My teaching experience and philosophy
I am passionate about improving the quality and rigour of social work education to help the profession develop and articulate its contribution to society. Tragedies such as the death of Baby Peter in 2007 and the subsequent reforms to social work in the UK have highlighted the importance of ensuring social work practice is of high quality and informed by research. Work undertaken since the Social Work Reform Board first met in 2010 is helping to renew the vigour of the profession, but there is more to be done.
In September 2012 I joined the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York and became a Professor of Social Work in 2015. I lead the dissertation module on the MA Social Work and the mental health pathway module. I also contribute sessions on my research interests in mental health, social capital and social interventions across the BA, MA and MRes programmes.
My academic career began in 2002 at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, when I started a four-year Social Science Fellowship to undertake an MSc in Mental Health Services Research and a PhD. Three years earlier I had qualified as a social worker and subsequently worked in a community mental health team in Kingston-upon-Thames. In addition to frontline social work practice, I was involved in providing mental health training to advocates working with people with mental health problems. I also taught sessions on the Certificate in Mental Health at West Thames College and worked as a Distance Learning Tutor for the British Institute of Learning Disabilities.
As a practitioner I obtained my first grant and undertook a piece of research to investigate the social causes of emergency detentions under the Mental Health Act 1983 (Webber and Huxley, 2004). This study investigated a practice-based question and helped me to appreciate the role of research in informing decision-making in social work practice. My move into the Academy in 2002 was fostered by a desire to help develop the evidence-base for social work practice and improve the confidence of practitioners in reading, appraising and implementing research in their practice.
I began teaching at the Institute of Psychiatry in 2004 whilst undertaking my PhD. From 2004 to 2006 I taught research methods and supervised student research projects on the MSc in Mental Health Social Work with Children & Adults, an advanced level post-qualifying programme for social workers. I became programme leader in 2006 and spent the following six years enriching its curriculum whilst continuing to lead the research teaching and supervision on the programme. Curriculum enhancements I made included two new e-learning research modules and an online academic literacy course; working towards the meaningful involvement of service users and carers by undertaking a research project to understand exactly what this meant; providing students with the opportunity to engage in annual national social work continuing professional development conferences at King’s College London; and the full integration of social work research into the curriculum.
I have come to understand how the intersection of teaching and research – and maintaining their relevance for social work practice – is at the heart of my identity as a scholar. In the classroom I actively engage students in their learning by trying to provide a stimulating and enjoyable learning experience, being sensitive to their learning needs, and ensuring that new ideas are contextualised in terms of their social work practice. Teaching experienced social workers about empirical research methods and statistics can be challenging as many have no prior educational experience of this, but I use my research experience to engage practitioners in understanding how research can inform their practice. As I view teaching as a core academic activity I aim to create a synergy with my research wherever possible to the mutual benefit of both.
I am currently supervising six PhD students:
Eppie Leishman – Resilience and well-being of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people
Victoria Jagne – Living with long-standing mental ill health in old age: a qualitative systematic review and a narrative inquiry