Excelsia College

School of Social Work

Dr Howard Sercombe | Excelsia College | Head School of Social Work

Head of School of Social Work

Professor Howard Sercombe 

Contact Details
Biographical details

Professor Howard Sercombe has been a practitioner, researcher and academic in the social practice field for over forty years. He was a mission kid, growing up on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert in Western Australia.  He has worked on the street in welfare suburbs of Perth, developed services for Indigenous young people in the outback of Western Australia, worked with Eastern European gypsy communities in Glasgow, and heroin users in de-industrialising towns in Scotland.  He has been a researcher and academic in Australia and the UK and is recognised internationally especially for his work in professional ethics and the impact of neuroscience on our understandings of young people.  He has degrees in Social and Political Theory, Theology and Social Work, and a PhD in Sociology, looking at the way that societies like ours think about young people.  He is the author/co-author of Youth Work Ethics(Sage, 2010), Youth Studies: An Australian Perspective (Pearson, 1998) Youth and the Future (NYARS, 2002).  He has published over a wide range of subjects, ranging from analyses of the Aboriginal economy to bullying, and has close to a hundred book chapters and refereed articles in print. He is currently the General Secretary of Youth Work NSW, the Professional Association of Youth Workers in NSW.  He is the joyful father of five boys, and is married to Dr Helen Wolfenden, a broadcaster and radio/podcast academic.

Profile of Professor Howard Sercombe


Howard has degrees in Social and Political Theory, Theology and Social Work.  His PhD studied the way that societies like ours think about young people, looking at the history of our concepts of youth and the way that they are represented in the media. 

Research Interests

Howard has a long term interest in the way that different knowledge systems work, the way they interact with each other and the ways that people translate knowledge from one system to another.  His work on how the neuroscience of adolescence is applied to social interventions with young people or to their education in one example of this.

Selected publications


Bessant, J. Sercombe, H. and Watts, R. (1998) Youth Studies: an Australian perspective.   Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman.



Sercombe, H. (2011) Professionalising youth work in Southern Africa: Observations and recommendations. Outcomes of a fact-finding tour of Zambia and South Africa, August 2011. Glasgow: University of Strathclyde.

Sercombe, H and Taylor, P (2010) A Code of Ethics for Community Learning and Development Report on Consultation. Glasgow: Standards Council for Community Learning and Development. Available at http://www.cldstandardscouncil.org.uk/files/Consultation_Report.pdf

Sercombe, H. , Omaji, P., Drew, N., Love, T., and Cooper, T. (2002) Youth and the future: effective youth services for the year 2015, Hobart: National Clearinghouse for Youth Studies. ISBN: 1 875236 54 6


Book chapters

Sercombe, H. Mundine, K., Stanley, C., and Wolfenden, H. (2022) Decolonising the Curriculum: who is in the room. In Young, S. and Strudwick, K (eds) Teaching Criminology and Criminal Justice: Challenges for Higher Education London: Palgrave.

Sercombe, H. (2019) The challenge of the brain: what can the new adolescent neuroscience tell us , what are its limits, and where could it go from here? In Hendry, Leo and Kloep, Marion, Reframing Adolescent Research London: Routledge 97-116.

Sercombe, H., Sweeney, J. Milburn, E., Liddell, M., McLeod, R., Denning, P., (2018) Scottish Youth Work: same, but different. In Cousee, F and Williamson, H. (eds) The history of youth work in Europe volume 6.Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing European Youth Work.

Sercombe, H. (2018) The ethical foundations of youth work as a profession. In The Handbook of Youth Work Practice London: Sage..

Sercombe, H. (2015) In the Service of the State: Youth Work under New Labour. In Bright, G. (ed) Youth Work: Histories, Policy and Contexts. London: Palgrave 38-57

Sercombe, H. (2015) Youth Work in the Context of a Global Sociology of Youth In Heathfield, M. and Fusco, D. Unequal Age: Young People, Inequality and Youth Work. New York, Taylor and Francis. 19-35.

Sercombe, H (2013) Thinking ethically. In Curran, S., Harrison, R., and MacKinnon, D. Working with young people London: Open University/Sage 109-115.

Sercombe, H and Paus, T. (2013) What does the ‘Teen Brain’ research say, and what does it mean for practitioners? In Curran, S., Harrison, R., and MacKinnon, D. Working with young people London: Open University/Sage 48-57.

Sercombe, H. (2011) Negotiating roles and boundaries. In Practising Social Work Ethics Around the World: Cases and Commentaries Banks, S. and Nøhr, K. London: Routledge


Articles published in refereed journals

Wolfenden, Helen, Howard Sercombe, and Adrian Renzo. (2022) Banging tunes in the basement: Finding online community in COVID-19 lockdown. Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media 20(1) 65-84.

Tulloch, Rowan, Helen Wolfenden, and Howard Sercombe. (2021). Designing Alternate Reality Games for effective learning: a methodology for implementing multimodal persistent gaming in university education. Media Practice and Education. Online edition: January. doi:10.1080/25741136.2020.1864179.

Wolfenden, H. Sercombe, H. and Tucker, P. (2019) Making practice publishable: What practice academics need to do to get their work published, and what that tells us about the theory-practice gap. In Social Epistemology 33(6):555-573

Sercombe, H (2014) Risk, adaptation and the functional teenage brain. Brain and Cognition. Volume 89, 61–69

Sercombe, H. and Donnelly, B. (2013) Bullying and agency: a framework for intervention. Journal of Youth Studies. 16:4 491-502

Sercombe, H. (2010) The teen brain research: critical perspectives. Youth and Policy. No 105, 71-80.

Sercombe, H. and Sercombe, J (2010) Working the document: Using Ethics Cards to operationalise the Youth Work Code of Ethics. In Ethics and Social Welfare Vol 3 No 2 316-321

Sercombe, H. (2010) The gift and the trap: working the “teen brain” research into our concept of youth. Journal of Adolescent Research Vol 25 No 1 31-47.
Sercombe, H. and Paus, T. (2009) The teen brain research: implications for practitioners. Youth and Policy No. 103, Summer, 25-38.

Sercombe, H. (2008) Living in Two Camps: The strategies Goldfields Aboriginal people use to manage in the Aboriginal economy and the mainstream economy at the same time. Australian Aboriginal Studies, December 16-31.