (Davies, 2008; Jeffs and Smith, 2008; IDYW, 2009). Its open, improvisatory and unpredictable character has not fitted well with an increasingly instrumental and behavioural neo-liberal agenda. As youth work has declined, other forms of work with young people have risen in prominence, particularly those favouring structured and targeted approaches based on prescribed outcomes. By and large these behavioural modification schemes have hesitated to give themselves an identity, preferring the pretence of still defining themselves as youth work. In the emergence of this array of interventions intent on regulating young people’s lives (Taylor and Taylor, 2010), relatively few writers have drawn attention to the significance of the technocratic ‘youth development’ model.

Given this silence we welcomed the appearance earlier this year of an article, ‘Non-formal youth development and its impact on young people’s lives: Case study – Brathay Trust, UK’, written by Karen Stuart and Lucy Maynard (2015) and published in the Italian Journal of Sociology of Education. However, we found ourselves so perplexed by its argument that we have produced a trio of critical articles as a collective response. These are prompted by their account of ‘how the [Brathay] Trust has developed a robust theoretical framework to underpin a non-formal youth development approach’ (Stuart and Maynard, 2015: 231) which reignites what are, for us, important debates on three contested areas of practice with young people: informal education; youth work; and youth development.

Obviously, we would urge you to read Stuart and Maynard’s piece in full, but our interpretations of its main assertions are as follows:
• Rooted in non-formal learning and education, youth development is a structured and planned intervention into young people’s lives with identified and intended measurable outcomes. It can be shown to be robust and rigorous in both theory and practice.
• Rooted in informal learning and education, youth work is no more than unintentional learning, having little need for an educator or for preparation. Given a failure to evidence achievement, youth work is less than robust and less than rigorous.
• Against this backdrop, it is clear that in the present climate youth development richly deserves further research and development as the way forward for work with young people.

In the following articles we take up these assertions critically, but with a desire to open up dialogue rather than shut it down. Firstly, Tony Taylor offers some overall context on the youth development versus youth work debate and questions Stuart and Maynard’s claim that youth development is robust and rigorous, suggesting it is as much riddled with contradiction as the youth work it seeks to surpass. Secondly, from a theoretical perspective, Naomi Thompson explores Stuart and Maynard’s misunderstanding of what constitutes informal learning, informal education and youth work. Finally, through a detailed interrogation of an example from practice, Bernard Davies offers evidence on the centrality and impact of the purposeful, reflective youth worker – in direct contrast to Stuart and Maynard’s dismissal of the youth work role and process.

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Social, Therapeutic & Community Engagement (STaCS)


November 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

19 Sep 2017 09:55

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:32

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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