It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that all education happens at school. However, Dr Karen Kenny’s research highlights the amount of learning that is happening all around children, all of the time. They are learning who they are, how they affect their world, and how they can influence that world. This wider perspective is common across Europe as ‘Social Pedagogy’, a distinct profession, requiring university level qualifications for its practitioners. 

Dr Kenny’s study suggests that a social pedagogy approach to young people, would be beneficial to their development. By holistically looking at a framework built around ‘thinking, doing and being’ we can identify learning that is taking place, and opportunities to extend that learning. Removing the focus on the formal curriculum, it would be possible to identify, reward and promote learning across the life experience. 

In this study, care experienced adults and children in care spoke about their educational experiences. In largely unstructured interviews they told their stories in their own words responding to a series of brief prompts about people, places, helps and hindrances. The interviews were analysed to explore how the participants thought about their own position in the world, how they took action, when and where they could to improve their lot, and what they thought about themselves and their education. 


It has been suggested that care experience can limit an individual’s ability to reflexively consider their situation, however this reflexive ability was shown to be a strength, with participants restorying their lives to focus on the positive, to take control, and to reflect upon their social networks. All of us adjust our memories to fit the context in which we are retelling them, so it is unsurprising that these participants were selective in what they talked about. They selected narratives which could perhaps serve as guidance to future readers. 


Within the highly structured life in care these participants talked of their own agency to enact change and to allow them to strive for their own ends.  Participants actively sought to develop social networks and identified ways to release themselves from day-to-day cares, taking refuge in their imaginations where no other route presented itself. In addition, it was apparent that they identified critical moments in which to act, and actively reacted to the imposition of structures around them.


The participants were very aware of their histories and knew how that informed their present situations. They had experienced the stigma of their lives, both in care and prior to be taken into the care of the authorities, but interestingly also held onto their own differences, ‘othering’ themselves. Above all though, they recognised their own achievements. They could see how they had succeeded, often in spite of the “bad hand” they had been dealt.

This work suggests it would be helpful to adopt a wider view, focussing on the framework suggested by Thinking, Doing, and Being when considering the education of young people who are in the care of the state, helping them to identify their successes. Documentation could be redrafted to ensure that all learning is considered when we discuss education, not merely that which is delivered in formal school environments.

To find out more about this research study please follow the link below.

Kenny, K. (2023). The Educational Experiences of Children in Care – a new perspective on the education of Looked after Children in the UK. Adoption and Fostering, 47(1), 22. doi:

Dr Karen Kenny, University of Exeter –