Guide to growing up

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
    children’s group.
  • 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
    rewarded adequately.
  • 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)

  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


  1. H K Hansen, Danish Pedagogues: Well Educated Generalists
    Working with all Age Groups, paper given at Care Work in Europe
    Conference, 16 November 2004.
  2. 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
    DfEs, 2004.
  3. P Moss and M Korintus, Work with Young Children: A Case Study
    of Denmark, Hungary and Spain, consolidated report, 2004. 
    Available at
  4. H Hansen and J Jensen, Work with Adults with Severe
    Disabilities A Case Study of Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden,
    2004.  Available at

Further Information

  • 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


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