The ‘Good Enough Adult’

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” These are Mahatma Gandhi’s words, and describe the point of time we are at present – a point of change or renewal.There is a clear and set agenda from the current government that schools have to reach out to those children and young people who are struggling with education as it is traditionally provided. It is also recognised, and backed up by recent research, that the current system cannot always, or sometimes can never, provide the form of education which is needed for young people to succeed in life. There is a considerable percentage of so-called struggling families and children in the UK. The kinds of issues they face have a very corrosive effect on the life chances of an increasing number of children and so on whole communities.

There will be many challenges facing those who try to engage these children and families. However, the David Young Community Academy[3] in Leeds and Serendipity Art College[4] in Batley are working together with a Social Pedagogue[5] to develop a project that will address these issues. The main aims and objectives will be to:

  • support families;
  • develop a holistic culture in school and community;
  • increase attendance and achievement in schools;
  • reduce NEETs[6];
  • reduce the number of young people going into care.

In order to achieve that, the project will:

  • develop a social pedagogical approach to education that exhibits passion in the belief that all young people have a rich and extraordinary potential and so are entitled to an education that fits their specific situation and learning styles;
  • create a safe and nurturing environment to engage vulnerable young people, who are disenfranchised from mainstream education;
  • provide an exciting creative learning experience that prepares them for work and life, while supporting them through the transition into adulthood;
  • support young people in voicing their wishes, dreams and thoughts and listen carefully and intently;
  • support young people to recognise and to take responsibility for their future, their families, their communities and their world;
  • support families, so they are able to support their children to develop and achieve.

Where do we want to end up? What is it what we want to achieve?

We want a well-rounded, confident and independent adult – a good enough adult!

The concept of a good enough adult is transposed from child development theories around the good enough parent. In order to become a good enough adult, children need good enough parenting and a good enough education.

Among other things a good enough parent:

  • recognises it is unrealistic and unhelpful to demand perfection;
  • provides a low level of criticism;
  • delivers a high level of warmth and praise;
  • maximises time spent with children;
  • involves self in child-focused activities.

Among other things, good enough education:

  • recognises it is unrealistic and unhelpful to demand perfection;
  • provides low level of criticism;
  • delivers high level of warmth and praise;
  • maximises time spent with children;
  • provides child-focused activities.

Among other things a good enough adult is:

  • resilient,
  • resourceful,
  • empathic,
  • conscientious,
  • employable,
  • a good enough citizen.

Three primary needs[7] have to be satisfied to achieve our goal: family, aspiration and education.

When we have a good enough balance of primary needs, a strong foundation of family and education, together with hope and aspiration for the future, with the child at the centre and with a secure base for growth, we have the building blocks for a good enough adult.

In a perfect world there would be no need to go any further. But we live in an imperfect world full of imperfect human beings; life happens.

If family is taken away or if there are problems within the family that result in failure to provide secure attachment and so a secure base for growth, what happens? We can have a child with high levels of anxiety and stress. We can have a child whose problems could range from challenging behaviour, through attachment issues to aggressiveness and much more. We could also have parents who cannot provide support, stability and encouragement. Result: a child who will struggle in education and life in general.

If education is taken away, we produce a child poorly prepared for adulthood, with low levels of knowledge, a narrow mind, low attainment and poor literacy skills. We have a person whose future is already decided – struggle, low employability and a dead-end existence.

If aspiration is missing, hope for the future disappears. We end up with an unfulfilled adult, not ready to grow up, unable to cope with their deep-rooted problems.

Social pedagogy becomes the second chance opportunity to fill these gaps in the young person’s development and so build the solid social foundations needed for good enough adulthood.

Where does Social Pedagogy fit in this context?

The nature of these faculties within each person drives him to use them. The eye wants to see, the ear to hear, the foot wants to walk and the hand to grasp. And, equally, the heart wants to believe and love, the mind wants to think. There is in every faculty of human nature an urge to rise from its inert, unskilled state to become a trained power.” Schwanengesang (Swansong,1826):Pestalozzi[8]

The core concept of social pedagogy ‘head – heart – hands’[9] provides the drive for a new process of inclusive alternative education – the Responsive Tripartite Curriculum.

