Skip to main content

People :: Alumni :: Jane Aldgate

Jane as a student 2

Jane Aldgate

Diploma in Social Study 1968 & Certificate in Child Care 1969, PhD 1977

Graduated: 1968

I came to Edinburgh from Morecambe in Lancashire in 1964 because my headmistress was an Edinburgh graduate and had absolutely loved the university. I came to study English Literature on a full grant and would not have been able to study without this. My mother valued education tremendously, and was amazingly well-read, although she hadn’t been able to go to university herself. I changed direction during my studies, studying Psychology and Moral Philosophy as part of my degree and enjoyed both very much, finishing with an MA Ordinary in 1967. I decided to move into the social work field and had an interview at the Home Office in London for a probation course at Glasgow University; then when I got married (aged 21 years!), I decided to stay in Edinburgh instead. I went to see Marjorie Brown and was very impressed with what was on offer.

I had to do the (one-year) Diploma in Social Study first – this was because my degree had been mainly in Arts. I then went on to do the Certificate in Child Care following that.

Before beginning the child care course, I was obliged by the Home Office to undertake a six week placement in the residential setting of Dr. Guthrie’s Senior Approved School for Girls in Edinburgh, where I worked shifts and found myself cooking fish and chips for over 30 staff and girls. I was extremely grateful that my mother, who had been a professional cook, had taught me how to cook.

The Child Care Certificate was very psychodynamic in its approach. I learnt much about attachment and the importance of early development.  But we also learnt about the influences on children from themselves, their families and the environment in which they lived.  This developmental-ecological approach has been the foundation for much of my writing child development and social The six strong child care group always felt we were at the ‘coal face’ of family social work and child protection (which wasn’t called that then), working with some of the most vulnerable children and families in society.  The psychiatric social workers tended to see themselves as the elite group, often dealing with, as we saw it, more middle class clients, while the medical social workers dealt with a whole range of problems, passing on the long term support to us.

Practice was a hugely important part of the course. There was equal weight on theory and practice and on the application of theory in practice. I had excellent practice teachers, including Val Lobban at Simpson’s maternity hospital and Ralph Davies at the Children Department and was fortunate to be a student when relationship-based social work was dominant. A major influence on my practice with families was Douglas Haldane at the Stratheden Hospital in Fife. I learnt much from Douglas about multi-disciplinary work, which surfaced later in my work with the Scottish Government. Douglas Haldane was a prominent psychiatrist in Scotland, who went on to set up with Megan Browne, Jock Sutherland and others, the Scottish Institute of Human Relations.

My first post was with the Guild of Service (now Family Care) supporting single parents whose resilience in the face of adversity was impressive.  I then returned to the University on and SSRC grant to undertake a Ph.D with John Triseliotis. I explored the part parental contact and other factors played in influencing the return of children from care. The research was inspired by a visit to a child in residential care , while on placement. She asked me ‘What does my Mummy look like?’ I was determined to find out why children lost contact with their parents and what could be done about it.

In 1972, I moved to Milton Keynes. My husband had joined the Open University. I worked with Buckinghamshire Social Services. One of my achievements was to set up a fostering service. I was sent on a course o the Tavistock Institute to learn more about fostering, which I relished, developing further my interest in child development and attachment.  This also opened the door to my involvement with government, giving evidence to the DHSS review of fostering, published in 1976.

In 1975, I took up a lectureship at Barnett House at the University of Oxford. I stayed there for 18 years, getting great pleasure from seeing generations of students blossom in the social work profession as practitioners, policy makers, and academics.  The hallmark of the Oxford course was that students learnt from lecturers in different disciplines about all the influences on social work. This further developed my interest in an ecological approach to social work. It was also at Oxford that I started to do grant-funded research and become one of the Department of Health’s child welfare researchers, specialising in making the voices of children and families a key part of research evidence.   I continued my research when I went to Leicester in 1993.  With an outstanding staff group, we were able to develop a portfolio of research that formed a major part of the Department of Health’s evidence base for the advancement of child and family social work. Apart from undertaking research, I was also asked to do the overview of the Children Act 1989  - The Children Act Now- Messages from Research (2001).  This exemplified one of my long term passions, to write in a way that would make research and theory accessible to practitioners.  In 1999, I moved to the Open University, continuing my research and contributing to OU teaching units.  In 2007 I received an OBE for being an Advisor to Governments and for services to children and families.

During my time at Leicester and the OU, I was very involved with Malta, advising the government on modernising social services, helping developments at the university, supervising and examining Ph.D students and teaching talented and enthusiastic post qualifying social workers.  My admiration for the achievements and professionalism of what Maltese social workers achieve in a context of scarce resources endures.

I had reconnected with Scotland in 2001, representing the OU on the group which shaped the Scottish Standards for Social Work Education. In 2004, I was seconded  to the Social Work Servicesthe Inspectorate of the Scottish Executive to take part in the review of looked after children, published in 2006 as Extraordinary Lives.  One of the commissioned studies for this review was a study of kinship care of looked after children, which led to the introduction of allowances for looked after kinship care children in 2008.  By 2005, I had been invited to be join the team that was developing the Getting it right for every child framework. My role was to take a major part in conceptualising the framework, writing guidance  and disseminating early implementation. I stayed with the Getting it right team until I retired from the OU in 2010.  From then, I have been attached to the Social Work section of the University of Edinburgh as a Professorial Research Fellow. Coming back to Edinburgh has completed the circle.

From what I have seen from doing a lot of external examining across the UK, social work education has changed because the demands on social workers have become more difficult. One of the worst things that has happened in social work has been the development of a managerialist culture based on industrial models which simply do not fit a profession based on supporting and helping people. Social workers are now ‘managed' by people who are not themselves social workers and social work in some parts of the UK has become a branch of a wider concept of social care, rather than being a discipline in its own right. Scotland has managed to retain social work managers and social work programmes in universities, allowing social work to retain its status as a professional discipline. The best university courses both at qualifying and PQ level still see social work as a psycho-social activity which helps people in both relational and practical ways – Edinburgh, Stirling, York universities, for example. But some of the best social work courses have gone – LSE, Oxford, Reading. I think social work will survive because there is a need for it! And certainly there is a strong case for keeping social work as a graduate profession because of the complexity of problems which social workers are dealing with.


Jane now

Source: Own contribution.