Young people growing up in care get some of the best GCSE results of anywhere in England if they are looked after in the London Borough of Hackney. This is a remarkable turnaround for what was once a ‘troubled’ borough, which remains one of the most economically deprived places in the country.
One important element in Hackney and its young people’s success is the Virtual School, run by headteacher Nick Corker. ‘Exam results are important,’ he says, ‘but they are not the only measure of success for young people.’ Just as significant are experiences such as expeditions to new places and regular poetry workshops. The strategy in Hackney Virtual School is to invest in good, purposeful and meaningful relationships, imaginative solutions, and Social Pedagogues. Social Pedagogy is an emerging field in the UK but well established in continental Europe, where theory and practice are concerned with finding solutions to social problems through an educational lens.
A new Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA), based at the UCL Institute of Education’s Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), was launched last week. Nick Corker was one of several speakers who described the ‘way social pedagogues had transformed their service. Trained in a number of European countries, social pedagogues bring a holistic focus to each young person’s wellbeing and learning. They have helped bring about a dramatic change in the fortunes of looked-after young people. Research from the TCRU has shown the positive impact of this approach.
Lemn Sissay, poet, Chancellor of Manchester University and ex-resident of children’s homes, also spoke at the launch. He described his experience of upbringing as ’emotional violence’, where the smooth running of the organisation was more important than the human reassurance of a hug.
The SPPA exists to offer continuous learning opportunities and networking to everyone interested in challenging the kind of ‘care’ that Lemn experienced. Social pedagogy begins from a value base focused on respect for the unique importance of every individual. It aims to bring to life their talents and abilities through investing in good-quality helping relationships, orientated towards learning. It is an approach that helps young people to help themselves. For example, social pedagogues will question why an organisation prioritises risk management and institutional reputation over adventurous play, with all its essential learning.
Social pedagogues don’t work only with children and young people in out-of-home care; they offer educational solutions to social problems across the age range. In Denmark, they are the primary workers in preschool settings, and are also to be found in day centres and residential care for people with dementia and in community education settings.
Now, in the UK, more than 2,000 practitioners have had training in social pedagogy, and SPPA is endorsing two new Diplomas in Social Pedagogy – qualifications that will help build social pedagogy into the core occupation for care and education practice with children, young people and adults.
For further information about SPPA or to join as a Founding Member visit SPPA-uk.org.