Youth work education: is the voluntary principle no longer reliable in defining youth work?

Annette Coburn, Sinead Gormally

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At a time when traditional orthodoxies are open to challenge it is useful to critically reflect on changing youth work practice contexts. Asserting the voluntary principle and free choice in open access youth work helps us to distinguish educational youth work methodologies from types of work with young people across a range of disciplinary areas where young people are required to attend. Yet, the context, in which the voluntary principle became established in the UK, has changed. New roles are emerging for youth workers in contexts where the voluntary principle may be compromised (Coburn and Gormally, 2015a; Coburn, 2011; Ord 2016, 2009).

If we are to maximise the reach of educational youth work, it will be important for practitioners to sustain core CLD values within new and emerging domains of practice. It is also important to challenge the hegemonic norm of education as schooling, which is vital to the development of parity across education professions. Otherwise, as Crowther (2017, p. 6) asserts, ‘In a system stacked towards schools and teachers it is clear that the teaching profession will have the loudest voice’. This discussion is particularly relevant at a time when the marketization of education (Ball, 2003; 2013) has brought external private consultants and commercially run organisations into schools to fulfil roles that might otherwise be undertaken by professionally qualified youth work educators. This not only brings potentially inflated costs in supporting or enhancing aspects of core curricula, it also negates the impact and nuanced understandings of a professionally qualified educational workforce that includes youth work educators. It is in this sense that we seek a more inclusive understanding of education, which is not limited to schooling.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalConcept: the Journal of Contemporary Community Education Practice Theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2019


  • Youth Work & Voluntary Principle
  • Youth Work
  • Youth Work in Scotland


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