Why is choosing the right school for your child important? The differences between school types in England

The English education system has a variety of school types available (from privately owned to publicly funded, academies and free schools, single-sex and mixed, grammar schools and comprehensives), and deciphering the differences between them can be confusing to many parents. Too much choice can be overwhelming, but the best way to deal with the confusion is to gather together some relevant and dependable information.

School choice – in England at least – is about asserting your right to indicate a preference for your child to attend a particular school.

But ‘indicating a preference’ is not the same as ‘getting a place’ in your first-choice school, so for the 93% of children who attend state-funded schools, the next step in the process is for their highest possible school preference to be respected and acted upon.

Let’s acknowledge that – wherever you are in the process of choosing a school – some of your choices have already been made. For reasons such as family and jobs, you live in a particular place and the unavoidable fact is that, for most people, where you live affects the choices of school available to you. If you live in a densely populated area, there will be a greater number of schools closer by than if you live in a less densely populated area.

Indeed, we would argue that it’s helpful to remember the Bananarama Principle, which suggests that, to paraphrase, it’s not what type of school you’re in, it’s what happens in your school… and that’s what gets results. We know of many schools in challenging contexts and with low Ofsted ratings that are doing incredible things to serve the needs of their pupils, things that a prospective parent would only know about it they seek out dependable information from a range of sources.

Types of schools in England

Schools in England can, broadly, be grouped into two categories: those that are state-funded and those that are privately funded (sometimes known as ‘independent’ or, confusingly, ‘public’ schools). State schools in England either are funded through the local authority, or get their funding directly from central government. Private schools, on the other hand, charge a fee for the education they provide, and this is often paid directly by parents, though in some cases bursaries and scholarships are available.

This table visualises the types of state-funded schools in England.

COMMUNITY SCHOOLSFOUNDATION SCHOOLS AND VOLUNTARY SCHOOLSACADEMIES AND FREE SCHOOLSGRAMMAR SCHOOLS
Traditionally known as ‘local authority maintained schools’. They follow the national curriculum and are independent of any business or faith group.Funded by the local authority but sometimes receive support from faith groups.Funded by not-for- profit academy trusts. They operate outside of the local authority’s control.These may be run by the local authority, a foundation, or an academy trust.
These schools do not have selection tests for entry.These schools do not have selection tests for entry.These schools do not have selection tests for entry.Grammar schools select their pupils using entrance tests of academic ability.

The first two columns in the table describe schools with which most people will be familiar to some extent – many parents in England will have attended a local authority school of one kind or another. Academies, however, are a relatively new and significant development in England’s education system, and so we turn our attention to them now.

Academies

Academies were originally introduced by the Labour government in 2002 as a ‘remedial intervention’ to improve the quality of education in so-called ‘failing schools’. After the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition government came into power in 2010, the number of academies began to rise dramatically. Studies into the effects of this new school type find that there has been little impact of academies per se on children’s outcomes, although some positive effects have been found (schools rated as outstanding by Ofsted before they converted to being an academy between 2010 and 2014 saw increases of around one GCSE grade in two subjects, on average).

Unlike community schools, academies do not have to follow the national curriculum (the collection of subjects that children in primary schools and secondary schools learn, and the standards they should meet in them), but they do have to offer something of equal or greater depth and ambition that responds to what children attending the school know and can do: they must respond constructively to fill the gaps in knowledge and skill the children they teach have.

According to the Department for Education in England, 32 per cent of primary schools and 75 per cent of secondary schools are (at the time of writing) either academies or free schools, with over four million children attending them (about 2.5 million of these children are in secondary schools, while more than 1.6 million are primary school children, and those not accounted for in these figures attend special and alternative provision academies). Academies have grown in number, and it seems likely that this trend will continue in years to come.

