Youth clubs welcome all young people, but they play a particularly important role in supporting vulnerable or disadvantaged children and young people and those who may be struggling at school.

Young people need access to safe spaces and trusting relationships away from tensions at home or pressures at school: spaces where they can be themselves, make friends, develop new skills, and make positive changes to their lives and their communities. Youth organisations provide vital opportunities for young people to express themselves freely, build confidence, strengthen their talents, develop new skills and raise aspirations.

Youth clubs offer access to informal and non-formal education. Oxfordshire Youth believe that informal education and non-formal education are essential to improving young people’s quality of life and that this is particularly important for disadvantaged young people who may not have access to wider opportunities. But what do these two terms really mean?

I would like to draw your attention to, a website which focuses on the theory and practice of these forms of education. It brings back lots of memories for me as I referenced this website frequently while studying for my youth work degree! They have some great articles on what informal and non-formal learning is:

Informal education, according to Jeffs and Smith (1997, 2005, 2011), “is education that:

  • works through, and is driven by, conversation
  • is spontaneous and involves exploring and enlarging experience
  • can take place in any setting”

Whatever the skillset, expertise or setting, it is the engagement in conversation with young people that leads to opportunities for them to learn. Often it is a conversation that is had in an out-of-school setting that leads to further support, or a referral for additional support. Even when further support is not needed, to be able to ask questions and explore a topic with peers or a trusted adult, in a safe setting, is vital in a young person’s exploration and development of self.

Non-formal education  can be described as the education, learning and training that takes place outside recognised educational institutions.

“Fordham (1993) suggests four characteristics of non-formal learning:

  • Relevance to the needs of disadvantaged groups
  • Concern with specific categories of person
  • A focus on clearly defined purposes
  • Flexibility in organisation and methods”

The training, workshops and experiences that youth organisations provide for young people offer structured learning around key issues and topics. All the types of learning on the spectrum below are provided in a variety of creative ways in a range of settings and it is important that we do not underestimate the positive impact this has on young people.

Last year Oxfordshire Youth provided 700 opportunities for young people to gain new skills and experiences through its activity programme. We are just one organisation, and with over 250 organisations in Oxfordshire working with children and young people, the amount of informal and non-formal education provided is colossal. The youth sector as a whole forms a vital service for children and young people in Oxfordshire.

Youth organisations are often better placed than schools to support young people around a range of pressing topics, such as healthy relationships, gender and sexuality or body image and body confidence. It is the conversation and the relationship that enables this learning to take place successfully.

Recent research by the Co-operative Foundation, All our Emotions are Important (2018), has highlighted the issue of youth loneliness, and UK Youth’s report A Place to Be (2018) highlighted the key role of youth clubs in both recognising and combatting loneliness. The latter noted that youth workers are able to build professional yet informal relationships with young people. Building positive relationships with trusted adults provides young people with an accessible and safe way of seeking help and developing new skills.

This is why Oxfordshire Youth’s mission is to meet the needs and aspirations of young people and to build a resilient youth sector in Oxfordshire. The work of the youth sector is the backbone of the support for children and young people outside of formal educational settings and it provides a vehicle for young people to grow and develop.

See our interactive map of member organisations working with children and young people in Oxfordshire, here. This is under development and in March, this will have expanded to show all the organisations in the county working with 0–25-year-olds.

Upcoming opportunities to engage with the youth sector include:

Youth in Mind, 27th March 2019, a mental health conference for anyone working with children and young people 4

Children and Young People’s Forum @ The Marmalade: Can We Be the Difference? Tues 9th April 10:30 – 12:30



Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. (1997, 2005, 2011). ‘What is informal education?’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [ Retrieved: 11/02/2019].

Fordham, P. E. (1993) ‘Informal, non-formal and formal education programmes’ in YMCA George Williams College ICE301 Lifelong Learning Unit 2, London: YMCA George Williams College. [ Retrieved: 11/02/2019].

Photo by matt1125