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Events :: Centenary Launch : 26 September 2017


Briefing paper

Here are some of the speeches from our Centenary launch held at the Playfair Library on 26th September 2017. There is also a briefing paper from the event, which provides some background information about the social work programme historically and its relationship with the City of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh. It can be accessed here.

Excerpts from speakers’ contributions


Viviene Cree is Professor of Social Work Studies & Head of Social Work at The University of Edinburgh

Welcome one and all to the University of Edinburgh. This afternoon we are celebrating 100 years of social work at Edinburgh. My name is Viv Cree, I am currently head of Social Work and chair of the centenary project. My role today is simply to introduce Professor Charlie Jeffery, senior vice principal of the university and a friend to social work over many years. But I’d also like to thank you all for coming, and especially give a warm welcome to Dr John Devaney, who will join us in January as the Centenary Chair of Social Work and Head of Social Work in his first three years.

So, over to you Charlie, and thank you again for agreeing to host this event.


Charlie Jeffery is Professor of Politics and Senior Vice-Principal at the University of Edinburgh

Thanks Viv! I’d like to begin by retelling a story that is attributed to the radical community activist Saul Alinsky, but may be much older than this….

Once upon a time there was a small village on the edge of a river. Everyone was happy and life was good. Then one day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. He quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning. The next day he noticed two babies in the river. And the following day four babies were seen. And then eight, then more and more! The villagers organised themselves and children were saved every day. Then one day, someone asked, "But where are all these babies coming from? Let’s organise a team to head upstream to find out who’s throwing the babies into the river in the first place!"

The story explains perfectly the origins and purpose of the School of Social Study and Training, which emerged a hundred years ago in Edinburgh, inspired by a group of academics from the university, city fathers from the town council, and prominent leaders of local organisations. They knew what Saul Alinsky knew - that to be successful in ameliorating individual suffering, we need to locate the root of the problem - to search for who - or what - is causing these poor souls to be floating down the river in the first place. But they also knew that the study of social problems was not in itself enough - someone still had to save the folks from drowning - humanitarian intervention was needed in the here and now.. This is the dualism that is reflected in everything that the School of Social Study and Training has done ever since - study AND training, theory AND practice, research AND action. And throughout all of this time, it has been in partnership, with government (both central and local), with the voluntary sector, with academics and students and with citizens. It is this partnership that is represented on the panel here today, and in this glorious room, as we come together to share Social Work’s centenary.

You should all have access to a flier that gives a brief introduction to our panel. They have been given a tall order - to keep to around 6 minutes - never easy when so much might be said. But we will start with Professor Fiona Mackay, head of the School of Social & Political Science, who will begin by saying something about social work’s achievements and contribution over the years.


Fiona Mackay is Head of the School of Social and Political Science, and Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh

Thanks Charlie! I’d like to pick up the idea of social study and training as two sides of one coin, and look at this more closely in terms of 3 activities: research, policy and practice.

Research - social work at Edinburgh has been at the forefront of research from its beginnings. When the first ever Director, Nora Milnes, published a book on child welfare from the social point of view in 1920, her work was exceptional - and yet would be wholly understandable in the context of government policy today. She also published two further books on economics and the impact of poverty on communities. Since then, social work has conducted research on children and families’ social work, children’s hearings, welfare, mental health services, community care, older people, criminal justice social work, and the movement of adults with learning disabilities out of long-stay hospitals. Often this research has been located in Scotland, but more recently, we have also begun to develop expertise in research in South East Asia.

Policy - social work at Edinburgh has played a prominent role at various times in policy development, demonstrated at 3 specific moments in time: in the 1960s at the time of the lead up to and after the passing of the Social Work Scotland Act of 1968; again in the 1990s when the 21st century review of social work was conducted, leading to the initiative Changing Lives; and again more recently, as part of the review of Child Protection and the review of Social Work Education.

Practice - social work at Edinburgh has trained generation upon generation of social workers, child care officers, mental health officers, hospital social workers, psychiatric social workers, criminal justice social workers. Some have remained in practice, working alongside some of the most vulnerable individuals and families not just in Scotland, but wherever they have found themselves. Others have gone on to do further training and moved into management or academia. We already have over 60 stories of alumni on the centenary website - we expect to have many more by the time the centenary year is over.

So as Charlie said, it’s social study AND training; it’s research, policy AND practice. Thank you.


Iona Colvin is the Scottish Government's Chief Social Work Adviser

Thanks you very much for inviting me to speak today at you centenary celebration.  I am delighted that Edinburgh University been helping to form social policy and work education for the last 100 years and that you are celebrating it.  As a few people may know I am a relatively unusual creature in social work terms in that I am a second generation social worker but you may not know that probably uniquely I am a second generation Chief Social Work Adviser to SG following in the footsteps of my father David Colvin who was appointed CSWA for the government in 1991.  Sadly my dad died just before Christmas last year but I know if he was still alive he would be sitting in the from row today cheering at this remarkable celebration and no doubt would offer you all a word or two –he was never short of them- about the achievements of social work over the past century.

