Germany is the birthplace of pedagogy and important philosophic
traditions have informed its development of social pedagogy. For
example, the necessity of seeing the child within their own life
world – Lebensweltorientierung – is important,
as is the disposition, integrity and stance – or
Haltung – adopted by the worker. The occupational
title in residential care and early years work is
Erzieher, from the concept Erziehung, which means
pulling up or upbringing: this upbringing characterises the
adult’s role in relation to the child.
Practice conditions vary across the German regions, which
exercise a high degree of devolved power, and also between the
former east and west Germany. Unification in 1991 has brought
together different approaches to policy, training and practice.
Pedagogues often describe themselves as working with “heart,
head and hands”. The heart is a reference to the closeness of
social relations that can develop between workers and young people,
particularly when they live near each other.
One example of this was a Kinderhaus we visited. This
was a house where a qualified pedagogue was asked to live with a
group of siblings who needed to be kept together because of their
family circumstances. She recruited one or two pedagogues to work
with her and raised the children as a group, while retaining her
own apartment on the premises. When she married and had children of
her own, she continued to be responsible for the sibling group and
remained committed to them throughout their childhood.
Reference to the head is to the use of reflective skills and to
a body of theory to help assess the kind of action to take in
particular circumstances. For the pedagogue there are no universal
solutions. Instead, each situation requires a response based on a
combination of information, emotions, self-knowledge and theory
gained from study.
The hands refer to the involvement in the practical aspects of
daily life, including the use of creative and practical skills as a
medium for shared activities for developing social relations and
providing educational opportunities. For example, a young
person’s residential care worker might use practical
activities, such as drama or music, to discuss sensitive issues
such as racism or aggressive behaviour. Through practical
activities, including holidays, pedagogues share the life of a
group of children and young people. German residential care workers
have remarked that the experience of rejection by birth families
makes promoting a cohesive group life and a sense of belonging
especially important for children in care.
There are three main levels of pedagogic training in Germany,
all of which take place in further and higher educational
institutions and on practice placements. Training is assessed
through oral and written examinations.
The most basic level of qualification, available at 306
Fachschule – or vocational colleges – involves
three or four years of training to work as an Erzieher in
a range of settings, such as early years care and education or in
residential care for young people.
Students beginning this course are usually 17 or 18 and have
completed a lower level school-leaving certificate. The course
emphasises experiential and practical learning through two
six-month practice placements and an applied focus to theoretical
work covering pedagogy and specific conditions, such as physical
disability, speech and communication and mental health. Practical
skills, such as gymnastics and art therapy, are taught to address
special needs of children and young people.
Many early years and residential care workers hold this lower
level qualification, but there is some concern that it is not
sufficiently thorough to address the educational needs of these
workers. However, it is seen as a good foundation for those
students who go on to the next level of training, which is based at
one of the 40 Fachhochschule, or universities of applied
sciences. This is a four-year degree level diploma in social
pedagogy organised into eight semesters, broadly based and
qualifying the graduate to work in a range of services, including
residential care with young people, where it is the preferred
Semesters initially cover social pedagogy, psychology and
education as well as professional and practical skills, including
methods of communication, photography, drama, sports and other
leisure activities. The student then specialises in areas such as
family counselling or youth offending. There are three practice
placements, one of which may be overseas.
Finally, about 30 universities offer a degree in social
pedagogy, which generally includes nine semesters over four years,
but can take in up to 21 semesters over 10 years. A
Diplom-Sozialpädagoge qualifies the graduate to work
in managerial or supervisory positions rather than directly with
children. There is a theoretical orientation to the course,
including the history of pedagogical theory, educational theory and
comparative studies and optional specialist modules, such as social
administration, psychiatry and a branch of pedagogy concerned with
preventive work and rehabilitation in youth welfare.
There are three practice placements, but these are shorter than
in the Fachhochschule. Alongside examinations, students
write a diploma thesis and a reflective account of a placement
which is independently assessed.
Although the training in social pedagogy takes place at three
levels, there are some commonalities. These include: working with a
range of theoretical and therapeutic frameworks; the development of
professional skills in working with individuals and groups; an
emphasis on practical and creative skills and using practice
placements to develop experience of the field of child welfare as
well as opportunities for developing reflective skills.
Claire Cameron is a researcher at Thomas Coram Research Unit,
Institute of Education, University of London. Additional material
was supplied by fellow researcher Janet Boddy.
J Boddy, C Cameron, E Heptinstall, S McQuail and P Petrie,
Working with Children: Social Pedagogy and Residential Child
Care in Europe, report to the Department of Health, 2001
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 the Department for Education and Skills,