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Social pedagogy... social what?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Education and training, Knowledge and skills

I was delighted to be invited to a Parliamentary reception at the House of Commons recently on social pedagogy. If you’re wondering what that is – read on!

There were quite a few social workers there and I was inspired by how well the methodology chimes with strengths based social work practice and the exemplification of practice leadership when working directly with people we are privileged to serve.

I am delighted that Ali Gardner, a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, has agreed to post the first of a series of occasional blogs exploring social pedagogy and social work practice leadership.

Ali Gardner portrait
Ali Gardner is a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). She teaches on the social work and newly developed social pedagogy programmes


Ali: The title of this blog post is also the most common reaction I receive when I tell people I work in the field of social pedagogy, so here’s a helpful definition right at the start:

"Social pedagogy describes a holistic and relationship-centred way of working in care and educational settings with people across the course of their lives…it has a long-standing tradition as a field of practice and academic discipline concerned with addressing social inequality and facilitating social change by nurturing learning, well-being and connection both at an individual and community level."

Social pedagogy is based on humanistic values. It is primarily concerned with well-being, learning and growth and seeks to recognise and promote individual potential. It is underpinned by the concept of ‘Haltung’, a German phrase roughly translating as ‘mindset’ or ‘attitude’.

At a time when social work is struggling to assert its unique contribution in the face of increasing pressures and austerity, it has never been more important to strengthen the meaning and purpose of working alongside individuals, families and their communities.

In my work with students and practitioners, I am frequently told they share the principles of social pedagogy and try to embed them in their practice. This is a good starting point and it is encouraging that many practitioners still hold fire in their bellies to promote, protect and deliver social justice.

Stick humanoid figures holding hands, standing on interlocking jigsaw piecesIt’s all about relationships

Social workers often describe the importance of relationships and supporting individuals to effect change in their own lives. However, they also reference the lack of agency in making professional judgements about the focus and nature of their work.

This leads to a form of practice where power remains firmly in the hands of the professional determining the format and sequence of each intervention. This reinforces notions of fixing problems and working from a deficit model in which the professional ‘knows best’.

Social pedagogy, on the other hand, promotes educational solutions to social problems. Education in this sense does not refer to the professional, teaching an individual how to change, but instead focuses on supporting them in finding ways to enhance their wellbeing.

The wellbeing narrative

Wellbeing as a concept has taken central stage in adult social care narratives. The Care Act (2014) and subsequent policies have cemented this notion, promoting a strength based approach to social care. Within this approach, there is an expectation that individuals are supported to identify and design support that enhances their wellbeing.

Practitioners recognise that nothing is fixed when we enter the lives of others but we draw upon what we feel is required to engage with others in a given context. In social pedagogy there is a commonly used phrase 'It depends'. Instead of viewing this phrase as flaky and lacking conviction, it calls for practitioners to show courage, integrity, confidence and leadership in aligning their practice to values rather than instrumental processes. The graphic below captures this notion.

An ambiguous image that can be interpreted as either a duck or a rabbit depending on your interpretation

Wellbeing teams and social pedagogy

Having a shared professional timeline in learning disability, person centred practice, self-directed support and personalisation with wellbeing teams founder Helen Sanderson, we have discussed our philosophies, theories, approaches, frustrations and hopes in relation to adult social care.

It was during one such discussion that the synergy between social pedagogy and the development of Wellbeing Teams became apparent. For both of us, social pedagogy provided a language to understand, articulate and apply many of the values and beliefs that have shaped our professional careers

Wellbeing Teams were established in 2016 by Helen and are currently operating in several areas across the country. The model aims to provide person centred care and support to people and to connect them with their communities. The teams are small and neighbourhood based and provide a flexible and responsive approach to meeting individual needs.

Social pedagogy has provided an important language in which words such as happiness, friendship, belonging and love can be used when describing a professional approach to one’s work.

I hope I never get bored of being asked the ‘social what?’ question and I dream of a day when social pedagogy slips off the tip of the tongue for all of us working in health and social care.

More about Ali

Ali Gardner is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire. She teaches on the Social Work programme and the newly developed Social Pedagogy programme.

Ali has worked as a social worker, policy development officer and lecturer throughout her career as well as a Director of an Advocacy Project and a Social Work Advisor to Well Being Teams.

Ali has written academic texts relating to Personalisation and is awaiting the release of her new Sage publication Social Pedagogy and Social Work with her colleague Lowis Charfe. Together, Ali and Lowis have also been part of the development of a MOOC supporting the international development of Social Pedagogy.

For more information about any of the new social pedagogy programmes click the links below:

MA social pedagogy leadership

BA Hons social pedagogy advocacy participation


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