Editorial: Social Pedagogy- Panacea, Practical Programme or Professional Trompe l’Oeil?

Clearly we would not have selected social pedagogy as the theme for this issue if we did not consider its introduction into the United Kingdom as an important step forwards in child care services. Equally clearly, there is considerable debate about the value of social pedagogy, its applicability to the UK, and the extent of the services to which it could be applied. And there are a lot of people who are wondering what social pedagogy is, perhaps feeling a bit suspicious of it and uneasy that something foreign is being foisted onto them which they do not quite understand.

We hope that if you read the contents of this special issue, you will have a good idea what social pedagogy is, and that if you were uneasy, you feel satisfied that you have the measure of it and could explain what it is to colleagues.

Some of the articles explain basic thinking about social pedagogy; some talk of the latest news about the pilots being established in this country to test the idea in practice; some express a degree of scepticism. We hope that there is something for everyone, whether you know a lot or a little.

The variety of views expressed is not surprising. Social pedagogy goes back a long way. Valerie Jackson quotes Rousseau. In continental Europe social pedagogy (or social education, its southern Europe equivalent) has been the main profession for people working directly with children over the last sixty years. So there has been plenty of time for ideas to be expanded, modified by professional thinking or adapted to the laws and systems of different countries. Any concept worth considering is likely to grow and change in this way. The fact that there is no single tight definition need not worry us.

The real question is whether the approach to work with children associated with the term social pedagogy makes sense here today. If we end up with our own definitions or additions to the concept, so much the better; we will have helped the idea to evolve.

From an editorial angle, there is one key point we would wish to re-iterate. Unlike other major professions, such as teaching or medicine, people working with children and young people in this country have been splintered into about thirty professional groupings of various sizes, but all of them small by comparison with the big professions. Social pedagogy offers a possible banner for all these groupings to unite and their combined impact could be considerable. Specialisms will always be needed within work with children and young people, but there are so many shared features of the work and of professional training that it is our view that the establishment of a shared over-arching professional identity is a matter of real importance if the work is to carry the right level of influence in circles of power.

To answer the question in the title, social pedagogy is not an answer to everything, but it does offer a positive framework and range of concepts which can both give greater purpose to many of our child and youth care services, and can offer a common identity which can help to impact on the nation as a whole. And it certainly not should not be dismissed as a short-term fad, a flash in the pan, a will o’ the wisp which will drift away with the break of day.

Thanks are due in the production of this issue in particular to Gabriel  Eichsteller  for the use of Thempra materials and to Abby Ladbroke  for support and contacts built up through Jacaranda in gathering material.

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