St Luke’s Innovative Resources

Social Pedagogy

(“...Social What?!”)

By Caitlyn Lehmann,

SOON Editor,

St Luke’s Innovative Resources

Every so often, we like to gaze out from the

crow’s nest of the Good Ship Innovative

Resources to ponder the future directions

of human service work and education. One

recent muse upon the briny brought to

our attention the growing interest in social

pedagogy. In the UK, official and public

concerns about the failures of the children’s

welfare system have prompted authorities to

take a fresh look at alternative approaches.

Social pedagogy, already well-established

throughout Europe, has been one of these,

attracting UK practitioners with its holistic

model of care. In the last handful of years,

the first specialist degrees in social pedagogy

have been launched by universities there—

and where Britain goes, so, too, often enough,

Australia follows.

So let’s spin the wheel hard to starboard and a

take a closer look at this not-so-new approach.

What is this rather awkward-sounding ‘Social

Pedagogy’? Well, it is often described as

‘education in the broadest sense.’ It’s an

approach that stresses the upbringing of

children as the shared responsibility of parents

and society, and recognises that children’s

care requires something more than simply

meeting children’s biological and psychological

needs. You might say it’s about offering

children quality of life, rather than just the bare

essentials needed to get by in our society.

In English, of course, ‘pedagogy’ is usually—

narrowly—defined as the ‘science of teaching

and learning’. Ask the experts, and they’ll

tell you that social pedagogy is problematic

precisely because, as a concept, it doesn’t

translate neatly into English. Being a ‘social

pedagogue’ is somewhere between being a

child’s teacher and carer. It’s the person who

takes responsibility for supporting a child’s

overall development, and who does so by

building a meaningful relationship with the

child and valuing the contributions of family

members, other professionals and the wider


Partly because of this, social pedagogy

has often been regarded as a model best

suited to the care of children in residential

settings. Here in Australia, the approach has

sometimes been dismissed because of our

alternative emphasis on foster care. These

days, however, a growing pool of research is

highlighting social pedagogy’s relevance and

benefits to both forms of care. Indeed, with

its stress on relationships, inclusiveness, and

entwined care and education, social pedagogy

has its attractions for professionals across a

broad range of disciplines.

For teachers in our schools, who face daily

conflicts between their roles as carers and

educators of children, social pedagogy not

only recognises, but values, the essential

contribution teachers make to the ‘bringing

up’ of children. In an era when the scale of

public education is trending ever upwards—

with massed classes of 100+ students—the

principles of social pedagogy may be seen

to support teachers calling for the reform

of our ‘crowd control’ classrooms. The

approach restores emphasis to the significant

relationships teachers build with children and

the importance of listening and communicating

with children as individuals, as well as in


Right here at St Luke’s Innovative Resources,

we can’t help noticing the parallels between the

principles of social pedagogy and those of the

strengths-based approach that underpins our

publishing. Both recognise that children and

staff inhabit the same ‘lifespace’ rather than

separate hierarchical domains. As we might

say in strengths-based parlance, the emphasis

is on ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’.

There are also striking similarities between the

role of the social pedagogue and the role of

the adult supporter described in our admired

publication by Ben Furman, Kids Skills—but

then perhaps that’s not a surprise: just like

social pedagogy, the Kids’ Skills method hails

from Europe (Finland to

be precise!).

So, will we soon hear the phase ‘social

pedagogy’ bandied around staffrooms and

board meetings? Will we hear people debating

the pronunciation of ‘pedagogy’ with a hard

or soft ‘g’? (Our dictionary says either is fine.)

Just possibly maybe. And if does happen, you’ll

find our resources, like Change by Design

and Name the Frame, ideal for helping your

organisation deal with the necessary changes

to policy and practice. You’ll also find our card

sets, from the bubbly Wonderful You to the

ever-popular Strength Cards, absolutely perfect

for any activity in which the priorities of care

and education come together.