Full interview transcript of the discussion regarding SPPA between trustee Helen Jones and volunteer Janet Grauberg at the Social Pedagogy Development Network (SPDN) on 6th April 2017 at West Kent College in Tonbridge, Kent.

  1. Hello Helen, thanks for coming up here to tell us about SPPA – the Social Pedagogy Professional Association. Firstly – tell us about yourself, and the role that you are playing? Why am I interviewing you?

I’m Helen Jones, I’m a social worker and I worked as a social work adviser for the Department of Health and Education – including setting up the social pedagogy residential care pilot about 10 years ago.

The SPPA will become an independent charity and Company limited by guarantee. I’m now the Chair of the Trustees of SPPA  and there are now two other Trustees – Tanya Alder as Treasurer, and Amanda Orchard, who some of you will have met at the SPPA launch as Secretary.  We’ll be electing the first three members of the formal Trustee Group at our first AGM in October.


  1. That’s great. So tell us a bit more what SPPA is – a charity, and a membership organisation? Is that right?

SPPA will be the professional home for social pedagogy in the UK, covering theory and practice.

It will be a UK membership organisation, and people can join now as Founding Members, if they agree to the values and commitments of the Social Pedagogy Charter. That’s important because it is statement of what we believe social pedagogy is, here in the UK.

As a professional association, it will also hold the professional standards – these are principles that we expect people who work as social pedagogy practitioners and pedagogues to develop and maintain in their practice.

These standards also underpin the new Social Pedagogy Professional Qualifications that are available, which are accredited at Level 3 and Level 5. So you can now have social pedagogy training accredited and recognised by your employer, and other employers.


  1. So why do we need a Professional Association? I thought social pedagogy was about a philosophy of practice that underpinned all sorts of professions, not about creating a new one?

That’s a good question. Social pedagogy is a philosophy that is wider than any one profession, and we don’t want to lose that. We definitely don’t want to become a professional silo that does not value social work, or youth work, or arts work – we’re not looking to replace those professions.

For me setting up SPPA is about three things:  recognition, sustainability and developing a UK social pedagogy.

“Recognition”.  I’ve talked about the qualifications – that’s about getting the great training that Jacaranda and Thempra provide recognised by the qualifications structure. It means that the “system” begins to recognise that it’s something worth having  – you can take it with you from one organisation to another.

And a professional association is also something that the system recognises – it exists, it has a legal form, it is a “thing”.  When you talk about being a member of a professional association, people know what you are talking about, even if they’ve never heard about social pedagogy.

The second aspect is Sustainability – we’ve had the residential care pilot, and there’s been some great legacy from that; and we’ve had Head Heart Hands in Fostering, and that’s really brought the ideas of social pedagogy into fostering services across the UK. But they were both time-limited “initiatives” and now they’re over some of the “oomph” has gone.

So SPPA is about supporting a continued drive and longer term journey to develop social pedagogy that doesn’t rely on “initiatives”. Elsewhere some of the longstanding social pedagogy practice with other groups such as for those working with mental ill health and learning disability has remained within particular organisations and not so far spread more widely.

And thirdly, SPPA is also about developing a UK social pedagogy. We all love the social pedagogues who have joined us from Germany, and Denmark, and Portugal and all over the world. But we want to develop an understanding of social pedagogy that works here in the UK context and Brexit or no Brexit we want them to continue to come to support our journey.  But what does it mean to practice as a social pedagogue in the diverse city of London? What does it mean to practice as a social pedagogue in Belfast or Orkney? We need to grow our own pedagogues and develop our own understandings and meanings within our own practice cultures and legislative frameworks – that may not even look the same across our four countries!

I know there’s a risk we’ll get drawn into too many conversations about process and bureaucracy – we’ll need your help to keep us from that – but that’s not what SPPA is about. Just like we’ve heard about professional and personal meanings, SPPA is about creating shared meanings about social pedagogy in the UK and creating momentum, building on the work already done through the SPDN.


