Social pedagogy and the children’s workforce


Title: New ways of educating: pedagogy and children’s services (study A, below)
Author: C Cameron
Institution: Thomas Coram Research Unit

Title: Implementing a pedagogic framework: a feasibility study (study B, below)
Authors: C Cameron and P Petrie
Institution: Thomas Coram Research Unit

Title: Social pedagogy project, ongoing work (study C, below)
Institution: National Children’s Bureau


Building a children’s sector staffed by a professional workforce with satisfying and rewarding careers was a central tenet of Every Child Matters: Change for Children. In many parts of continental Europe there is a successful model for this approach: the social pedagogue who works with children and young people in health, education and social care settings.

The social pedagogue works with the whole child, and supports their all-round development. Pedagogues employ theories, professional knowledge, and creative and practical skills with groups and on an individual basis. They acknowledge uncertainty and constantly review situations and decisions, in dialogue with colleagues. Children’s rights and participation underpin social pedagogy.

Petrie and colleagues found that children in residential care in Denmark and Germany had a better quality of life and outcomes than their contemporaries in England. A major reason for this was the characteristics of staff, reflecting their professionalised, child-centred and reflexive approach.

Although almost never named as such, there are many examples of similar approaches in the UK, for example in therapeutic communities, Steiner and Montessori education, and youth work.

But we have never had a coherent and respected knowledge base for direct work with children. It remains the case that our most damaged children have most day-to-day contact with workers with the lowest levels of education.

Government interest in social pedagogy in England is growing, informed by three recent implementation studies:

Study A by Cameron, involved interviews with 50 practitioners, managers, trainers and students mostly from the UK and Denmark, with experience of both pedagogy and UK social care to assess barriers and facilitators to implementation.

Study B by Petrie and Cameron interviewed 14 trainers and practitioners, and 24 young people, and included documentary analysis of curricula and organisation of social work degrees and NVQs in children’s health and social care and management of residential homes, with social pedagogy diplomas.

Study C by the National Children’s Bureau is ongoing and involves training and practice discussions with staff in 10 residential homes.


Participants in Study A argued that practice would improve with pedagogy, providing a more person-centred approach, more integrated and coherent training, enhanced professional identity and greater attention to children’s perspectives.

Social pedagogic and social care respondents shared some principles, but the former tended to have a broader and deeper perspective. For example, “learning and supporting human development” was not just seeing children as people with potential that workers could assist with realising, but also as “supporting children in developing [their] own self in relation to others”. Building attachment and relationships were seen as important by both social care workers and pedagogues.

Under pedagogy, attachment to an adult provided emotional security, and was a means of coming to know an individual in his or her context, for mutual enjoyment of “being together”, as groups of staff and children.

A third principle – meeting the needs of individuals – was also shared across countries again pedagogues had a more developed basis for this.

Given such overlap, and as a report on youth work and social pedagogy by Paget, Eagle and Citarella concluded, the principles of social pedagogy should be incorporated into training and qualifications at all levels of the young people’s workforce to support the integration of practice and practitioners. This echoes the Care Matters green paper for children in council care.

The comparative analysis of qualifications for working in residential care, Study B, found no direct comparability between the Danish and English courses. Danish social pedagogy diplomas take three-and-a-half years to complete and train the student to work in diverse settings for children, young people and adults. There are three supervised practice placements. Government guidelines stipulate that courses: combine the theoretical with the practical and professional adopt a relational, inclusive approach and have curricular topics that include pedagogy, Danish language and culture, psychology and sociology. It is a generic training but specialist profiles are being developed.

In the UK, there are examples of therapeutic communities and holistic special education developing courses in partnership with universities that meet the needs of particular workforces and overlap with, or are, social pedagogy. There are also courses that are informed by and learn about social pedagogy, but these are unusual.

Comparing the content and organisation of the BA in social work and the NVQ in health and social care with the Danish pedagogy diploma showed marked differences:

Child development is a common concern but, in pedagogy courses, child development theories are framed as “different views on the child and childhood”. The development content on the social work degree is life course and special circumstances oriented rather than child development specifically on two NVQ programmes it is either at a low level or not represented.

