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How does quality youth work and its impact help with the implementation of the Youth Work Strategy for Wales

Sharon LovellAs Chair of the Youth Work Strategy Implementation Board (YWSIB), and having worked as a youth worker myself, I have seen countless examples of how quality youth work can support and transform the lives of young people.

The Youth Work Excellence Awards that took place in December 2022 was a showcase of such fantastic variety that is taking place in the youth work sector - but what do we mean by quality youth work? What are the ingredients? How does this complement the progress of work of the YWSIB to date?

‘Quality’ is first and foremost about enabling every young person to have access, and a right to, youth work services shaped by them, for them, a peer led approach. It’s about young people having the power to make decisions on a local, regional, and national level - to develop youth work in the way they want to see it. Identifying what is needed in their communities that complement their culture, identity, and sense of belonging, and supports all their potential. I want to see a youth work service in Wales that supports a rights-based approach, rich in inclusion.

Another significant and evolving area relating to quality is the legislative framework in which youth work sits to protect and sustain youth work for future generations. This legislation and guidance have to be strong to protect both the voluntary, and maintained sector. Funding and resources are continuously needed to have a workforce of paid staff and volunteers who make a difference to the lives of young people. Cross policy work is critical along with co-produced partnerships. The methodology of the practice of youth work cuts across many areas and has a place within health, youth justice, housing, education, and many other spaces.

Access to training and continuous professional development is critical for our sector. We need to be brave as we support, enable, and empower young people at key stages, and for the youth work sector to be truly valued and understood.

We need to have strong structures of governance and leadership. One of the priorities of the YWSIB is to look into developing a national body for youth work in Wales, and explore what the role and remit of this body would look like.

We need to celebrate our sector and I am thrilled that the Education Workforce Council (EWC) will continue to administer the Youth Work Quality Mark for another year, enabling youth services to evidence the difference they make to the lives of young people.

The big question is often ‘how do you know the difference you are making, what are the outcomes?’. It is simple. Ask young people. Involve young people. The Youth Committee that support the YWISB’s work will be critical to advancing our Youth Work Strategy for Wales.

No decision will be made about young people, without young people.

Sharon Lovell, MBE

Chair, Youth Work Strategy Implementation Board


Welsh Language Rights Day

Since November 2022, each of the four members of the data team here in the Education Workforce Council (EWC) are Welsh speakers. This is the first time, since our inception, that we've had a fully bilingual team. At the EWC, about 30% of our staff areData team web image Welsh speakers, with 40% declaring some level of Welsh.

Providing a Welsh service to our registrants is essential to us as an organisation. According to our Annual Education Workforce Statistics for Wales 2022, nearly a quarter of our registrants are Welsh speakers, and nearly 20% are able to work through the medium of Welsh. We have a number of external facing teams who deal with the public from day to day, over the phone, via email and face to face.

Even though the data team isn't a front-facing team, dealing with the public, the Welsh language is very important to the team.

Nia Griffith, Data Manager said "It's really important for me to be able to use Welsh as part of my job. Even though we deal with data mainly, it's important to understand the context of what we discuss, and the Welsh language is a big part of that. Understanding when, how, why, and where the language changes, and how that is reflected in the data."

Three of the four come from north Wales, but now live in Cardiff. All four say how important Welsh is as a language in work, as well as at home. Dafydd Jones, Data Officer: "The language means a lot to me. Welsh is my first language, and it's what I speak with my family." Jethro Jones, Data Officer "it means I can keep up with what happened over the weekend in Welsh with my colleagues."

But how important is using Welsh as part of their jobs?  "Essential", according to Adam Williams, Data Officer "as well as being beneficial, being able to work bilingually created a more entertaining workplace for me, personally." Nia adds to this "the EWC is a workplace that uses Welsh naturally, there's a lot of Welsh spoken around the office, what with work going on and social chatting. It's not a battle to be able to converse in Welsh, it goes hand in hand with day-to-day work."