  1. I get it. So how will it work? What will it be like being a member of SPPA?

Well. That’s all up for grabs and part of our own current journey of discovery!

We want it to be collaborative, and democratic. We are interested in developing an approach informed by the idea of “communities of practice” – voluntary, peer-led approaches to sharing learning and solving problems.

We’re working to develop networks in Scotland, and Northern Ireland; they will be within the SPPA community but also have their own events that reflect their distinctive contexts. And if there’s anyone here from Wales we’d love to talk to you too!

And we’re working to develop “special interest groups” so as part of joining SPPA, you can also get involved in things you are particularly interested in. The first one is likely to be about social pedagogy and the creative arts – and if you are interested you can talk to Helen Chambers, who is here, who is working on that.

When I think about SPPA – I think about the backbone of the profession, or perhaps one of those wooden poles that are planted into the sea for mussels to grow on – something that gives structure and support to the organic growth of the social pedagogy profession. We will also be able to apply for funding to undertake specific projects to support the continued growth and development of social pedagogy and, by being also a company limited by guarantee, engage in income-generating activity.


  1. That sounds great – so how will it be different from SPDN? What’s the relationship going to be?

Another good question, and one I think we will keep returning to as SPPA grows and develops, because it goes to the heart of what a profession is, and what a professional association is for – and why it’s different from an informal grouping such as SPDN.

If we step into theory for a minute – there are commonly three roles described for a professional association

  • One role is the one we’ve already talked about – creating shared meanings and understandings for a UK social pedagogy. But because there will be members, and a democratic process by which the members elect the Trustees who will set the strategy for SPPA, those shared meanings will have a legitimacy, that they don’t have now.  At present, anyone can set themselves up as a “social pedagogy trainer” or whatever, and deliver whatever they like, and there’s no benchmark or standard by which anyone can define whether it’s social pedagogy or not. In future, when we say “social pedagogy in the UK”, the starting point will be what SPPA is saying “social pedagogy is”. But that in itself will have developed from a wider consensus which SPDN plays a key role in generating.
  • The other role for a professional association is to sustain members in their professional knowledge. We’ve talked about that too – the new qualifications are the best example. And the “sustain” bit is relevant here. SPDN is a great 24 hours every 6 to 9 months, and if you’re lucky you get to follow on facebook or meet up with people in between. SPPA will be there all year round, offering events, webinars, resources – whenever you need them. It has staff, and a website, to support that sustained activity.
  • Finally, and this is the most difficult bit, the third role that is commonly played by a professional association is one of setting entry requirements and exercising disciplinary powers. At its most basic level, when you join SPPA you have to commit to uphold the values and commitments of the Charter, personally, and in your professional conduct. And you agree to notifying SPPA if you see another member not doing so. Inherent in the concept of standards is the view that people might not meet them.  And the same might apply to social pedagogy qualifications and courses in due course – over time SPPA may well develop a “kite mark” so that people know that a particular course – here at West Kent or anywhere else, is genuinely social pedagogy, not just jumping on a bandwagon.  But while SPPA will have processes which might lead to an individual losing their membership, it won’t have the kind of disciplinary powers that can stop you practising like the General Nursing Council.

You, like me, probably find this stuff difficult. In academic terms we are moving from an informal, people-centred discourse, to adopting the much more formal norms of a Professional Association.  And we will have “growing pains” as we go through this.

The reason we’re going through the pain, and uncertainty, is because without doing so, we won’t have that sustainability, growth and recognition that I talked about at the beginning.

The challenge for us all is to develop a way of working as a Professional Association that is true to social pedagogic principles – to be democratic and collaborative, and to work together, valuing everyone.

So returning to the relationship between SPPA and SPDN, we’ve talked about the metaphor of SPDN being a parent and SPPA being its baby. I’d probably describe the wonderful Pat & Claire at the Thomas Coram Research Unit who have done so much to explore and develop the underpinning theory of social pedagogy as the other parent!

