In continental Europe the idea of social pedagogy has evolved as a form of social work practice (Midgley, 1997). But the idea of social pedagogy has a quite unfamiliar meaning to those from the UK. As a result its contents can be initially hard to understand. Starting at the broadest level, pedagogy refers to the study of education, methods of teaching and related fields. At the highest level, Moss and Petrie (2002) describe pedagogy as being fundamentally composed of four aspects. The first is the development of theory, the second involves policy, the third the education and training of workers and finally what children actually do on a daily basis.
Two of the most important levels are those of training and theory. Pedagogy theory at an academic level takes in a variety of different disciplines such as criminology, social history, sociology and psychology (Moss & Petrie, 2002). At the level of training, those undertaking training in pedagogy take courses in a variety of different courses including drama, art, music and a range of other practical subjects (Moss & Petrie, 2002).
At the lower level of everyday training and practice, pedagogy can be seen to operate in different ways across European countries. For example in Belgium there is a five year course which is ultimately focussed on academic work and further study. In Denmark there is a single profession who are trained to work with all children up to the age of 18. In France, however, pedagogues are trained for children of different age-groups, for example one group is from 18 months to 6 years old. Despite these differences, European countries still mostly have the idea that there is some overarching theory and framework behind their practice, something that is missing in the UK. This is because pedagogy is backed up by the body of knowledge known as pedagogics and practitioners are aware that they are drawing from a common pool of ideas (Moss & Petrie, 2002).
Across all these different European countries, however, some commonalities can be drawn out. One of the most important is the holistic approach that is central to European pedagogical practice (Hill, 1991; Tuggener, 1993). It is a reflective approach that aims to bring into practice aspects of the whole child. What this means is that the child’s emotional state, their history, their thoughts and feelings – all of these are taken into account by the social pedagogue. The second aspect of social pedagogy which is extremely important is that the interaction with the child is seen as relational (Moss & Petrie, 2002). The social pedagogue is not just carrying out actions on the child, but is engaging in a dialectic process with them. There is a cross-over here from the professional to the personal.
These factors provide quite a contrast to the situation in the UK. Here the profession of social work is very fragmented, with an underlying assumption that working with children can be little more than child-minding. As a result the working conditions and pay are relatively low (Cameron, 2004). Similarly levels of training are much lower than in the European context.
It is useful to examine the idea of reflective practice in greater detail to see how it can be applied to everyday practice. Pedagogy sees every incident that occurs as having the potential for learning (Moss & Petrie, 2002). A pedagogue will, therefore, analyse a particular incident to search for ways in which learning can be extracted. If the outcome was not ideal, then other ways of dealing with the situation will be explored. In the same way, children are encouraged to have the same attitude towards incidents that occur as the pedagogue does. They should be encouraged to think how they might have acted differently and what the incident means to them. The pedagogue, therefore, needs to provide a comfortable space in which this type of reflective questioning can occur.
Two major aspects that have emerged from the study of continental European social pedagogical practice are a holistic approach to children and youths along with engaging in reflective practice. A holistic approach taps directly into many of the key roles of the social worker as identified by TOPPS (2004) in the national occupational standards. For example Key Role 1 of preparing for work with individuals and families will involve finding out about a person’s background, a vital step in understanding them holistically. A second example is Key Role 3 which is supporting individuals and representing their needs. Without a holistic understanding of individual’s wider psychosocial circumstances, it is not possible to carry this out effectively.
The second major aspect important in European social pedagogy is the use of reflective practice. Again, this ties in with many of the key roles. For example Key Role 6 is to demonstrate professional competence, as part of this critical reflection on the social worker’s own practice is an important component (TOPPS, 2004). Further, as part of Key Role 6 it is recommended that the social worker reflects on outcomes. As a central part of social pedagogical practice this will be directly relevant to this Key Role. Also, Key Role 1 requires the social worker to reflect on their own background and how that will affect the relationship (TOPPS, 2004). Clearly the use of reflective practice will be important in this context. Further, Key Role 4 requires that the social worker evaluate their own practice effectively. As part of this they are required to reflect on their own decisions and whether these resulted in the desired outcomes. Again, reflective practice in a social pedagogical form will address this Key Role.
In conclusion, it is clear that many aspects of continental European social pedagogy can be used in the British context. In particular both reflective practice and a holistic approach are congruent with the national occupational standards for social workers.
Cameron, C. (2004a) Building an integrated workforce for a long-term vision of universal early education and care, Policy Paper 3, Leading the Vision series. London: Daycare Trust/Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Hill, M. (1991). Social work and the European Community: the social policy and practice contexts. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Midgley, J. (1997). Social welfare in global context. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Moss, P., & Petrie, P. (2002). From children’s services to children’s spaces: public policy, children and childhood. London: Routledge Falmer.
TOPPS (2004). National Occupational standards for social work. Leeds: Topss England.
Tuggener, H. (1993) The role of the social pedagogue: An outline of a European model. Child and Youth Care Forum, 22(2), 153-157.