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Social pedagogy deconstructed

In April 2005, the Department for Education and Skills in London published the consultation document Children's Workforce Strategy, an attempt to build "a world-class workforce for children and young people and families".

In this document, it was noted that in the UK the early years professional who usually leads developmental activity for children has been a qualified teacher. Outside the UK, however, countries have adopted a different model of professional leadership: the social pedagogue, whose emphasis is on the interconnected nature of learning, care and upbringing. The child is seen as a social being.

The consultation document drew particular attention to Denmark, where the social pedagogic model has been widely developed. Social pedagogues are the main workers across a range of settings, including early childhood centres, school-age childcare, residential homes for children and young people, various forms of youth work and many services for adults with disabilities.

The training is a higher education course which lasts a minimum of three years. Students take a range of theoretical subjects in behavioural and social sciences; are introduced to the skills needed by a social pedagogue, for example, teamwork, working with conflict and group work; take creative and practical subjects to develop skills through which they can relate to children; and take optional study modules and placements for working in specific settings.

The document concluded that the pedagogic model for early years professionals has the potential to help raise the quality of early years provision.

An analysis of the responses to the consultation found a welcome for the possible introduction of the social pedagogue which was seen as a very important development, if such a person was trained to work with teachers and if teachers were trained to accept the professionalism and contribution of the pedagogic role.

While the adoption of social pedagogy in the UK would not offer a panacea, the Social Education Trust has acknowledged that it could offer a number of strengths. Services would be provided which better fitted the needs of individual children rather than the current situation where children have to fit the needs of services.

By taking a holistic view of the child and the way in which all parts of the child's life come together, there would not be the narrow negative focus on client pathology. Those working directly with young people under the banner of social pedagogy would be provided with a professional image and identity, which would give them a sense of pride, self-worth and confidence.

The debate on the role of social pedagogy in children's services took an important step forward a few weeks ago at a London conference, "What is a pedagogue?". The conference, run by the Thomas Coram Research Unit of the University of London, underlined that an informed debate in Scotland on the merits of social pedagogy, in and beyond children's services, is long overdue.

Robin Jackson is a professional consultant

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