In many European countries, pedagogy has long been established
as the main discipline for working with people in a range of
services. A social pedagogue has specialist skills for working with
children, disabled adults and older people. The skills can be used
in social care settings such as young people’s residential
care, family and fostering support services, drug and alcohol
clinics and specialist units such as for people with dementia.
Often, the pedagogue is the main profession working with children
in early childhood services up to the age of six. But the
organisation and application of pedagogy varies across
The theory and practice of pedagogy draws on philosophy,
psychology and social sciences. It aims to strengthen human
resources for an individual’s own development through
intervention in people’s lives. Pedagogues help people
establish, re-establish or maintain a positive and confident
identity, solidarity with other people and social and cultural
meaning in their lives. They look at a child’s unique
individuality at all stages of development within social
Pedagogy recognises children and young people as knowledgeable,
competent and valuable citizens, who are participants in a
democratic society. Despite the national variations, some general
principles of pedagogic work with children include:(2)
- A focus on the child as a whole person and support for the
child’s overall development.
- The practitioner seeing her or himself as a person in
relationship with the child or young person.
- While they are together, children and staff treat each other as
equals, not in a hierarchical relationship.
- As professionals, pedagogues are encouraged to constantly
reflect on their practice and to apply both theoretical
understandings and self-knowledge to their work and the sometimes
challenging demands with which they are confronted.
- Pedagogues are also practical. Their training prepares them to
share in many aspects of children’s daily lives, such as
preparing meals, making music and building kites.
- When working in groups, children’s time together is seen
as an important resource: workers should foster and make use of
- Pedagogy builds on an understanding of children’s rights
that is not limited to procedural matters or legislated
- A commitment to team work and valuing the contributions of
others in the task of “bringing up” children: other professionals,
members of the local community and, especially, parents.
Pedagogy is most developed as a profession in Denmark, where
pedagogues work in group settings for people of all ages, supported
by other occupations such as pedagogue assistants, health and
social care assistants and helpers. Many such assistants will go on
to become pedagogues.
Pedagogic practice is about enabling children and young people
to feel that they are members of communities, represented both by
the group in the service they attend and the neighbourhoods where
they are located. These are places where they have valued roles,
responsibilities and opportunities to express themselves, child to
child as well as child to adult.
There are many variations in how and to what level pedagogues
are professionally trained, from post-secondary level to degree and
higher level academic training. In Denmark, the main pedagogic
qualification for practice is a three and a half year degree level
course, which covers pedagogy and psychology, social and health
studies, reflection, communication, organisation and management,
and creative and practical subjects such as drama, woodwork and
environmental studies. About one-third of the course is spent on
practice placements and many students undertake placements
Beyond initial training many pedagogues undertake continuous
professional training to further their skills in specialist areas
such as systemic therapy or management. Also, the whole staff group
engage in regular reflection on daily practice, and in settings
such as residential services for severely disabled people, staff
may receive peer or group supervision to support their
Since 1997, there have been many initiatives to address the
early years and social care workforces in England, not least
bringing them together into a notion of a children’s
workforce. But significant challenges remain. The children’s
workforce strategy identifies three of these:
- There is a need to clarify which occupational models are most
- There is a need to address recruitment and retention problems,
and make the profession one where people want to work in the
children’s sector and remain over a sustained period and be
- There is a need to improve the quality of practice through
training and development.
Findings from our research indicate that:
- As an occupational model, pedagogy can be a way of building on
a unified children’s workforce. It offers a general way of
working from which specialist skills and knowledge are
- Pedagogic education and employment is popular in many
continental European countries because it offers a high level
education with opportunities for advancement, a respected job that
is flexible, compatible with family commitments and offers
opportunities for employment with a range of age groups and
- About one in four Danish pedagogue students is male: the status
and opportunities for professional development, and thinking about
the job as pedagogy rather than care can attract a more diverse
range of entrants.
- Pedagogy is a public sector occupation in Denmark: the state
employs and supports most pedagogues, and salaries are set
nationally in consultation with employers and unions. In 2001, a
pedagogue earned 3,000 to 3,300 euros per month, about twice as
much as an English child care worker or care assistant.
- A combination of popular professional education, reasonable
rewards and a good social status can reduce recruitment
difficulties and reduce staff turnover. Danish local authorities
recruiting social pedagogues in a tight labour market focus on
status, being a supportive employer and offering high levels of
training to ensure they get highly professional staff.
- A pedagogic approach implies a high level of commitment to
training and development. In Denmark, further training such as one
year diplomas for early years practitioners is not compulsory but
is available as part of normal working hours which indicates high
importance attached to continuous professional development.
Overall, pedagogy offers an attractive occupational model that
has been tried and tested by our European neighbours. It would be
challenging to implement here because it implies reversing our
current reliance on workplace-based competency awards in favour of
a high level professional education based in colleges and on
placements; changing our thinking about children from vulnerable
people in need of good outcomes to valued citizens; and revaluing
children’s workers and the work they do as necessary and on
behalf of us all rather than a marginalised concern.
Meaning of Pedagogue
Pedagogues are not teachers or social workers although much of
what they do is concerned with learning, caring and a holistic
sense of upbringing. Pedagogy is “education in its widest sense”,
and in French and other Latin-based languages words like
“education” convey this broad sense and are equivalent to pedagogy
as used in Nordic countries and in Germany.
However, direct translations can lead to misleading
understandings: the term social pedagogue is often translated into
English as “social educator”. But being a pedagogue implies
something much broader than a narrow concern with teaching and
learning or formal pedagogic theory.
Pedagogy implies working with the “whole child: body, mind,
feelings, spirit and creativity. Crucially, the child is seen as a
social being, connected to others and at the same time with their
own distinctive experiences and knowledge.”(1)
- P Petrie, Pedagogy: A Holistic, Personal Approach to Work with
Children and Young People Across Services: Briefing paper for DfES,
The recent children’s workforce strategy argues that one way
forward for the children’s workforce would be to develop a new
occupational model such as the pedagogue to work across early years
and social care settings. This article briefly introduces the
pedagogue and pedagogy, as understood in Europe, describes the ways
in which pedagogues work, and discusses implications for
transforming the Engish children’s workforce in a pedagogic
- H K Hansen, Danish Pedagogues: Well Educated Generalists
Working with all Age Groups, paper given at Care Work in Europe
Conference, 16 November 2004.
- P Petrie, Pedagogy: A Holistic, Personal Approach to Work with
Children and Young People Across Services: European Models for
Practice, Training, Education and Qualification, Briefing paper for
- P Moss and M Korintus, Work with Young Children: A Case Study
of Denmark, Hungary and Spain, consolidated report, 2004.
Available at www.ioe.ac.uk/tcru/carework.
- H Hansen and J Jensen, Work with Adults with Severe
Disabilities A Case Study of Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden,
2004. Available at www.ioe.ac.uk/tcru/carework
- B Cohen, P Moss, P Petrie and J Wallace, A New Deal for
Children? Re-forming education and care in England, Scotland and
Sweden, Policy Press 2004.
- C Cameron, “Social Pedagogy and Care: Danish and German
Practice in Young People’s Residential Care”, Journal of Social
Work, 4,2, 133-151, 2004.
Contact the Author
Claire Cameron is a researcher at the Thomas Coram
Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. She
previously worked in residential and then field social work. She
has conducted many studies of children’s and young people’s
services, mainly focusing on workforce issues, gender and care
work, including cross-national studies of pedagogy and care