The EWC has committed to providing a bilingual service of the highest standard to the public. Even though the data team don't interact with the public directly on a day-to-day basis, they do contribute to the phone service by answering calls. They also set the standard of good practice of how, having Welsh speakers is beneficial to an effective team.

According to Dafydd "Since all members of the team are bilingual, we can discuss work in Welsh", and Nia "We are in a lovely situation where all members of the team are bilingual, so we can hold team meetings as well as communicate and work fully through the medium of Welsh."

Ensuring staff have opportunities to use the Welsh language in their daily work is equally as important to the organisation as providing the highest quality bilingual services to the public. As Nia says "providing a bilingual service to the public is important to the EWC. Each team in the EWC has at least one Welsh speaker, and so we can provide this important service." And according to Adam "the organisation has committed to providing a comprehensive bilingual service to the public - something that is beneficial to the staff as well as the public."

You can contact the EWC in Welsh or English, over the phone, via e-mail, and on our social media platforms. We look forward to hearing from you.

Youth work and well-being

In their latest blog for the EWC, Tim and Darrel discuss how youth work fosters positive, trusting relationships which can provide the basis for improving well-being, via the underpinning five pillars of youth work - expressive, educative, participative, empowering and inclusive.


by Tim Opie (Lifelong Learning Policy Officer (Youth), Welsh Local Government Association) and Darrel Williams (Senior Lecturer at the University of Wales, Trinity St David).


The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.
UNICEF (2007)

Through its voluntary relationship with young people aged 11-25 years, the key purpose of youth work is to enable young people to develop holistically, working with them to facilitate their personal, social and educational development, to enable them to develop their voice, influence and place in society and to reach their full potential (Youth Work National Occupational Standards).

There are many reasons why a young person will engage in youth work - a relationship which is led by the young person as defined by the needs and priorities identified by them. One of these is how youth workers can intervene early and prevent negative mental health and emotional well-being issues by using a non-clinical, relationships-based approach.

The New Economics Foundation, among others, value wellbeing as an important concept, identifying five important characteristics which foster wellbeing – 1. to 'connect' with people around us; 2. to be physically active; 3. to take notice of things and to be curious; 4. to keep learning about life, and lastly 5. to give something back, to contribute something to others (NEF, 2008) – all are values which form the basis of the youth work offer to our young people.

Prior to the devastating effects of the pandemic, young people in Wales were already disproportionately affected by the impact of austerity and the struggling economic landscape in Wales. To further compound this situation, Welsh children were found to have fared worse, on average, than their counterparts in England and Scotland under six wellbeing outcomes (Pedace, no date). I want to use this blog as an opportunity to consider some of the current issues impacting on the health and well-being of young people and how youth work might respond.

What are the implications of the pandemic and austerity on young people?

The European Youth Forum have noted that young people have not been adequately provided for, and despite being more educated and driven than previous generations, they face structural hurdles, particularly when reaching the point of accessing the labour market. Many require extra support in order to be equipped to lead a good life, ready for work and the pleasures and challenges of life.

Even if we look at the outcomes of formal education, young people in Wales are not in a strong position in comparison to young people across the developed world. Whilst showing some recent progress, the PISA results from 2018 show that the reading score for Wales (483) has remained stable since 2006, with 22 countries ahead (compared to 30 in 2015). 23 countries outperformed Wales in Mathematics with 19 outperforming us in Science (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD)). The study also found that “…pupils in all countries of the UK were less satisfied with their life than pupils in other OECD countries.” And that “Pupils in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland had lower expectations of their highest level of qualification than pupils across the OECD” (p. 173). So, whilst huge educational reform is under way, we can see that young people in Wales are not achieving the outcomes from formal education which will enable the country to radically improve its position in the success league of the OECD, regrettably, the results of which could include continued stagnation in job opportunities and quality of life for young people.

