Celebrating Head, Heart, Hands

An Open Letter from the Social Pedagogy Consortium

Dear friends and colleagues,

At the end of the Head, Heart, Hands programme we, as members of the Social Pedagogy Consortium, want to send greetings to all its participants and all who showed a lively interest in it. We want to thank you for your contribution to its many successes and hope you’ve found the experience as valuable as we have, as delivery partners with The Fostering Network. With them, we set out, four years ago, to demonstrate the practical and theoretical value of social pedagogy for UK foster carers and their young people.

Over that time, our appreciation both of fostering and of the potential of social pedagogy for the UK has grown. It has been a complex programme: Several hundred people were involved, with many different roles, duties and perspectives, not to mention a wide variety of settings. These ranged from the intensely rural to the inner city, from the South of England to the far North of Scotland. Unsurprisingly, such differences presented challenges for this national programme, but they also gave opportunities for learning and contributed much to the richness of the programme.

From our point of view, Head, Heart, Hands was stimulating, hugely interesting, intense, demanding, challenging, rewarding, and often a lot of fun – perhaps many of you felt the same. In each site the programme set up learning and development courses mainly involving foster carers but also social workers and other personnel. It was an opportunity for all to share in the same learning experience and to develop a common language about the work and the young people they had responsibility for. We found that most participants were very appreciative of this opportunity.

Many foster carers said that their confidence in relating to the children had increased and they shared inspiring examples of how the children were benefitting. For these foster carers, social pedagogy wasn’t just ‘good practice’, it was about developing a new perspective on the work, finding ways into more reflective practice and valuing their own contribution more highly. They often told us how they’d found creative ways of building relationships and of sharing family life with their foster children. They also said that the programme had enabled them to react differently – and successfully – when difficulties arose, because they could adapt their learning to their own situations. When they needed to speak up for young people in the outside world, they now felt better able to professionally challenge, request change and discuss issues with other professionals, as confident members of the team around the child. Developing confident team work is just one aspect of social pedagogy that is different from many other approaches.

We found it very impressive that most of the foster carers involved, the five local authorities and the two independent providers stayed with the programme through its highs and lows. Also, as a result of the programme, a number of strong advocates for social pedagogy have emerged, who continue their learning and development with great dedication.

We want to thank and congratulate The Fostering Network for undertaking Head, Heart, Hands and all of you have worked so hard to make it a success. Now, we’re looking forward to new growth that will enable the achievements and learning of Head, Heart, Hands to live on across the UK. The Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA) will launch in 2017, and Ofqual-recognised qualifications, now in development, will follow. There will be opportunities for people who have already undertaken courses in social pedagogy to take their existing learning forward to accreditation at Diploma level.

Individual and organisational membership of SPPA will be open to different professionals working with people across the age range. To begin with, SPPA will have a home in UCL Institute of Education (see www.sppa-uk.org) before it stands on its own feet in 2019. We warmly invite foster carers, among many other occupations, to help us make SPPA a vibrant community of practice, creating change such as that which resulted from Head, Heart, Hands.

We are looking forward to meeting and working with many of you in the future,

Abby, Thure, Manuel, Kristina, Pat, Robyn, Sylvia, Andy, Alex, Charlotte, Gabriel and Christina

Head, Heart, Hands site and programme team at Orkney practice group, 20-21 July, 2015