Grammar schools

At age 11, when children move from primary school to secondary school (after the end of Year 6), most go to a state-funded school which is non-selective. A small number go to one of the 163 academically selective grammar schools which use entrance testing to assess a child’s achievement and ability. Their presence in the English education system stems from national and local policy decisions which have created heated debates about privilege, segregation and fairness in society. But these debates generally don’t directly affect the majority of parents, due to the relatively small number of grammar schools in the country (which tend to be clustered in certain geographic regions – there is only one in Cumbria, for example, and 15 in Lincolnshire).

The knowledge, skill and dedication of leaders and teachers in grammar schools is not to be diminished but it is important to acknowledge the body of research indicating that this school type per se is not superior to any other, something that can also be said for single-gender schools.

Single-gender schools

If you are considering either an all-boys or all-girls school for your child, you may be surprised to find that – despite anecdotes and intuition – research suggests that sending your child to one appears to make very little – if any – difference to how well they’re likely to do academically. This is not to say that they won’t flourish in a single-gender school, but that, on average, this school type does not confer an academic advantage per se (yet again, the Bananarama Principle returns!).

When we spoke to Durham University’s Professor Stephen Gorard, he offered his thoughts on why, for example, single-gender girls’ schools seem to achieve better results than mixed-gender schools: ‘Single-sex girls’ schools have results in line with those of girls in mixed [co-educational] schools – they just have more girls so the average is higher as girls tend to have better outcomes.’ Looking at the research evidence, we have to conclude that attending a single-gender school appears to make very little – if any – difference to how well a child is likely to do academically.

Private schools

Defining private schools (sometimes known as ‘independent’ or – confusingly – ‘public’ schools) is not as simple as offering a neat, one-line description. As ever in the world of education, things are a little more complicated than that.

For example, the 1400 or so schools registered on the Independent Schools Council website (www.isc.co.uk/schools/) include day schools and boarding schools, co-educational schools and single-sex schools, faith schools and those with no religious affiliation. While private schools often have long histories and are well-known, the number of pupils attending them in England has gone down in recent years: there were 2300 fewer pupils attending in 2019 than in 2017 (Department for Education, 2019).

While entrance testing is common in many private schools, not all select children based on their ability (as demonstrated by performance on an entrance test, for instance), although paying school fees creates a form of selection for all but those who receive the (often generous) bursaries and scholarships available. As with grammar schools and single-gender schools, research evidence indicates that attending a private school does not necessarily confer an academic advantage on average (Ndaji et al, 2016).

Summary

So, to summarise, there is a variety of different school types available in England, although where you live will affect which are actually available to you. School type itself seems to affect the education that children receive less than the quality of the teaching and leadership, so it is advisable to focus your attention on what happens in and around a school, more than what type it is.

Some schools select students: by ability, by gender or financially. Many make the argument that characteristics of their school type – such as its basis for selection – lead to better academic outcomes for students, on average. But is this really the case? Mostly, the answer to this question is ‘no,’ although there do seem to be other ways in which certain types of school confer certain advantages. In most cases, school type makes much less of a difference than the quality of teaching and leadership.

This blogpost is created from excerpts from ‘What Every Parent Should Know About Education: How Knowing The Facts Can Help Your Child Succeed‘ written by Chris Atherton and Stuart Kime.

Available now in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF for just £14.99!

ISBN : 9781913063139
Edition No : 1
Extent : 144 pgs
Publication : May 5, 2021


How do social workers really make decisions?

By Abbi Jackson

Independent Social Work Consultant, Senior Planning Officer, Practice Educator, Lecturer

I have written this book to help guide students and newly qualified social workers in applying theory to practice.  I aim to help people learn from the experience of established workers, firstly to gain insight into practice in areas they have no professional experience yet, but primarily to help them consider how decisions are made reflexively in the moment. I hope this gives readers learning experiences that bridge the gap between university and practice without the pressure of being on placement.

