Institute of Education


Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy (CUSP)

Exploring approaches to social pedagogy in public policy and professional practice.

Head of centre: Professor Pat Petrie

The Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy (CUSP) arose from a programme of research and development conducted by CUSP members at the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU) since the late 1990s. Social pedagogy applies broadly educational solutions to social problems.

We conduct research and development activities and supervise doctoral students in relation to social pedagogy in the UK and in cross-national contexts. 

In April 2019, we completed a major philanthropic grant to develop the professional home of social pedagogy in the UK: the Social Pedagogy Professional Association (SPPA).

About us 


What is social pedagogy? 

Social pedagogy is a field of policy and practice which apply broadly educational solutions to social problems. The discipline was first named in 19th Century continental Europe where, in many countries, it is still as a vocational and analytical framework at graduate and post graduate levels. It seeks to integrate care and education through democratic practice in settings such as child and youth care, family support and services for people in later life.

Social Pedagogy provides an overarching umbrella for policy and practice applicable across the age range from early childhood services to provision for young people in care and adults with support needs. Social pedagogues work alongside other people as fellow human beings rather than claiming higher status. They see themselves as sharing the same living space with others where they build relationships through the medium of everyday activities, both mundane and creative. They often refer to Pestalozzi's notion of working with the head, hands and heart and similarly aspire to address others as feeling, thinking, physical and social beings. We believe that social pedagogy, with its ethical and critical stance, serves both society and the individual members of society. 

TCRU and CUSP (set up in 2009) have been highly influential in the development of social pedagogy as a new field for the UK. This has been achieved through national and international activities: conducting national and international research (often government funded), establishing and taking part in networks, convening seminars and conferences, providing consultancy, developing courses, supervising doctoral students and much - and diverse - publication.

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    Our staff

    Head of Centre


    Our activities


    We have conducted cross-national studies which highlighted the role of the social pedagogue in European countries in relation to children's residential care workforce, foster care, and children on the 'edge' of care. We found that the quality of life and outcomes for young people in public care in countries with a well-developed field of social pedagogy were much improved compared to that available in England.

    We have conducted feasibility studies in relation to social pedagogy in a UK context.

    We are currently leading a programme of development introducing a professional association and qualifications in social pedagogy in the UK.

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    If you are looking for research, advice or knowledge transfer in social pedagogy, our staff are ready to offer you their expertise and skills.

    Our consultancies range from one day initiatives such as training or staff development, to longer term research and evaluation projects. We work directly with organisations such as health and local authorities or international institutions, and offer advice to others carrying out research and evaluation. 

    For further info contact Professor Pat Petrie: p.petrie@ucl.ac.uk or +44 (0)20 7612 6957

    International Journal of Social Pedagogy

    Briefing paper on Social Pedagogy

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