Chief social worker at Birmingham City Council Dr Tony Stanley talks about why we need to invest in our social work leadership.
It is great news that Birmingham children’s services is to host an initiative aimed at improving social work leadership practice – if we want to keep improving social work, we must keep improving our leadership.
Over the recent years significant attention has been paid to newly qualified social workers, and rightly so; but we need to give the same investments to more experienced staff and senior leaders.
Along with the University of Birmingham and nine other West Midlands children’s services, we have secured a teaching partnership grant with a focus on the development, embedding and evaluation of practice across children’s and adults’ services.
Teaching partnerships offer a great opportunity for working together to invest in the highest standards of social work education and practice, and this programme, set up by the Department for Education last year, will build on the strong partnership we already have with universities and other partners.
The teaching partnership will test and refine new and innovative approaches to leadership across all levels of children’s and adults’ services; I want to see the West Midlands become a nationally recognised centre of excellence and innovation for practice leadership.
An achievable goal is to develop a practice leadership framework with an emphasis on professional practice, social work research and teaching. Building on the success of the regional Step-Up programme, we need to focus on practice leadership so we and our partner local authorities can attract and retain the very best social workers while offering a leadership career pathway. This will build an all-important learning culture from the student and newly qualified social worker to assistant directors.
We plan to have a continuous learning model where research, teaching and practice come to be co-located in the workplace and the university – our University at Work model. The partnership will arrange for social work students from the university to have two statutory placements and provide leadership mentoring for local authority staff who will co-deliver seminars and lectures with university colleagues. Lecturers will in turn shadow cases and work with our leadership teams.
So this is genuine partnership working and a really exciting opportunity for social work in our region. If we want to build a practice-led system we need investment at all practice levels; and to strengthen social work is to strengthen professional practice leadership.