I used first person narrative to create fictitious stories which firstly outline the central character and their challenges, and then demonstrate the thinking “in action” of a social worker trying to help them. There are side boxes highlighting which theory or intervention might apply as the story unfolds and some rationale as to why the social worker makes their decisions. The imagined social work practice does not profess to be the definitive answer but invites the reader to think of the ethical dilemmas and debate approaches and interventions. I intend the book to be a springboard for learning and offer some pointers to further reading around the themes.  Practice educators can use the material in any way that suits their student’s learning needs.

I have included some reflective questions at the end of each chapter to prompt critical thinking. Students and newly qualified workers can reflect on their own or with others and the questions will be of value to all social workers, in fact, regardless of their level of experience.  The wider themes raised in each story can be discussed and deliberated in supervision or team meetings.

Through the fictitious cases, I have demonstrated the value base of the social work narrator and where they consider and manage risk and relationships.  The reader is invited to consider how they themselves, would take accountability for these decisions in practice and share their rationale with multiple audiences: other professionals, the people they serve and their families.

The most challenging thing about writing this book was to get the characters to appear real. Their stories evolved mainly whilst I was walking the dogs! Lots of the inspiration came from my own mundane day to day experiences – like my uncle advising me to paint my wet room floor with waterproof paint before tiling it and our own washing machine breaking down and having to go to Grandma’s with washing loads. Some of the material parallels the writing of skill self-assessment tools for my own practice education purposes. I was very fond of the characters by the end and hope that people find them and their imaginary social workers realistic.

I hope the material will spark critical discussion and debate: for example – what would be the threshold in the reader’s agency, of removing Kim to alternative carers when her needs were not being met by her parents? Or what would the minimum expected standard of housing conditions for Elizabeth’s situation, and how can we work with the complexities of her constructs around her relationship with her son?

Overall, I hope this book supports the development of attuned, insightful social workers who can use their knowledge to defend decisions and challenge the right people at the right time, in respectful and sensitive ways.

Abbi Jackson is the author of Dilemmas and Decision Making in Social Work.

Available now in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF for just £12.99!

ISBN: 9781914171208

Edition No : 1

Extent : 112 pgs

Publication : Oct 12, 2021


How has COVID-19 impacted Higher Education? Questions over Online Learning

By Julian McDougall

Professor in Media and Education, Head of the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice at Bournemouth University and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

I had been teaching on online or blended programmes for eight years and, when COVID-19 hit, in our centre we found ourselves in demand, to support colleagues with the ‘pivot’ to online or virtual. But there was a tension between the requests for ‘how to’ and our lived experience of the ‘why’ and all of the complexities that make such a big difference. Things like the socio-material context for every different student and the way that learning gets designed with more knowledge exchange between students and teachers, often, by necessity in the online space. And then all the mindset stuff – like moving away from a deficit model of online as a supplement or virtual version of the campus, towards thinking of the virtual space as a ‘de-situated’ campus, or going further to think about ‘we, the campus’ – the people, not the buildings. But also the politics – who owns the platforms, what about surveillance, what happens to diversity and inclusion?

Critical questions, for critical practice.

So, writing for this book series was perfect. I chose to start with the configuration of time, space, machines and people, so that from the outset the book would be talking about these elements ‘in play’. Then I wrote about people in relational practices, again not thinking about online relations as being a version of something ‘real’, but maybe as ‘more than human’. And then onto assessment, socio-cultural politics and decolonising the online curriculum. I was mainly curating research and practice by other people, trying to bring together the most important learning from pre-COVID and situating the pandemic experience in that, as well as projecting forward to the ‘new normal’ and various futuring discourses. For that purpose, I finished with a recorded panel in which I asked a group of key thinkers in the online learning world to think about their work in the frames of reference from Newman’s ‘The Idea of a University’. Maybe, and probably despite our instincts, the virtual learning environment can get us closer to that ethical, values-driven vision of what higher education can be?

So, I hope it all joins up and the reader is challenged by this book to think more critically about online learning but also enabled in their practice, and the series format makes that prominent, raising questions for practice. I started the book with a quote:

When distance once again becomes a choice, not a necessity, we will collectively be in a better and more informed position to understand it as a positive principle in many contexts.” (Bayne et al, 2020, pxix).