My dad joined the government in the 1960’s at the time of Kilbrandon, the Social Work Scotland Act in 1968 and the move to understand children involved to understand children involved in offending, as children first and foremost and not as juvenile delinquents. This approach heralded the creation of the Children’s Hearing System. He was very much part of that movement in Scotland to understand social work as being about rights and responsibilities, about seeing people in the context of their own families and their own communities and understanding the impact of inequality and disadvantage.  I know that he often worked with colleagues from our academic institutions including the University of Edinburgh and absolutely valued your contribution to the debate in Scotland around our social policy and social care.

While we are not in the heady days of Kilbrandon today, we do still have a few challenges and quite a bit of stuff going on!  As the Minister has said, the Scottish Government is absolutely committed to improving outcomes for our children – including the most vulnerable children and we have a huge programme of reform from the review of the Care system itself to the Children’s Hearing Improvement Programme and the Child protection Improvement Programme – all aiming to improve our children’s outcomes and their experience of care through our partnership approach Getting It Right for Every Child.  In Justice we have seen the introduction of the Community Justice Authority and a new strategy for Justice which recognises the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences. And in health and Community Care we have the small matter of Integration of service – so a bit of change to getting on with then!

The role of our academic institutions in all of this is as important as it was in the days of Kilbrandon – we need our Universities to train and educate our social workers to be confident and competent practitioners for the future, working alongside other professions to deliver the best outcomes we can.  We need your help in ensuring that we have evidence based practice and that you continue to contribute to the debate around social policy and the direction for social work.

So thank you for this opportunity to contribute today and congratulations – here’s to the next 100 years.


Trisha Hall is the Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW) Manager

Thank you for inviting me to speak on behalf of BASW at today’s event, I feel both honoured and privileged to be here to talk a while about the relationship our association has with the school of SW at the University of Edinburgh.

SASW is part of BASW, the largest professional association for social work in the UK, with offices in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. We’re here to promote the best possible social work services for all people who may need them, while them, while also securing the wellbeing of social workers. And wellbeing is a word I am going to refer to throughout this brief presentation.

BASW has established an arm’s length trade union, the Social Workers Union (SWU) which together with our Advice & Representation Service offers a range of services to improve the protection of our members in the

workplace. By joining the Association, our members are committing to the values set out within our Code of Ethics and enjoy an unrivalled range of services and benefits. BASW is governed by a Council consisting of members of the association. National Standing Committees of members provide guidance and assistance to country staff teams in the four nations of the UK. Our membership in Scotland is growing.

We are proud to be social workers, and we try to encourage our members to be proud of the work they do as professionals. We spend a lot of time stressing, and even defending our “professional” status and identity- only recently someone (who I thought would have known better) said to me “do you really have to go to university to become a social worker?” Forming this professional identity starts when students join the courses in our Schools of SW, and we need our universities to introduce, induct, train and prepare students for a career which remains one of the most fascinating ones around. No one day is the same, we will never be an exact science, and scenario D can never be sorted by solution 43.

So good luck to SW at the University of Edinburgh!


Anna Fowlie is the Chief Executive of the Scottish Social Services Council

Thank you for inviting me to this event. I'm a product of Edinburgh University in the mid-80s, but did History of Art, which I suspect still attracts a slightly different demographic... I've been around social work for over 20 years, and gladly so. My perspective today is as a regulator and I'd like to locate that in the context of devolution.

The decision to regulate social workers and make it a graduate profession was taken across the 4 UK countries at the very start of the new devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland following lobbying from the profession to be registered professionals like their colleagues in health and education. The Celtic countries saw devolution as an opportunity and a responsibility. It was and still is an opportunity to do things in a way that suits our own context and culture. Our responsibility was and is to be accountable for our own issues. Devolution means we create our own solutions but we must also be responsible for whether it works.

I've spoken with the original chief executives in all three devolved countries in preparing for today and their objective was to define the problem and solution in a way which was consistent with values and principles of each country, while maintaining a consistency about what social work fundamentally is. I'm focusing on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland not because England isn't important but things have taken such a different journey down there, it's too complicated to get into in five minutes - I'd just have to keep saying "except in England" so take that as a given.

Social work education is producing social workers to work with devolved policy, legislation and regulation. It connects with international research and evidence and looks at that in Scotland's unique context. Edinburgh is an international university, it's an international city, social work is an international profession. But the challenges social workers deal with are right down amongst individuals, families and communities.

From the outset, the four regulators tried to make sure there was consistency to facilitate mobility of social workers across the British Isles. We had common Codes of Practice and regulatory requirements which we developed collectively, though a key difference right from the start was that England only ever committed to regulate social workers whereas the rest of us were committed to regulating pretty much the whole social work and social care workforce and we're nearly there.

From the beginning the care councils were also different from other regulators in that we register social work students. Other professions don't do that, and were very dubious about it back then, but interestingly the health professions are interested now.  That was different for universities as they had to ensure they were recruiting, assessing and educating people who would be suitable for registration and would understand what professional accountability means.

