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Timeline :: Birmingham begins social work education


In 1908, Birmingham was the first to register social students as internal students of the university and to accept full responsibility for their training (see Macadam 1945), soon to be followed by Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. University staff had been actively involved in social welfare and philanthropic work in the city of Birmingham since the university’s founding in 1900, demonstrated in research into the employment and housing conditions of poor people and a series of evening classes offered to welfare workers in 1905-6. John Muirhead, Professor of Moral Philosophy and William Ashley, Professor of Commerce, led the way. Muirhead writes:

“If social work is going to take its place, as surely it ought to, as one of the professions, it is necessary to organize a system of training for it” (in the Foreword to Macadam’s (1925) The Equipment of the Social Worker).

The Birmingham University settlement also played a key role. It had been established in 1899 in Aston, Birmingham, ‘as a neighbourhood response to the poverty and disadvantage of individuals and families struggling with the rapidly changing social and economic conditions of a  growing and industrialising city’ (Davis, 2008: 3).  The settlement provided a place where Social Studies students could gain practical experience.

During the First World War, the university offered students the chance to do the social studies course part-time over two years to meet wartime conditions. In 1916 and 1917, the university in conjunction with the university settlement ran an emergency short course in welfare work for women in munitions’ factories; candidates were selected by the Ministry of Munitions (later the Home Office).

In 1920, Birmingham launched a two year Diploma in Social Studies. Davis notes that although the majority of social workers, most of whom were women, remained unpaid at this time, increasing numbers were training and also being paid for their work (2008: 4). Of the 350 who enrolled in social work training in the first two decades, a survey of employment outcomes shows that posts included:

  • Public Departments, central and local: factory inspectors, inspectors of boarded-out children, sanitary inspectors and health visitors, women police, probation officers, relieving officers, investigators of Old Age Pension claims etc.
  • Voluntary bodies: welfare workers in factories, hospital almoners, organisers or secretaries of voluntary organisations, settlement workers etc.

Training for probation workers first offered here and in Liverpool and London, paid for by the Home Office; outlined in the report of the Departmental Committee on the Social Services in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction in 1936.

Davis argues that it was the experiences of the Second World War that really shifted the pattern and profile of social work. The war generated opportunities for social workers and they ‘emerged with a high positive profile in the eyes of the public and politicians (2008: 7). In 1940, the Ministry of Labour and later the Ministry of Supply and Ministry of Aircraft Production asked four universities to provide a succession of short emergency courses of academic instruction for what is now ‘personnel management (human resources) with an intermediary month spent in a factory (see Macadam 1945, p.29). Moreover, social workers were involved in organising the evacuation of city children to the country, working with homeless bombed families as well as dealing with the welfare needs of those involved in factory work. Social workers also contributed evidence as William Beveridge was writing his report on the welfare needs of citizens.

In 1945, a 3-year course in Social Studies was introduced building on the previous 2-year diploma. In 1947, a degree programme in social administration was established, and in 1948, a Child Care training course designed to train and education Child Care Officers for the newly-created local authority Children’s Departments. By the early 1970s, following wider changes in social work education, Birmingham moved to offer a one and two year post-graduate diploma with Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW), and established a four-year social work degree with CQSW.

Sources: Davis, Ann (2008) Celebrating 100 Years of Social Work, University of Birmingham; University of Chester, Riverside Museum.