Social pedagogy is a well known concept in continental Europe but until recently has been relatively unheard of in the UK. This is now changing with the approach slowly gathering pace across children’s services particularly in the field of residential child care.
In June 2007 the government signalled its commitment to the idea in the Care Matters white paper which proposes a pilot programme to examine the effectiveness of social pedagogy in residential child care.
In anticipation of this forthcoming interest, the Social Education Trust commissioned a three-month project last year, run by the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, to look at ways of using social pedagogic approaches in English residential care. An evaluation of the project was published last month and, although it was only a small scale study, the results have proved promising.
“In a small way it confirms our belief that social pedagogy could make a major contribution to residential child care in line with Care Matters,” says David Crimmens, one of the report’s authors, and principal lecturer in the School of Health & Social Care at the University of Lincoln, and a trustee of the Social Education Trust.
The project, which involved 30 residential child care workers and managers and five social pedagogues from Denmark and Germany, took place in two different parts of England and used two different methods. One approach involved social pedagogues working alongside residential child care workers in three settings, spending 12 days in each over the three months, and took place in the south of England. The other, which took place in the north west, involved participants from six different residential child care settings attending a series of development workshops led by social pedagogues over the same period.
Introducing new ways of working to professionals in stressful positions with little time is always difficult. Reflecting this, over a third of the participants said a culture of rejecting change in some residential child care settings was the greatest barrier to social pedagogy.
Viewed as ‘outsiders’
The problem proved most acute for the pedagogues working alongside the residential workers as some were seen as ‘outsiders’ when they first began. This was not an issue in the second approach because participants didn’t know each other and met the pedagogue away from their place of work.
Crimmens says that the ‘hands-on nature’ of the first approach needs to be combined with the workshops of the second in a staged process for the concept to be fully embedded. No advance briefing on pedagogy took place for the group in the south during the project and on reflection Crimmens says this was a mistake.
“I have had to develop teams. The initial thing is ‘who are you?’ Or ‘who do you think you are?’ You have got to warm people to the idea,” he says.
Negative societal perceptions of young people living in residential care and those who work in it was also found to be an obstacle to pedagogy’s acceptance. The report states that while most workers were highly committed to the children in their care, a small number had expectations of negative outcomes for the group, reflecting society’s view.
Jonathan Stanley, manager of the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, and another of the report’s authors, says that the prejudice goes wider than the public.
“One of the things that happens is children arrive in residential care after a number of placements have broken down. If you can get to the point where you can match needs to placements early on in a young person’s care career then you will see a change in the use of residential care as a positive [choice],” he says.
After a short period the pedagogues were able to break through any scepticism and engage with the workers. By the end of the project a third of practitioners said they had been able to use pedagogy in their current practice and over two thirds said they had a more solid understanding of the approach.
The evaluation report states that a lot of what residential staff do with children already is social pedagogy and that the approach’s greatest benefit was enabling people to reconfirm or gain a new perspective on how to meet young people’s needs without having to discard their previous knowledge.
“In talking with people it becomes clear that some of the existing practice is pedagogy, some of it might be and some of it isn’t,” says Stanley.
Staff confidence was also found to increase as a result of people using the ideas in their everyday practice.
Social pedagogy involves practitioners using their personality in their interaction with young people in order to build relationships. Many workers felt the strict regulations now in place on safeguarding and a fear of false allegations were barriers to this. Some older practitioners said the approach reminded them of the way children’s residential care used to be carried out
“When I was training to be a social worker the person interviewing me said the core task of being a social worker is making relationships. Twenty-five years later that is not seen to be a core task,” says Crimmens.
The traditional low pay in children’s residential care and the cash-strapped nature of many councils don’t square well with the employment of highly trained professionals, but Stanley says social pedagogues are in demand across children’s services and hundreds have been recruited.
Abby Ladbrooke, manager director of Jacaranda Recruitment, which recruits pedagogues, says that due to the new nature of the profession the salaries expected are yet to be worked out but so far pay hasn’t proved a barrier.
“It’s so new I don’t think it is clear how that [expected salary levels] could develop but on the continent there’s a willingness to work for the rates that are being paid,” she says.
So far all the pedagogues recruited by Jacaranda have come from Scandinavian countries, mainly Norway and Sweden, as well as Germany, but if the government’s pilots have positive results pedagogues born and trained in England could soon become a reality.
This article appeared in the 20 March iossue under the headline “Meeting of minds?”