What can youth work do to limit some of these problems and enhance well-being?

The Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee recognises youth work as a crucial, non-clinical, ‘upstream’/preventative intervention. The Committee referenced in its Mind Over Matter Report (2018), which led to recent statutory guidance the Whole School Approach to Emotional and Mental Well-being, that “…teachers are not solely responsible – joint working between professionals from across sectors (health, education, social care, third sector, youth work and others) is key to delivering a whole-school approach” (p. 34). They went on to say that “Several stakeholders highlighted the important role youth workers have to play in emotional well-being in school settings” (p. 43) and that “having advocacy and specialist youth workers as part of a crisis team could help save police time, enable crises to be managed at home, work restoratively, and uphold rights and liberty” (p. 111).

Youth work can improve young people's well-being, but there are huge questions for youth work about its role and what those in charge of it want it to achieve. In a sense, even youth work leaders do not grasp what youth work can bring to the lives of young people, their communities and ultimately to society in terms of cultural change.

If we as youth workers begin to see this bigger picture of what youth work can be - liberatory, empowering, conscientising (as Paulo Freire called it), then we can begin to develop that vision of well-being, of human flourishing and ultimately what values we want our society to pass on to young people. The five pillars of youth work (as described above) provide a clear and robust foundation for the conditions necessary to improve young lives in this way.

There is a question next of what values are really important - what do 'we' as a society think is really important - is it jobs, continual economic growth with all the pressures that brings for individuals, society and the environment? Should we begin to think differently about what 'success' looks like? Or is there a third way, a compromise between these potentially competing perspectives? Crucial in this debate is how the new curriculum (and, therefore, our young people) will be assessed. It has been recognised that our current curriculum is neither meeting the needs of employers, young people or society in general and that many young people are not achieving as a result. This does NOT mean that many young people do not have skill sets or huge ability – it means that the current system does not accommodate, recognise or celebrate them.

In Wales, alongside huge curriculum reforms, we are also reconfiguring our approach to mental health and emotional well-being in a move to a Whole System Approach, with the Whole School Approach being an integral part of this alongside the NEST/NYTH Framework (Nurturing, Empowering, Safe and Trusting – based on a No Wrong Door approach), which clearly resonates with the five pillars of youth work. Now that the new curriculum framework is in place, the next important step is to ensure that the accompanying assessment processes meet both the needs of the ‘system’ and young people, by recognising a broader range of skills and dispositions. Youth work can play an important role in all of this, if provided with appropriate opportunities…

What can youth work do to combat some of these effects?

The European Youth Forum proposes that youth work organisations, through their principled approach to non-formal education, help to foster the kind of qualities needed to work with others which employers so often require of young people and so often bemoan their lack. Youth workers, when asked, will agree that these soft skills (a term which does little to illustrate their elusiveness among the young) as they are often described are the stock in trade of youth work where young people take part in activities which help them to learn commitment, show initiative and take responsibility. Youth work additionally offers young people opportunities for interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution, leadership, management, planning, team-working skills, and problem-solving skills (European Youth Forum, 2011).

Youth work in Wales is based upon a form of non-formal learning (NFL) which has been described as:
learning embedded in planned, organised and sustained education activities that are outside formal education institutions. The purpose of NFL is to provide alternative learning opportunities for those who do not have access to formal schooling or need specific life skills and knowledge to overcome different obstacles. Non-formal learning is also intentional from the learner’s point of view, as opposed to incidental or random types of learning (UNESCO, 2006, p.39).

This form of learning has potential to complement formal education and to respond to young people at times and in locations that are not traditionally associated with learning. One of the keys though to a successful outcome from non-formal learning is that those taking part in it recognise and appreciate the potential of the process they are involved in.

The National Youth Service Strategies for Wales have set out desired outcomes from youth work, these being active participation, wider skills development and enhanced emotional competence (WAG, 2007, Welsh Government, 2014, 2019).

