How has social pedagogy developed in the UK?
Unlike in many European countries, developments around social pedagogy are relatively new in the UK. Whilst there has been over 20 years of research into social pedagogy, the first pilot project aimed at developing social pedagogy in residential child care practice was set up in 2007. Since then more and more children’s homes in England and Scotland have begun using social pedagogy as an overarching conceptual framework. Yet, from early on, there has been recognition that social pedagogy should not just be limited to residential settings and could help raise the status of residential child care by being applied more widely. In 2013, The Fostering Network launched the Head, Heart, Hands demonstration programme introducing social pedagogy into foster care. More recently there has also been interest in early intervention and family support services, a government-funded pilot with two Camphill communities for adults with disabilities, creative arts projects drawing on social pedagogy, and an emerging curiosity within social work more widely, early years, schools, youth work and youth offending.
At the same time as these pioneering efforts have started to illustrate the potential of social pedagogy, various universities have developed course modules in social pedagogy as part of degree programmes in youth and community work, social work or working with families. There are also currently two existing BA qualifications in social pedagogy, with more under development.
What has been the impact of social pedagogy?
Research by the Thomas Coram Research Unit suggests that ‘social pedagogy provides the policy and professional education framework for residential care in Denmark and Germany, where young people ‘do better’ than in similar institutions in England, and the major factors in accounting for outcomes were characteristics of the staff and their approach to practice’. In these two countries rates of looked-after young people completing secondary education are twice as high compared to the UK, numbers of looked-after young people and care-experienced adults in the criminal justice system are significantly lower and health-related outcomes are better too. Many of these differences are also due to differences in the wider care system: countries with a strong social pedagogy tradition are oriented more towards supporting families whereas the UK system has taken a much narrower child protection orientation.
Evaluations here in the UK suggest that social pedagogy can make a substantial difference to frontline practice, organisational culture and the wider care sector. Children’s homes that have developed a vibrant social pedagogical culture have generally seen the following improvements:
- for children: improved engagement with education and increased educational attainment, improved relationships with staff and peers, a higher sense of involvement and increased happiness and well-being leading to significant reductions in physical restraints, vandalism and absconding as well as improved placement stability.
- for staff members: improved well-being and motivation, better relationships with young people, colleagues and other professional groups due to increased confidence, feeling encouraged to be themselves, bring in their own interests and creativity, higher levels of trust and autonomy, and an increased ability to reflect.
- for teams: a more positive, non-judgmental culture in the home, increased sense of ownership for the home’s values and vision, improved communication and multi-agency working, and higher staff retention.
Many of these outcomes can also result in significant financial savings for organisations and local authorities through costs avoided in the short, medium and long term. More importantly though social pedagogy can help make a big difference to children’s care experience. A young person interviewed by the Who Cares? Trust summarised that, in Essex, ‘social pedagogy has made a big difference. Things are easier to do and there’s a better relationship with staff. We have campfires, family barbeques, we go on holiday together. It’s beautiful here. I see this place as my home, not a children’s home.’