Social pedagogy faces uphill battle in England, finds study

Establishing social pedagogy in the UK could be an uphill battle according to the final results from one of the first pilots of the European system.

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Establishing social pedagogy in the UK could be an uphill battle according to the final results from one of the first pilots of the European system.

Social pedagogues are common in northern Europe where they are degree-educated professionals working in children’s homes and their role is to be concerned for a child as an emotional, thinking and physical being as well as engaging children in decisions about their own lives and as members of society.

However, the introduction of 48 social pedagogues into children’s homes in the UK brought mixed results with some bringing about “spectacular changes” and others quitting because they felt there was too much resistance to their ways of working, according to the government-commissioned report from the Thomas Coram Research Unit.

“Introducing a graduate profession with longer and higher level academic knowledge, professional skills and the ability to relate theory to practice represented a significant challenge to residential care in terms of a mismatch with the existing workforce, including their pay and conditions,” the authors noted.

Other constraints reported by the pedagogues included the recording requirements, the lack of support for critical reflection, lack of support from social workers and in some cases managers, prevailing cultures not conducive to change and staff beliefs about priorities.

“Difficult financial climates also played a part in lending an insecure atmosphere where learning and exchange was problematic,” the report stated.

The social pedagogues involved in the pilots pointed out that the lack of specialist residential provision in England meant young people with very different support needs were being mixed in the one setting which was giving rise to high levels of verbal and physical abuse leaving professionals in unmanageable situations. This also made it difficult for social pedagogic models to operate.

“Some of the social pedagogues said, and managers agreed, that they would have made more progress if they had used a social pedagogue job description from the beginning and that the pedagogue had had a mandate to challenge practice. More broadly, the social pedagogues referred to a lack of clarity about the purpose and role of residential care within society and also considered the term ‘service user’ to be problematic. It implied, they said, that the service on offer was predefined and that there was no ‘miteinander’ (co-operation) between the professional and the young person. The young person could accept a service or not.”

The social pedagogues in the pilot also felt there were too many professionals involved in the lives of young people in residential care in England and questioned if it was appropriate for social workers to have so much decision-making power over children they rarely met.

“Social pedagogues argues that a strong team, equipped with knowledge and skills, working in a holistic way with children and young people would enable staff to adopt a broader range of advisory roles and potentially streamline the number of outside professionals needed to work with young people,” the authors commented.

Overall the researchers said the pilots had shown that the introduction of social pedagogy to England “is not straightforward” and was likely to need an investment in higher education level training for residential care workers and a scrutiny of current organisational practices.

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