These outcomes are entirely consistent with an approach which prioritises well-being and the enhancement of soft skills. The strategies suggest youth work providers should offer opportunities through active participation for young people to enjoy themselves, contribute to society, improve their health, fitness and wellbeing, learn new skills, enhance their knowledge and learn to manage risk (WAG, 2007).

Youth work is ideally situated to encourage and foster young people’s active participation in social life, whether at the most basic level of simply enjoying themselves through trying new activities or by contributing more directly to society by helping organise a community event or as a young carer. Regularly taking part in youth work serves a useful social function and encourages young people to see for themselves the positive effects of consistency.

Youth work can provide a space where young people have opportunities to experience new activities and alternative approaches to life, to learn the importance of contributing to society, family and friendships. Youth work should position itself to enable young people faced with the difficulties outlined above to ask questions, to pose themselves questions about what sort of person they want to be and the kind of life they want to live.

Youth work is about developing a young person holistically, which might also include making a really valuable contribution in enabling them to gain the skills so valued by employers including confidence, understanding customer needs and following instructions, good communication and working with others, adaptability and flexibility and showing initiative along with the basic skills of literacy and numeracy (Futureskills Wales). Youth work should take the opportunity presented by the current challenges facing young people and maximize its contribution to wider social progress for children, young people and communities through its unique contribution of a radical and empowering social education in communities, for communities and by communities.

and Darrel Williams (Senior Lecturer at the University of Wales, Trinity St David)

Why quality is vital to international learning

In our latest blog, Howard Williamson, Professor of European Youth Policy at the University of South Wales, and previous rapporteur-genéral for all three European Youth Work Conventions held between 2010 and 2020, provides his insight into international youth work and how we must focus on quality now that the doors of international exchanges are reopening.


Untitled design 10By Howard Williamson, Professor of European Youth Policy at the University of South Wales


There is a lot bubbling around the world of youth work at the moment, both in Wales and internationally. As the COVID pandemic seemingly recedes, international youth work exchanges, or ‘learning mobility’ as it tends to be called elsewhere, is now firmly back on the agenda, though perhaps more cautiously given our greater awareness of the climate implications of travel.  

I write this blog as the name of Wales’ distinctive International Learning Exchange Programme (ILEP) is announced – ‘Taith’. It’s hoped this will plug the gaps left by the UK’s post-Brexit departure from Erasmus + (the European Union’s all-encompassing mobility programme). 

‘Taith’ will ‘give learners of all ages and from all backgrounds across Wales the chance to benefit from the life-changing international opportunities to travel and learn’.  It will ‘embed an international approach into every level of our education system’. This includes non-formal education and learning (notably youth work) and it is intended that the youth work sector will secure its fair share of the funding available, for both digital and in-person international contact and learning. 

It is reassuring to know that the new programme will evolve in parallel with other contemporary youth work initiatives in Wales, not least the implementation of a new youth work strategy under the banner of ‘Time to Deliver’ and the further development of the Youth Work Quality Mark through the Education Workforce Council (EWC).

First, a little bit of history.  I’ve just attended, online, the first meeting in 2022 of the EU-Council of Europe Youth Partnership research and ‘knowledge’ network.  The Partnership is currently working on insights into ‘youth work strategy development’.  I noted that, in Wales, I have been connected to seven such strategies in just under 40 years.  Invariably they invoke the rhetoric of ‘quality’; after all, what else should we aspire to?

More rarely have they accommodated a transnational dimension.  Indeed, a European youth exchange function for the Wales Youth Agency in 1991 was conspicuous only by its absence.  Youth exchanges were only shoe-horned into the Agency’s work through delicate negotiation with the British Council and some careful juggling of resources. 