So where are we now? As I've alluded to, England has gone its own way.  In 2010, the coalition government abolished the General Social Care Council and transferred regulation of social workers and their education to the Health and Care Professions Council. Now they are busily setting up Social Work England, a new professional regulator for social work.  They have different chief social worker advisers for adult and children's services, they had two separate reviews of the social work degree and now accreditation in children's social work. They didn't consider the possible impact on the other countries and we could have gone off in a strop, but actually it freed the rest of us up to review the Codes of Practice to suit each of our contexts; we've all done our own reviews of social work education and (in purely practical terms for the SSSC) we could develop our own ICT system that worked for us. The three Celtic countries all spoke to each other, and indeed to England, throughout our changes.

So now we have a graduate social work profession. In Scotland, we have more collective ownership of the future of social work amongst universities, professional bodies, employers, regulators and government. We can see that in our review of social work education and in the work of the Social Work Services Strategic Forum. We have a shared belief in the unique contribution social work makes.

At 9.09 am today we had 11,007 registered social workers, just under 2,000 of which are newly qualified workers. In 2003, 75% were women and our latest information shows 79%. Criminal justice has always had a higher proportion of men but even there it's changing. In 2003, 63% of criminal justice social workers were women, whereas now it's about 72%.

For the future, I'd like to see social work practice and academia be more intertwined - I'd like to see far more practitioner research, and postgraduate study becoming more "normal" and recognised by employers as something to be supported to enrich the profession and enhance the quality of service people experience. Social workers still need to feel more confident as individuals and as a profession and being up to date on current practice and research helps that.

So while social work education will continue to evolve, I'm thinking there will be a bicentenary in 2117!


Dr Trish McCulloch is a Senior Lecturer and Social Work lead in the School of Education and Social Work at the University of Dundee

Like social work, the ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ of social work education is contentious. In Scotland, the UK and internationally, there is currently a lot of talk about university-based social work education.  Interestingly, a cursory review of the history of social work education tells us that this has always been so. But the contentious nature of social work education, and of university-based education in particular, is curious. Many of us in this room will have embarked on a course of university-based social work education.   Others will have embarked on alternative courses of academic or professional study. I’d like you to think back to that decision.  I wonder if that felt like a contentious choice.

I embarked on my Master of Social Work, here at University of Edinburgh, in 1996, without reservation.  I didn’t consider my decision as the least bit contentious.  Quite the contrary, it was a logical and positive step. I had a good under-graduate degree and a reasonable range of lived and social service experience.  But becoming a social worker, through education, was for me about becoming a professional.   It was about reaching beyond my existing ideas, knowledges, biases, values and skills, into new knowledges, new values – or at least ones I could now articulate, and new skills. And perhaps most importantly, it was, for me, about a foundational belief in ‘respect for persons’. Becoming an educated professional was about affording the people I would work with enough respect to ensure that when I walked into their living room and their life, they got more than me, more than social work practice according to the partial and particular experience of Trish McCulloch.  Then, as now, I believed instinctively that the people I would work with had a right to more than me. So for me, social work education is, and always has been, very closely bound up with notions of respect for the people we work with and for, in developing ideas of what it means to be and become a professional, and in a belief in the transforming power of ideas, knowledge and learning.

Fast forward 20 years, I spent yesterday in a meeting talking about the future of social work education and professional learning.  It was a good meeting with good people. Much of the discussion focused on the needs of the social work sector, the needs of organisations, the needs of employers and managers, and the needs of social workers themselves.  These are each important issues. But it struck me, that there wasn’t a lot of talk about respect for persons, and what that means for social work education.  There wasn’t a lot of talk about the social work role in social and societal change, and there wasn’t a lot of talk about the place and importance of ideas and knowledge. And I wondered, in turning to today, if our thinking and imagining about social work education has become a little bit domesticated, a little bit tamed, and a little bit transactional?  And I wonder if that’s what we want and need in 21st century Scotland?

I’m going to refrain from a neat wrap up about why social work education matters in Scotland.  Instead, I would invite us to consider and answer that question for ourselves. Social work and social work education operates persistently in the cross roads.  It operates at the intersections of our social ideals of equality and opportunity, and our social realities of inequality and injustice.

Thank you.

Other speakers included:


Alistair Gaw is the Executive Director of Communities and Families at the City of Edinburgh Council

Alistair is an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh and has written a profile on the alumni page on this website. Here he concludes as follows:

“There would be no social work profession without rigorous standards of learning and it is vital we maintain high quality practice, teaching and research. Universities and employers must work more closely together to make sure this is achieved. The next generation? The skills at the heart of social work, building and utilising great relationships, are invaluable life skills that are an asset to any organisation in any field. So the impact social workers can have in making the world a better place is limited only by our imagination.”


Mark McDonald MSP was, at the time of the launch, Minister for Childcare and Early Years in the Scottish Parliament. This position is now held by Shirley-Anne Sommerville MSP.