The Responsive Tripartite Curriculum

  • Heart: the social curriculum
  • Hands: the learning to learn curriculum
  • Head: the core curriculum

The Heart – Social Curriculum

First you have to reach the heart in order to engage with the young person, dealing with their unique set of circumstance and unmet needs. Working alongside the young person, sometimes meeting them inside their world of chaos, requires great flexibility, intuition and unconditional regard. Children with chaos of mind have no room for learning; they are too busy surviving! First, they need to feel safe, to trust again and then they can develop the social building blocks. This is ‘moral education’ and without this everything else loses its sense of direction.

Pestalozzi emphasises this:

“But the basic natural development of each of these individual faculties only comes about through its use. Love and faith, the fundament of our moral being, only develop naturally through the fact of love and faith themselves. And as human beings we only naturally develop the fundament of our mental faculties, thinking, through the fact of thinking itself. In the same way we only naturally develop the physical fundament of the faculties we need in our work, our senses, organs and limbs, through the fact of their use.”

The Hands – The Learning to Learn Curriculum

Play precedes imagination, creativity and learning. You need the hands to discover, observe and develop; then, out of play curiosity will arise. Curiosity is the way into learning and education.

Pestalozzi adds:

“A child who has been allowed to develop play resources receives many enduring advantages. First, he/she develops a universal learning skill. Second, play maximizes his/her potential by developing creativity and imagination. Third, her/his relationships with the world and others are based on loving-kindness. Fourth, play promotes joy, which is essential for self-esteem and health. Fifth, his/her learning process is self-sustained based as it is on his/her own natural love of learning and playful engagement with life. Sixth, play creates a basic trust in the world.”

The Head – The Core Curriculum

It is vital not to impose knowledge but to stimulate curiosity, starting from the young person’s motivation to learn and from where the pedagogue teacher thinks the young person “is”. The pedagogue will succeed only by truly understanding the child and understanding that education is always a mutual process of learning together.

But it is vital also always to have in mind the necessary development, the things that need to be learnt. Pestalozzi says:

“The formation of concepts as the basis for mature judgement is central in the development of the mental powers (head). In principle the point is that the child learns to use its senses and gains sense-impressions, which give it the necessary basic understanding to be able to form concepts. This education should also be carried out with the loving care of the educators .”

When the social foundations are in place and the young person feels safe, curiosity and intrinsic motivation will drive the progress of formal learning.

With the David Young Community Academy and Serendipity Art College which have proven success in changing the way of delivering mainstream and alternative education, there are two courageous educational provisions which want to face the challenges of this time. Also York University and Liverpool Hope University have agreed to assist us in this project. We are at a point where we have the idea, the planning, the people and a concept. What we need to find now is some initial funding to evidence that social pedagogy will work in mainstream and alternative education and will be able to improve the lives and chances of all students and their families.

[1] There are various sources to gain an overview of what Social Pedagogy is; consult the archive of the Children Webmag.

[2] There are various sources to gain an overview of what Social Pedagogy is; consult the archive of the Children Webmag.




[6] NEET, acronym for “not in education, employment or training”

[7] The authors identified family, aspiration and education as primary needs for being a ‘good enough adult’.

[8] Pestalozzi’s Schwanengesang, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Cotta 1826. This book had been published just a few months before his death.

[9] (from page 47 onwards)

1 thought on “The ‘Good Enough Adult’”

  1. This is really important and inspirational work. ViTaL Partnerships, the Charity for which I am Director of Research & Development, might have something to offer with the ‘Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory’ (ELLI), which has proved to be a transformative tool for enabling learners (especially previously disengaged learners) to acquire a sense of a ‘learning identity’ and renewed potential for learning and achievement. The Seven Dimensions of learning power, which we explore and foster with ELLI, map beautifully against the holistic qualities and dispositions you are seeking to foster though your tripartite curriculum. I’m sending further details to Sue Ellis, who was kind enough to contact us through Sue Woodhead. Best regards, Tim Small


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