Book review – Social Pedagogy in the UK

Social pedagogy is an approach with a theoretical and ethical basis, rather than an intervention, which blends the use of knowledge from academic research and established child development theories with an important emphasis on emotions and relationships.  

Social pedagogy has been generally associated with European countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic with a limited profile in the UK.  Therefore this book is a welcome introductory overview of social pedagogy and its potential application in the UK which is both concise and contemporary.

For a number of years the UK has had interest in social pedagogy, believing that its introduction could transform the way residential child care and education, which have a low status and profile in the UK compared to other European countries, are delivered to improve their effectiveness and, ultimately, the outcomes for children and young people. The author acknowledges the mixed results of piloting the use of social pedagogy in residential care sites in England but asks readers not to be deterred from attempting to introduce this model in other contexts. To support this view the author sets out in the middle section of the book the application of social pedagogy to services with looked after children; youth work; adult social care and community work. The opening chapter of this section (Part 3) includes the reflections of European students with social pedagogic backgrounds who have studied in the UK. It emphasises the need to consider the differences in society between other parts of Europe and the UK.

The author refers to the political environment in which social work and social care operate, particularly since the Coalition Government came into power in May 2010 and proposes that the challenges faced by social workers, youth workers and community workers can also present opportunities. The need to focus on different ways of delivering services is, he believes, highlighted in the messages from the Social Work Reform Board and the Munro Report of the need for greater personalisation and a process of co-production. The author refers to the Social Work Reform Board, which recommended social work needed to become a more clearly defined profession, recognising that it had become too instrumental and procedural in its focus and needed to become more service user and carer focused, based on relationships and well-being. As such, the author suggests that the UK should learn from the European traditions of social pedagogy and the contribution this could make to meet the present-day challenges, concluding that there is a benefit to utilising intellectual perspectives from other countries to create progressive forms of practice.

The book is well structured and provides a concise and, importantly, a contemporary exploration of not only the theoretical foundation of social pedagogy, but also its practical application to other settings, and, as such, broadens the perspective that its greatest relevance is in residential child care. As such, the author succeeds in highlighting the potential of social pedagogic approaches to influence wider social care practice beyond residential care, to youth work, community development and as a contributor to the adult care and personalisation agenda.

The author, who  includes the experiences of European students studying in the UK, makes a clear case for giving further consideration to the incorporation of social pedagogy into social work and social care practice and in particular to support the refocusing and reframing of practice.

This book assists the reader in gaining a fuller understanding of the theoretical basis for social pedagogy, before considering examples of applying the model to practice referred to earlier. The final sections of the book draw together thoughts and proposals as to the relevance of social pedagogy, particularly in response to what the author refers to as the challenge facing social work and social care today.

I would recommend this book to anyone involved in social work and social care who has an interest in exploring new approaches to practice and creating a more person-centred approach. The book continues to have relevance for residential child care as a value-based theoretical foundation which has the potential to bind settings with a common theoretical base. Therefore the book does provide a broad introduction to the concept and application of social pedagogy and the potential relevance it has to a UK improvement agenda.

Reviewed by:

Steve Elliott

Prospects for Young People