At the time of writing this post, in October 2021, in the UK, when we are not isolating for short periods, we are largely back to making decisions about where to be and how to teach, face to face, blended, asynchronous. Hopefully that will remain so. But I hope also that this book will contribute to this sense of greater confidence, this more secure, more informed relationship with online learning as a way of being in HE, a pedagogic design choice, rather than a force majeure.

Julian McDougall is the author of Critical Approaches to Online Learning.

Available now in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF for just £12.99!

ISBN: 9781914171017

Edition No : 1

Extent : 100 pgs

Publication : Oct 3, 2021


The long awaited second edition Psychopharmacology: A mental health professional’s guide to commonly used medications by Herbert Mwebe

Herbert Mwebe

This jargon-free book is suitable for all trainee and registered health professionals who require knowledge and understanding of drugs used in the treatment of mental health conditions for prescribing or administering purposes.

Whilst there are various alternative interventions to managing moderate to severe mental health presentations, psychotropic medications remain the mainstay interventions used in various clinical settings. These medicines have been around for over 5 decades with evidence showing that they help to lessen and improve the severity of psychiatric symptoms in people suffering with a mental illness. The arbiter of whether these medications are useful or not is the person taking the medication. Just like most drugs, psychiatric drugs produce benefits and risks for patients; it is the duty of the health professional to have a good understanding of the benefits and harm we expose patients to when psychiatric medication is considered as an intervention.

Throughout the 1960s to the early 1990s, extrapyramidal side effects associated with the use of first generational (typical antipsychotic drugs) were the main concern for people taking these drugs. However, over the last decade, there has been increasing concern around, and incidence of metabolic effects related to the second general antipsychotic drugs (atypical drugs); these include weight gain, diabetes, dyslipidaemia and glucose intolerance. Very often, mental health professionals complain about non-adherence with treatment and silently blame patients for refusing to consume drugs that while useful in alleviating psychiatric symptomatology, are equally harmful and toxic to their health and wellbeing.

Empathy is a common term we like to use as health professionals to try and live in any of our patients’ sensory modalities through their journey. Nevertheless, I wonder how many of us in our daily clinical practice try to appreciate the challenges and difficulties of firstly living with a complex illness like schizophrenia and secondly, how medications (e.g haloperidol or clozapine) might either worsen or improve the person’s physical, mental and psychological wellbeing. Do we stop to appreciate whether in prescribing medication that may induce sexual side effects, that patients will continue taking these medications? The reality of weight gain and obesity in the psychiatric population is not far removed from the characteristically more “refined” newer drugs or atypical antipsychotics. We know that poor physical health is linked to developing mental illness, likewise, mental illness can cause or reflect poor physical health in patients.

Mental health professionals have a central role and duty to play in alerting patients of how the medications they take work, their limitations and side effects and potential benefits as well as alternatives. At the very least, in doing so, this may enable patients/ mental health service users, especially those taking psychotropic medications, to manage their own condition. To achieve this, the Nursing Midwifery Council (NMC), Royal Pharmaceutic Society (RPS) and General Medical Council (GMC) expect all their members and registrants to possess up-to-date skills and knowledge around safe use and administration of medications in clinical settings, the recognition that medication interventions are a part of a wide-ranging interventions, and that medication is just a tool to aide recovery and should not define how health professionals’ work.

With all of the above in mind, the content of this book, including updated and newly added information of clinical management in substance use disorders and clinical decision making, is relevant to students on health courses, qualified health professionals and users of mental health services, helping them to develop a sound appreciation and understanding of the main first line interventions used in clinical psychiatry.

Herbert Mwebe is the author of Psychopharmacology: A mental health professional’s guide to commonly used medications

ISBN: 9781914171444 235pp £24.99

Psychopharmacology-2-example-cover

Available now in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF for just £24.99!