Right now – everything I’ve described is in the future. SPPA is in its infancy.  Over the coming years, it will continue to depend on SPDN for nurturing, support and advice and ensuring that essential relationship with practice, and on the start-up funding that the Thomas Coram Research Unit has received from the KPMG Foundation and others. So I’d probably say that the success of SPPA depends on the people here to give it the support it needs to grow.

However, as a Charity, with all the requirements that that status brings, SPPA will become an independent organisation, able to stand on its own two feet. Then SPDN and SPPA will need to develop separate, but complementary roles through continued dialogue– perhaps SPDN being the place where new people can come and get a taste and feel for social pedagogy, and SPPA being the place where those who know this is for them get the support and nurture they need to keep going, get access to professional development and take part in pushing the profession further, though of course in practice it won’t be as clearly divided as that.

SPPA and SPDN share a common lifeblood – a commitment to the value of social pedagogy. And like members of any family, our relationship will grow and change through different stages. We’ll need to keep coming back to this and reflecting on how we’re changing, and where we’re going. Dialogue, reflection, mutual support, that should characterise our relationship.


  1. Thankyou – that’s really helpful. So now I understand what SPPA is, and why it exists, and how it relates to SPDN. So can you tell me a bit more about why I should join? What will I get for my membership fee?

Absolutely. If you join now as a Founder Member, it will cost you £70, or £25 if you are a student or unwaged and there are discounts for group membership – so if there are five of you, you’ll only pay for four. Over the coming months we are working on wider membership categories which will be in place from January 2018, both related to qualifications and organisational and group membership.

The most important reason to join SPPA is to support the cause of social pedagogy in the UK, as we’ve just been talking about. But you will also get some tangible member benefits. I’d point to four things.

  • You’ll get access to great events, across the UK. So we’re planning a day on “moral dilemmas” in Edinburgh on 9th June, an event in Northern Ireland, probably on social pedagogy and creative arts, in July or September, and our first Annual Conference on 6th October in London. About which there will be more information soon.
  • You’ll get access to webinars held during the daytime – both introductory ones to social pedagogy that you can point your colleagues to, and more topics in depth – Gabriel is leading one on 4th May on risk and social pedagogy. So these will be free if you attend them live, but only members will have access to the recordings if you miss them.
  • You’ll get access to other resources such as publications, project ideas, and discussion forums to help you take your theory and practice further and we are really dependent on all of you who attend SPDN to provide resources from your practice experience in whatever field for this
  • And finally, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll get the chance to join special interest groups to work with people who share your particular interests on developing social pedagogy in that area. Over time we are particularly keen to see social pedagogy move into new areas of practice such as older people’s services.


  1. Sounds great. So finally, what would you like people to do now?

One –  enjoy the rest of the SPDN, and commit to working with us all to build that understanding of what it means to practice social pedagogy in the UK, and build positive change for individuals and society.

Twokeep in touch by booking on our webinars and events – and tell your friends and relations. All the details are on the SPPA website (www.sppa-uk.org) and they are going to be great!

Three – join SPPA, and get involved.  SPPA is for all of you who have been working to promote social pedagogy without wider support or understanding; who have told us you feel isolated, and who come to the SPDN to give you a “boost” and connect you to others.

It is a simple appeal – without members, SPPA will not exist and all of the stuff I’ve been talking about, recognition, sustainability etc won’t be there to support us. It’s about momentum, not being dismissed as a fad or a fashion, but about demonstrating an established discipline that continues to grow.

SPPA can support you and you can shape what SPPA is and how it develops.  But only if enough people sign up for membership.

There is no ‘them’ over ‘there’ who are SPPA, without you, without enough members, there is no SPPA, so please, sign up with Carla [CARLA TO WAVE], take flyers/ leaflets and encourage as many others as possible to do so. Think about whether you can become a Trustee when we hold elections in October – we’ll need keen, active people to take SPPA forward.

Put simply, the more members we have, the more we can offer, the more we can do to grow social pedagogy in the UK, together.

Thank you.

Thankyou – Helen.