Grant Poiner, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Wales, noted in a previous blog for Sôn that the youth sector in Wales has cherished the value of international experiences for young people in Wales, funded significantly through the European Union, from the early days of Youth for Europe to the more recent umbrella of Erasmus +.  Throughout 2021, as the final Erasmus + projects drew to a close, there has been profound concern across the sector about the loss of mobility possibilities within the wider canvas of opportunities and experiences provided through youth work. 

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put a premature end to physical exchanges, but now learning mobility in Europe and beyond is on the move again.  The youth work sector in Wales will at least be able to benefit from Welsh Government’s own dedicated international learning initiative.  Taith – meaning ‘journey’ in Welsh - will create “life-changing opportunities to travel, learn and experience”, designed to “take Wales to the world, and bring the world to Wales”.

Yet it is important to take a little care about getting too nostalgic about the wonders of internationalism, however much the evidence that youth exchanges can transform young people is not really in dispute.  Projects were sometimes poorly planned and, for many reasons, implemented in a less than desirable fashion.  Very different kinds of youth groups were inadvertently thrown together, with not the best of consequences.  Sometimes it seemed to be the youth workers who had much more of a good time than the young people involved.  None of this is to disparage the idea of exchanges, just to air a note of caution.  It is, indeed, a call for ‘quality’.

And now, in Wales, like a rare eclipse, three dimensions of youth work – strategy, quality and internationalism – are in alignment and stand some chance of converging creatively and constructively for its young people.  Whatever the infrastructure of policy commitment and resource allocation, those at the sharp end of delivery, the youth workers implementing such practice, need a calibrated understanding of the stepping-stones that need to be put in place if transnational activities are to yield optimum success. 

The preparatory work required is considerable – not least the dialogue with the young people likely to take part, their (online) contact and communication with those they are going to meet, and perhaps some more domestic local travel, encounters with other groups of young people, and residential experience.  After all, the localism of some young people is palpable.  Even though, arguably, they are the ones most ‘in need’ of internationalism, a curiosity about other contexts, cultures and cuisine may need to be nurtured rather carefully.  At the heart of youth exchanges is the layered dimensions of inter-cultural learning, respecting and valuing difference.

It is therefore vital to ensure the international practices of youth workers are of high quality. High-quality youth work has a crucial role to play in supporting many young people to achieve their full potential. Through informal and non-formal educational approaches, effective youth work practice builds the capacity and resilience of young people and can change their lives for the better. Through participation in international youth work, young people gain confidence and competence, develop self-assurance and have the opportunity to establish high expectations and aspirations for themselves.

The EU-Council of Europe Youth Partnership is about to revise its Handbook on Quality in Learning Mobility (Kristensen et al 2019).  There is incontrovertible evidence about the value of stretching young people to explore the lives and perspectives of others.  Internationalism has always been a feature of progressive youth organisations.  Transnational co-operation and exchange are embedded within the European Youth Work Agenda (of which Wales and the UK remain a part).  Most youth work strategies, across Europe and indeed throughout the world, incorporate commitments to promoting mobility, not just for students but for all young people. 

Today the process can make use of both online and offline resources.  That greater variety of resources allows for an even more nuanced approach to the already very diverse characteristics of international youth work.  We must use it well in the spirit of the flagship ‘extending entitlement’ philosophy to support young people in Wales.  As I once wrote, more generically about youth work in obsessive discussions about measuring the outcomes it produced, “The quality of opportunity and experience extended to young people is paramount and often, though not always, more important than the specificity of outcome”.  Nowhere, across the spectrum of youth work policy and practice, could that be more apposite than in relation to international exchange.

Kristensen, S. (ed.) (2019), Handbook on Quality in Learning Mobility, Strasbourg: Council of Europe and European Commission

Paul Glaze - Good youth work practice and why it’s important to share it


Youth work services policy and practice in Walesshutterstock 644343151 1

It’s an exciting time (and place to be) for the youth work services sector in Wales.

The sector delivers an enormous range of diverse services and opportunities which incorporate personal and social development, expressive arts, sport, emotional well-being and mental health.

