Certificate in Social Study 1965, Certificate in Medical Social Work 1966
Edinburgh University has been an important part of my life for much of the past 55 years and I'm writing mainly about my experience as a student because this provided a foundation for my relationship with the University in the subsequent years.
Arriving in Edinburgh in October 1963 to undertake the 2 year Social Studies course is an experience which remains crystal clear today. Applying for the course was not part of a well considered career plan, but was for me an opportunity to explore a life very different from the one expected of me at that time, namely teaching. The appeal of Social Studies course was partly that it contained some elements of practice. Suitability for the course had to be shown in interview, and by having some relevant work experience. A year of work in London which included 9 months at Guy's Hospital, London as a receptionist in many departments in the hospital provided a considerable eye-opener and it offered the kind of experience seen as relevant. At that time it was difficult to find any models of social work practice which could be observed, let alone experienced, though looking back, volunteering in residential and voluntary sector agencies did offer valuable opportunities. My school had had an attachment to a Settlement in South East London. In the 1950s the extent of poverty, poor housing and poor health in post-War London were all too apparent and maybe gave me some picture of what social work might be about through involvement with the Settlement.
The Social Studies course was small, focused and with fairly high pressure. 8 subjects were studied each academic year. These included Psychology, Sociology, Economic History, Administrative Law, Social Biology and Criminology as well as study of the Social Services. Attendance at lectures and tutorials was obligatory and end of term exams in each subject could not be sat unless you had a DP certificate- Duly Performed. The structure of lectures, assignments, essays and exams also included 1 day per week practice involvement. My placement was in 'The Edinburgh Cripple Aid Society.' I was given a list of names and addresses and required to make visits to 5 people each week. Each person was registered disabled and the agency had a responsibility to make an annual visit. It was interesting, daunting and ultimately an important learning experience, not least in requiring some initiative and discovering that my assumption that the agency name, which seemed to me so stigmatising, was not regarded in that way by most of those involved with it. This was an early lesson in showing the importance of having a clear purpose and knowing precisely what the agency could and should offer. Block placements in a small hospital in North London and a longer, very significant experience at the Family Service Unit in South London had much clearer purpose, opportunity and encouragement and helped develop my awareness that social work was the career I wanted to try to pursue.
The Department of Social Studies felt a very lively place to be at that time. The developments leading to the Social Work Scotland Act 1968 were under discussion. Staff in the Department had advisory roles in relation to that legislation. as students we wrote to Lord Kilbrandon, whose work led to the establishment of the Children's Hearing System and the legislation of 1968 and invited him to speak to the Social Studies Society which several of us had set up. It was in the basement of 59 George Square and we established it with encouragement from the Director of Social Studies, Marjorie Brown. There seemed to be energy and drive and a strong sense of connection with the world outside in terms of local authorities, voluntary organisations and with the Government. The value of Town and Gown was very clearly displayed and it was good for us as students to benefit from that relationship and culture.
Having enjoyed being a Social Studies student for 2 years I was glad to be accepted on to the Medical Social Work course at Edinburgh. It was a small course with 8 MSW students, alongside 8 students on the Child Care course and 4 on the Psychiatric Social Work course. Many lectures and groups were for the whole student group, with a substantial curriculum for each individual group, and placements were planned in close association with the specific teaching. Placements began within a few weeks of joining the course and were concurrent. My first experience was at Bruntsfield Hospital, a small hospital for women and children with one social worker and an all female nursing and medical staff. There were numerous opportunities for learning but also the rather overwhelming sense of a mysterious protocol for the student role and no easy way to discover what was expected. University tutorials presented the different challenge of how to know and apply theories and the requirement to understand and justify methods. Intuition had seemed to me a very satisfactory tool until its great limitations were revealed. The need to approach learning quite differently was the focus of much of the year in all aspects of the course. The second and third placements remain memorable as the places on which supervision came alive and the potential of social work practice was made clear. It was a profound learning experience from which I have benefited ever since and the course as a whole helped to shape my subsequent career as a practitioner, practice teacher, educator and development manager. I can't overstate the value I found in excellent supervision and why it has mattered ever since to try to ensure it is at the heart of learning and practice for students and social work staff throughout their careers.
Personal factors have dictated most of my decisions about work, even at the stage of applying for my first post, so to describe any of it as a career path would be a major overstatement. I worked first at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh in the Trauma Units. This was another very influential experience because the nature of the work, the professionalism of the large Social Services Department and the quality of leadership and supervision provided were all excellent and widely recognised as such. Social work in health settings was a crucial component of the multidisciplinary team and there were considerable opportunities for practice and research and much encouragement to take them. Opportunities to contribute to the teaching of medical and nursing students were important, as were the opportunities to take on challenges such as participating in a number of television programmes - for instance, one about the impact of ill health and disability on employment.
At that time there was an expectation that after 2 years post-qualifying work one would inevitably undertake student supervision. There was an assumption that, with a short period of work achieved, sufficient practice wisdom would make it possible to supervise a student and provide a good enough experience. Courses in practice learning were a thing of the future. I enjoyed supervising and had a student on placement from then on, culminating in being appointed as Fieldwork Teacher to the Edinburgh University Student Unit as it was known, with responsibility for groups of students. I continued to be a practitioner too and the model of practitioner/educator was a particularly positive one for me.
Throughout my career I have had involvement in one way or another with the Department at Edinburgh University. I was appointed as a lecturer there in 1973, worked for 3 years and after a prolonged break from the role, returned as a tutor and then as co-ordinator of practice learning also. In 1991 began the dual activity which I maintained alongside University work until retiring in 2011. This involved development of collaborative partnerships between universities, colleges and agencies in the statutory and voluntary sectors. Its first incarnation was known as Lothian and Borders Training Consortium, later South East Scotland Training Consortium, one of 4 in Scotland. In 2005 Scottish Government established 4 Learning Networks in Scotland with even more ambitious aims and I had the privilege of working with social services agencies and training organisations across South East Scotland to promote learning and to improve standards across the social services in all sectors. Consortium and Learning Network both benefited from the hosting arrangements provided by Edinburgh University to enable me to carry out part of the work from there as a base.
Since retiring my involvement in social work has been through 2 voluntary sector agencies in Edinburgh. Each has a close, long standing relationship with Social Work at Edinburgh University. As for the future, I hope to be able to continue in some way the relationship which I have valued across so many years and in so many roles. Congratulations on achieving this centenary and thank you to all concerned for giving me such a rich and varied experience across more than half that time!
Source: Own contribution.