In his article Words, Ideas and Realities David Lane not only makes the case for us to use the little known term “social pedagogy”, but also suggests it is time for us to start understanding it and applying it.The debate in the UK about what to call social pedagogy comes from the fact that there is no established term in the English language and, Lane observes, this in turn reflects the fact that there is no established understanding of the social pedagogic approach. Our uncertainty in combination with the explicit references to social pedagogy in Government papers, such as Care Matters, leaves us in the somewhat perplexing position of wondering exactly what to do next. One thing seems certain, the term and the concepts are set to be with us for some time.
“Having recruited a group of German pedagogues we are now looking at developing a pedagogic model for the Caldecott. I have heard people say that this is just a fad, but I believe that residential care for children and young people needs a new concept and a more evidence-based approach to work. New government drivers have also recognised the value of the social pedagogic model and I believe this way of working will be in evidence for a long while.” says Pauline Winlow, Head of Children’s Services at the Caldecott Foundation.
During the course of 2007, the Social Education Trust funded, and the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care ran, two pilot projects to assess the possible contribution of social pedagogy in residential child care settings in the UK. In the closing meeting of the advisory group responsible for these projects, participants were both conscious and anxious that, without further funding, the momentum of interest in social pedagogy might become fragmented and lose the cohesion required to take things forward. It seemed necessary to provide a meeting place for those engaged with this idea, and – possibly more importantly – for those not yet informed about the approach. This has led to the creation of a meeting point in the virtual world: www.socialpedagogyuk.com.
It is managed by a work group consisting of Claire Cameron of the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London, Jonathan Stanley, Manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, David Crimmens from the Social Education Trust and myself as Managing Director of Jacaranda Recruitment. The group looks forward to welcoming new members to broaden the scope to include a diverse representation from across children’s services and the four nations of the United Kingdom.
The site provides a range of information, encourages participation in forum discussions and sends periodic newsletters keeping subscribers informed of developments and highlighting points of interest.
The website gives information on events, both upcoming and past events (some slides available), presents some background on the social pedagogic approach and an overview of some of the great pedagogic thinkers.
There is a section dedicated to Education and Training, which is the place to watch if you are interested in courses being developed in the UK or learning about courses available in the English language in other countries e.g. Denmark.
The workgroup hopes to develop a useful body of information available on work placements for both students and employers, including details on funding opportunities.
A section on staff and consultancy is the port of call for organisations interested in scoping the potential for introducing a social pedagogic approach or recruiting Social Pedagogues in the role of Qualified Social Workers (Social Pedagogues can register as Social Workers with the Social Care Councils) or as residential workers, support workers or other roles.
In reading within the research and evaluation section, especially interesting are the comparative studies that suggest a social pedagogic approach produces better outcomes for children and young people. Examples cited are better school attendance, higher uptake of employment and/or education, fewer young people with criminal records and lower rates of teenage pregnancy amongst the looked after children populations in the continental European countries studied.
The work of the Thomas Coram Research Unit accounts for most of the body of research and evaluation in the UK. Their work shows that country of origin and care entry characteristics do not account for statistically significant variations in outcome indicators – it is staff characteristics that account for this. And it will be of no surprise to learn that over 90% of staff working in the residential settings in the TCRU study in Denmark and Germany hold a degree level qualification, (majority in Social Pedagogy), versus under 30% in England. Where 48% of those interviewed in England in the study report difficulties in retaining staff, just 8% report the same difficulties in Germany and 0% in Denmark.
Also interesting is the section of the website dedicated to “Practice”. Here you can read about initiatives in Hammersmith and Fulham, reflections from a Danish pedagogue on the use of the “Personal Pedagogue” in professional practice in the UK, amongst other things. It is the section perhaps set to grow the fastest as more and more organisations take up social pedagogy consultancy or employ Social Pedagogues from Europe.
Amanda Knowles, Head of Care for Horizon Care, says, “When I first heard about social pedagogy I was immediately impressed by its relevance to residential childcare and our company ethos. It provides a theoretical framework for the development of the knowledge, skills and understanding essential to best practice. At Horizon Care we are promoting the approach through staff training events and practice days and we plan to employ Social Pedagogues to develop pedagogic practice in the homes.”
Operations Manager at BREAK, Hugh Morgan, says, “At BREAK we see the introduction of social pedagogy as a way of both strengthening and enhancing our best practice, as well as raising the quality of our workforce. We believe that bringing in workers from Europe with their different cultural background will also enrich the experience of the young people for whom we care.”
But perhaps the most important part of the site (and the hardest to find…) is the Forum – it is at the very top left of the page. It would seem to be important to thoroughly discuss what the social pedagogic approach can offer children, young people and adults in the UK.
Topics for discussion may be:
- Is there place for a new profession or should we introduce this new approach within existing frameworks?
- Is social pedagogy just a new name for something we already do?
- What does a more qualified workforce mean for salary levels?
- Is it possible to take up an approach that is rooted in the history and culture of other countries?
At the time of writing, the Forum is strangely quiet and it begs the questions: are the visitors to the site not familiar with online forums? Are most people preferring to observe the trailblazers rather than take part in discussion? Or is it simply that the Forum really is hard to find on www.socialpedagogyuk.com?
We don’t have the luxury of being able to regularly convene with interested parties from the UK, Denmark, Norway, Germany, indeed any country around the world, so this virtual meeting point would seem to be an ideal place to learn more about social pedagogy and really engage with the question: is social pedagogy something for us?