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EACEA National Policies Platform


10. Youth work

10.1 General context

Last update: 25 January 2021


On this page
1.Historical developments
2.    National definition or understanding of Youth Work


Historical developments

Scotland’s statement of youth work policy is titledOur Ambitions for Improving the Life Chances of Young People in Scotland: National Youth Work Strategy (hereafter ‘National Youth Work Strategy’), published in 2014 and covering the period 2014-2019. A 2020-2025 strategy is under review at the time of writing (December 2020). 

The National Youth Work Strategy updatesMoving Forward: a Strategy for Improving Young People's Chances through Youth Work (2007). 

The impetus to update this strategy came from the sector at the 2011 National Youth Work Summit, in the light of policy developments which had taken place since, including progress in implementing curriculum reform through Curriculum for Excellence and16+ Learning Choices, the Scottish Government's 2010 policy document, aimed at supporting young people to progress into positive and sustained post-16 destinations.

While it has a specific focus on youth work, it aligns with other government policies which cover provision for young people. Other relevant policies, described in its 'policy context' section include:

●      Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)

●      Education – Curriculum for Excellence

●      Health, sport, the arts

●      Youth employment/workforce.

Further information on the age ranges covered by these policies, if available, is in the article ‘Target Population of Youth Policy’.  Further information on some of the policies themselves is in the sub-heading ‘Main themes’ in the article ‘Youth Policy Decision-Making’ and in the relevant topical chapters.

The National Youth Work Strategy was developed jointly by:

●      The Scottish Government

●      Education Scotland, the national improvement agency for education, which is an executive agency of the Scottish Government and the policy lead on youth work

●      YouthLink Scotland, the National Agency for Youth Work (see the sub-heading ‘The National Agency for Youth’ in the article ‘Youth Policy Decision-Making’). YouthLink Scotland is a membership organisation, so its participation meant that the wider youth organisations were involved in the development of the strategy.

Scope and contents

The key goal of the strategy is to ensure that all young people across Scotland have access to high quality and effective youth work practice. The strategy outlines five following actions as key in achieving this aim:

●      ensure Scotland is the best place to be young and grow up in - young people are well informed; youth work opportunities are accessible and inclusive; and the value and impact of investment in youth work is recognised by the public, voluntary and business sectors

●      put young people at the heart of policy - young people are directly involved in local and national decision making; youth work is firmly embedded at the heart of policies central to young people; youth work makes a positive contribution to young people's health and wellbeing

●      recognise the value of youth work - youth work is firmly embedded within broader policy approaches; the youth work sector is valued, understood and acknowledged by the voluntary and statutory sectors

●      build workforce capacity - practitioners are well-motivated and well-trained; volunteers are properly supported and encouraged

●      ensure impact is measured - youth work organisations self-evaluate; young people are supported to record their own learning through youth practice.

The strategy has a focus on reducing inequalities and targeting specific groups. It recognises that ‘both universal and more targeted, specific work have equal validity and importance’ (p.3). It also recognises that there remains a fundamental need for community-based youth work. While services have been eroded in recent years, this continuing need applies especially to the most disadvantaged.

Those working with young people are well placed to make early interventions to break cycles of inequality, whether in health, poverty, education or other areas. There is an explicit commitment in the strategy to break these cycles and ‘ensure that all young people have opportunities which will improve their life chances’ (p.17).

There is an action in the implementation plan to ‘encourage the participation of excluded and under-represented young people’ (p.18).

The latestNational Improvement Framework for Education (Scottish Government, 2019) underlined the contribution made by the Strategy to reducing inequality, and addresses four key priorities (p.5):

●      Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy

●      Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged and young people

●      Improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing

●      Improvement in employability skills and sustained, positive school-leaver destinations for all young people. 

National definition or understanding of Youth Work

According to The National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019:


‘Youth work is an educational practice contributing to young people’s learning and development.


Youth work engages with young people within their communities; it acknowledges the wider networks of peers, community and culture; it supports the young person to realise their potential and to address life’s challenges critically and creatively; it takes account of all strands of diversity.’


The Strategy describes Youth Work as having three essential and definitive



·         Young people choose to participate. The young person takes part voluntarily. She/he chooses to be involved, not least because they want to relax, meet friends and have fun. The young person decides whether to engage or to walk away.


·         The work must build from where young people are Youth Work operates on young people’s own personal and recreational territory – within both their geographic and interest communities. The young person’s life experience is respected and forms the basis for shaping the agenda in negotiation with peers and youth workers.


·         Youth Work recognises the young person and the youth worker as partners in a learning process. The young person is recognised as an active partner who can, and should, have opportunities and resources to shape their lives. The relationship and dialogue between the young person and youth worker is central to the learning process


Furthermore, the document explains that youth work’s focus is on 11-25 year olds, with particular emphasis on the 11-18 year age group.