Where have all the poachers gone? Performativity and Professional Youth Work in Northern Ireland

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Post political settlement, Northern Ireland’s exposure to international funding has been an additional route for the concepts of new public sector management and performativity, to reach youth work (Morgan, 2009; Ord 2011). Harland et al (2005: 23) reported that as a result of substantial funding from the European Union, youth workers experienced ‘increasing pressure to evidence specific outcomes for their work.’ Practitioners have experienced the emergence of a ‘performance related culture’ where work has to be justified in management and policy terms. In addition, the Department of Education policy ‘Priorities for Youth’ has indicated that a ‘re-alignment of youth work policy with the strategic priorities for education’ is necessary (DE 2013:17). Priorities for Youth also calls for the design and implementation of a management information system (MIS) that can support youth work to ‘demonstrate the difference between those outcomes achieved through planned programmes, projects, accreditation and training, and those achieved through taking part, association and participation generally (DE 2013: 16). Therefore, the strategic policy direction is orientated to the provision of performance metrics to substantiate the worth of youth work (Bamber et al 2012, McGinley & MacKie 2012) This paper outlines the findings of a recent qualitative research study. The paper explores the impact of performativity on professional youth workers in Northern Ireland. The paper firstly highlights the impact of the transaction costs on practice, that is, the work of collecting data, monitoring and reporting and their impact in reducing the time and energy available for the actual educational practice. Second, the paper explores youth workers experience of an existential dialectic concerning their sense of self and purpose within practice; what Ball (2003) refers to as ontological insecurity and values schizophrenia. A situation were the coherence of youth workers understanding of key concepts are challenged by the logics of managers. Finally the paper explores the risk management and quality assurance processes employed by organisations as they comply with and reproduce practices informed by inspection led discourse. The paper concludes by asking are we at risk of ‘fabricating’ practice that no longer has fidelity with the established characteristics of informal education?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Sept 2016
EventBritish Educational Research Association Annual (BERA) Conference 2016 - University of Leeds, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Sept 201615 Sept 2016


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association Annual (BERA) Conference 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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