Centred around a culture of learning, the sector offers youth-friendly, youth-led environments which provide transformative experiences via a wide range of projects and programmes. These add huge value to the wider education offer for young people in Wales. 

At a time of incredible change, challenge and vulnerability, the sector has responded wonderfully well and has shown immense adaptability and courage in developing services to continue making critical contributions to the lives of young people. In this blog, I want to share with you the incredible advancements which demonstrate just this.

Youth Work Strategy for Wales 2019

The Ministerial foreword highlights that the Strategy ‘is intended to improve both youth work provision and our offer to young people’.

The Strategy identifies the need to develop, publish and implement a Workforce Development Plan. It also outlines plans to review and update the Coherent Route of Recognised Youth Work Qualifications to improve progression.

There is a real desire to strengthen provision in order to improve outcomes, whilst also acknowledging that youth work must be ‘planned, delivered and reviewed’. It is paramount that young people are empowered to have their voices heard in this planning process.

In addition, there is a need to match training of youth workers with the needs of young people. This will not only help us to gain a clearer understanding of the contexts within which youth work takes place, but also to improve the audits of such provision (including the sector’s skills base, skill needs and how to address current and future demands).

The aim here is to ensure that youth workers (paid and unpaid) are continuously supported to improve their practice and develop provision, all in order to support and improve outcomes. The Workforce Development Plan will need to take full account of these issues.

These are important commitments in support of ‘improving rather than proving’ practice. The Strategy evidences the impact of provision by suggesting a toolkit and resources which focus on self-evaluation, impact monitoring and ‘measuring the satisfaction of young people in the quality of youth work they experience’.

Such a toolkit has been created by the Centre for Youth Impact in its Youth Programme Quality Intervention (YPQI). YPQI encourages a continuous improvement culture within youth work organisations, including improvements in evaluation and observation of the quality of provision, and the monitoring of outcomes as matter of course. Participation in YPQI has not been as strong as expected in Wales, largely due to issues with capacity.

Quality Mark for Youth Work in Wales

In Wales, the Quality Mark is also a tool used to develop improvement and to ensure services can measure and monitor their impact with young people. The programme goes from strength to strength and has seen an impressive increase in the number of CWVYS member organisations applying to undertake the Quality Mark process.

Recent figures outline that the number of organisations awarded the Quality Mark has increased from 17 to 24; 72% of new applicants achieving the Quality Mark are from the voluntary sector; and there are currently 44 assessors (41% of whom work in the voluntary sector).

Empowering the workforce to develop skills, share learning and embed an improvement culture (whilst being supported within an assessment process) facilitates the development of confidence and ability, whilst allowing the needs of young people to be met. 

Youth Work in Wales: Principles and Purposes

Youth Work in Wales: Principles and Purposes sets out the key principles which underpin youth work and provides an overview of its nature, purposes and delivery. The content of the document applies specifically to youth work in Wales but is likely to be consistent with youth work principles.

Interim Youth Work Board for Wales

The Board’s final report clearly sets out its positive comments regarding workforce development as well as supporting the continued development and roll-out of the Quality Mark. Recommendation 13 states: ‘Welsh Government needs to build on its commitment to support and develop the youth work profession with a career structure offering progression’ and that by creating ‘a more effective workforce’ with an emphasis on ’training, education and CPD provision’, ‘there will be positive consequences for the quality of the services that are provided for the young people of Wales’. 


The Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) is the representative body for the voluntary youth work sector, enabling a collective voice for those delivering services for young people throughout Wales. 

Working pan-Wales, CWVYS currently has a vibrant and diverse membership of 137 organisations and is pro-actively engaged in strategic and operational developments in support of the sector and of/for young people. 

It provides a frontline service for voluntary youth organisations and an important vehicle through which Welsh Government delivers the Youth Work Strategy for Wales and a range of important projects.