The concept of sharing “life space” underpins the pedagogy diploma, and the general aim of “being together” is taught, to be judiciously exercised in practice. On the two English programmes there is much less focus on group life or aims, such as “being present for children”.

Learning and working in groups was emphasised on pedagogy courses to a much greater degree than on the social work degrees and the NVQs. Danish students are assessed on projects that are prepared in groups, providing experience of working in groups, material for reflexive discussions and a basis for a theoretical understanding of groups. Study educators and trainers said they used group work, but this was a much less prominent feature of their approach.

Developing expertise in practical and creative skills is not part of the BA in social work or the NVQ but occupies about 40% of curriculum time of the Danish courses. English social work educators thought incorporating arts and crafts would need substantial rethinking: “I would have to consider what would be left out if I was to put in arts and crafts.”


There is growing familiarity with continental understandings of pedagogy in the UK, and there are pedagogic roots in some historical and contemporary children’s services.

The studies on implementation to date show there are overlaps and commonalities on which to develop social pedagogy for the UK. The challenge is to ensure that the distinctiveness of pedagogy and the complexities that pedagogues work with on a daily basis are understood and incorporated.

Claire Cameron is a senior research officer at Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London


The challenge
Building a profession of social pedagogues that are qualified and competent to improve the quality of life and outcomes for looked-after children in the first instance and, later, to all children will require substantial investment and commitment by government, employers, lecturers and trainers in higher education and practitioners. However, there is much to build on Study C is uncovering a thirst for pedagogy among residential care practitioners, both in training seminars and in discussions with pedagogues. The aim is to introduce ideas and set goals in relation to practice.

Ways forward
In their response to the children’s workforce strategy consultation in 2005, Boddy and colleagues proposed that a “hub and cluster” model be adopted where an area’s higher education institution and children’s sector employers work together to develop pedagogic practice.

Study B recommended a qualifications framework that builds on current requirements for training, using NQF level 5 foundation degrees in “working with children” followed by a third social pedagogy year in “working with children in care” to make a BA degree. Using the model developed within social work, MA courses in pedagogy and CPD courses in social pedagogy and leadership in pedagogic settings could be developed. Courses need to be distributed across the country so they are accessible to practitioners. Building the expertise in higher education will take time. The Institute of Education’s foundation degree, “Working with children: education and well-being”, will produce graduates ready for a BA third year in 2010.

Adopting social pedagogy as the foundation for direct work in the children’s sector should be seen as a long-term strategy that will in time take the burden of employee training away from employers to be shared with higher education. Developed with attention to detail and learning in partnership with colleagues from elsewhere in Europe, it can achieve the goals for the workforce set out in Every Child Matters and improve the everyday experiences of countless young people in care.

Three steps for social care
Examine learning at work. Is it possible to offer practice placements to pedagogy students from overseas? Is it possible to recruit pedagogues trained in Germany or Denmark to work locally with an explicit remit to raise awareness of pedagogic perspectives?

Examine practice. How is reflection built into practice? When do staff meet to be curious about practice, not just do business? How do staff incorporate theory into practice? What encouragement is there to plan, carry out and evaluate creative and practical activities with children?

Examine workforce development. Which staff could be encouraged and financed to study at foundation degree and beyond? Which staff groups’ practice could benefit from pedagogy-informed bespoke consultancy? This might include training sessions and a study tour of pedagogic projects in another country.

Links and resources

Webpage with links to social pedagogy related papers
Infed webpage with account of development of pedagogy in Germany
Boddy J, Cameron C, Mooney A, Moss P, Petrie P and Statham J (2005) Introducing Pedagogy into the Children’s Workforce: Children’s Workforce Strategy: A response to the consultation document, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London
Crimmens D (1998) “Training for residential child care workers in Europe: comparing approaches in the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom”, Social Work Education 17, 3, pp309-319



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