Blog post

Student essays come to life in audience with minister

The University of Derby’s BA (Hons) Youth Work and Community Development team are seeing the transformational impact of encouraging local MPs to become ambassadors for their programme, write Sarah Barley-McMullen and Tim Howell, lecturers in Youth Work and Community Development.

By The Corporate Communications Team - 10 April 2019

The University of Derby’s professionally qualifying BA (Hons) Youth Work and Community Development degree, lives the values of partnership, collaboration and inter-professional working.

Senior Lecturer Sarah Barley-McMullen began an initiative to engage with local politicians and found an enthusiastic ally and ambassador in Pauline Latham, MP for Mid-Derbyshire.

Following a meeting with Pauline last summer, members of the Youth Work and Community Development team were invited down to Westminster, along with the CEO for the National Youth Agency, Leigh Middleton, to meet with the Minister for Youth Work, and the Civil Society Strategy lead, Mims Davies MP, from the Department for Digital, Media and Sport.

When students were tasked to imagine a statutory youth work service as part of their management module, little did they realise that their ideas would be pitched to the government minister responsible for developing youth policy as a key strand of the new government Civil Society Strategy.

Advocating for youth work to government

Youth work is a hot topic nationally, with Prime Minister Theresa May, arguing we cannot, ‘arrest our way out of knife crime’ and acknowledging the need for a preventative youth work response alongside police action.

Having heard the University of Derby talk so passionately about their trailblazing students making a transformational impact in the their communities on placement, Pauline invited lecturers from the University of Derby to meet the minister to advocate for youth work. The aim was to provide some vital information and evidence from the university perspective on the contribution youth work can make to engaging all young people, as well as providing targeted support to those who are most vulnerable and in greatest need of change in their lives.

The meeting coincided with the publication of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs’ report on 4 April. Its recommendations included strengthening the legislation for youth work provision, providing OFSTED inspection of youth work alongside young inspectors, local authority-led youth panels commissioning a range of targeted projects, and long-term community based youth work services for all young people, according to local need.

It also recommended a register of practitioners to protect the status of the professionally-qualified youth work graduates. This will enable their specialist input to be employed by sister sectors such as CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), youth offending teams, prisons, schools and colleges.

Promoting students’ solutions

The meeting at Westminster also acknowledged ideas from third-year students who graduate this summer as professionally-qualified youth workers, who had just completed an assessment entitled ‘Imagine a new statutory youth work service’.

Their suggestions, discussed at the meeting, included youth workers delivering centre-based opportunities in the evenings, and daytime PHSE in schools and colleges, alongside referred targeted interventions.

Third year student Naomi Robinson is currently working with the Youth and Policy Journal to publish her paper, on rebuilding the youth service around redundant Sure Start centres.

So when lecturers Tim Howell and Sarah Barley-McMullen met Mims Davies alongside Pauline Latham and Leigh Middleton they were able to pitch the ideas of University of Derby students, as well as the APPG recommendations, directly to the minister responsible for making it happen.

The meeting content was built on the youth work ‘cliff analogy’: to support and develop young people, is it better to put a fence at the top of the cliff, or a crash mat at the bottom?

The University of Derby argued for both.

Making the case for a youth work policy

After £750 million of youth work cuts since 2010 has removed that fence, the crash mat is overwhelmed in multiple directions, including mental health, knife crime violence, county lines drug supplying, child sexual exploitation and much more.

The youth work sector has a broad range of practitioners from untrained community volunteers to professionally-qualified graduates. This range needs reflecting in a refreshed qualifications framework, allowing for local people to be equipped to a safe and sustainable level of training, while professional graduates can co-ordinate and deliver the intensive targeted work, and oversee the community practice as area youth workers.

There has been no specific youth policy from government to shape, guide and co-ordinate practice since Positive for Youth (DfE, 2011). This point was made strongly at the Westminster meeting, as it is also a key recommendation of the APPG Youth Affairs report.

The minister was very interested in what our staff and students had to say, and has asked for the University of Derby to provide a wish list for a statutory youth service to help inform her proposals for the Department of Digital, Media and Sport in the next government spending review.

Establishing a constructive relationship

This has been the start of a very constructive relationship made possible by the commitment of Pauline Latham, as our local youth work ambassador.

There has been ongoing dialogue and education about youth work practice and the values underpinning it. It really is a time to be hopeful when key politicians are seeing young people as autonomous individuals with hopes and dreams, concerns and fears.

They are not a problem to solve, but an asset to build on and a potential to realise. The development of youth policy must be from a strength-based position, framing our young people as the present and the future of Britain, where professional youth work engagement is available for all young people to enable them to work through the complexities of their lives and find their place in society.

“We were thrilled to be given this opportunity to speak with Mims. We are hoping this meeting has sown seeds and is the start of an ongoing conversation and relationship to bring about sustained change for youth work services, locally, regionally and nationally.” Sarah Barley-McMullen

Time to make a change

It is clearly a very positive time to start your youth work training. There are now a multitude of sectors demanding youth work skills to make a difference in the lives of young people, including alternative education, youth justice, mental health, disability and more.

While those job roles are often called a range of things, it sounds like the role of ‘youth worker’ will be back with a vengeance with traditional community-based youth work for all young people alongside more targeted projects.

The tide is certainly changing and youth work students undertaking their professional training at University of Derby will be well-equipped to take advantage of these additional opportunities, which sound like they are just around the corner.

Find out more about our Health, Social and Community Work courses

For further information contact the Corporate Communications team at or call 01332 593953.

About the author

The Corporate Communications Team
University Press and PR

The Corporate Communications Team manage the University's Press and PR, putting forward academics, support staff and student representatives for 'expert comment' on different topics to local and national broadcast media. The team is highly experienced in communications and journalism - locally, regionally and nationally - as well as in-house and agency public relations.