Will cuts kill off social pedagogy in the UK?

Patrick Weir is concerned for the future of social pedagogy

Since 2004, when it emerged that just 6% of young people leaving care in England progressed to university or higher education, councils in England and Wales have had a legal duty to promote the educational development of young people in care.

But the care system has largely failed to address this issue, as illustrated by 2008 research from the government which showed that only 14% of care leavers achieved five GCSEs (A* to C) compared with 65% of all children, while 53% left care with no formal qualification.

Such underachievement contrasts sharply with the experience of young people in care in Europe. In Denmark and Sweden, for example, more than 80% of care leavers completed their compulsory education, compared with only 43% in England. Why?

It simply can’t be a coincidence that the adoption of the social pedagogic model in Europe has proved so successful in shaping the education of youngsters in care. Drawing on theories from sociology, social care, philosophy and social anthropology, social pedagogy promotes an educational approach to social problems, and a more goal-oriented, holistic outlook that acknowledges a young person’s rights and responsibilities.

While social pedagogy has won advocates in the UK, implementing it more widely and successfully does require funding. It’s probably worth noting that in Denmark and Germany, 90% of residential home care workers have degrees in social pedagogy, compared with less than 30% of staff in the UK. The second problem is that in England, education and care are regarded as separate issues but the European social pedagogic method integrates the two. Recent moves to make school budgets and children’s care budgets increasingly separate, combined with cuts in children’s services budgets, could quite possibly kill off the social pedagogic model in England. This would be a tragedy.

Patrick Weir is a freelance journalist and a residential children’s worker

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