For more on Psychopharmacology: A mental health professional’s guide to commonly used medications click here 


EDUCATION: THE ROCK AND ROLL YEARS by Les Walton

Les Walton, CBE

This book is for anyone who cares about children, why they learn, how they learn and what they learn.

So, why Education: the Rock and Roll Years?

I was born at the birth of the modern education system and grew up in a period when rock and roll stormed on to the scene. I am like many of the people of my generation who have a certain iconoclastic and challenging approach to the received ‘wisdom’ of those in power. 

I firmly believe our education system is in need of radical reform and re-engineering. This book contributes to that process by looking right back to the formation of our present education system and seeing what we can learn.

My school career began during a period when infant school children were belted with a leather tawse, some children were described as ‘backward’ and childhood transition, including bereavement, and sexual development were ignored. The children were also divided up into secondary modern, grammar and technical schools on the basis of a test, based on falsehoods and lies of a corrupt professor.

Les Walton, ‘good whacking’, Education: The Rock and Roll Years

I join a teaching profession where men and women met in different staff rooms, grammar schools were being closed and comprehensive schools introduced. The school leaving age is then raised, the Warnock Report considers the special needs of children and corporal punishment is eventually banned.

Les Walton, ‘special needs’, Education: The Rock and Roll Years

Many of the recent events I have been directly involved in have been pivotal points in the development of our present education system. The introduction of Ofsted, specialist and ‘fresh start’ schools, outsourcing Bradford education services, academisation and multi academy trusts.

Over the years I have, in my own way, been a bit ‘rock and roll’, attempting to challenge ‘the system’ and the status quo, including the establishment of the National Association of Pastoral Care, involving headteachers in Local Authority system improvement and following captains of industry as the first educationalist to chair a national education funding agency. I also instigated Schools North East, the Northern Education Trust and the Association of Education Advisers. All of these organisations have been based on a fundamental philosophy which is that children are the centre of everything we do and those who lead and teach want to improve by collaboration rather than competition.

Each of us should dig deep into our own backgrounds and ask straightforward questions. 

  • What is our view of how children should learn?
  • Where do our beliefs and values come from?
  • To what extent are our values and beliefs learned from our experiences of childhood and our own education?
  • Why do we think a particular approach to leadership is the right one?
  • What has led to our present views on how children should be educated?

I have written the book unashamedly from my own northern Geordie point of view. I have tried to be humorous even though my fellow professionals think education is no laughing matter. After you have read Education: the Rock and Roll Years, you may agree.

Les Walton is author of Education: The Rock and Roll Years – A northern perspective on a lifetime of learning, teaching and leading

For more on Education: The Rock and Roll Years click here

Available now in Paperback, EPUB, and PDF for just £18.99!

ISBN : 9781914171321

September 2021

280pp


School-based practice in teacher education

Who should be involved in deciding what school-based practice in teacher education should look like? Often it is the provider of initial teacher education – a team of teacher educators working at a central base, university or school. Including in this dialogue the school-based teacher educators who are supervising all students in their school and who work with their mentors is vital for a strong collaborative partnership to develop.  Are there any resources designed to enhance the critical conversations that need to take place around school-based practice? The Teacher Educator’s Handbook – A narrative approach to professional learning contains a wealth of such resources for teacher educators. These resources are based on narratives written by teacher educators about the challenges they have experienced ‘on the ground’, collected in England and the Netherlands as part of an international research project by Miranda Timmermans and Elizabeth White. The stories capture the complexities of practice in partnerships with many stakeholders, some of whom cross boundaries between institutions where there are different priorities and a different ethos.

The detailed stories are explored in variety of ways using critical questions that you can use on your own or in professional learning conversations with other teacher educators. These resources have been used effectively with groups of teacher educators at local, national and international professional development workshops. No right or wrong solutions are provided, and interpretation may be ambiguous. This enables freedom for teacher educators to suggest  some possible solutions and explore them together. A further advantage of using stories in workshops is the opportunities they provide to challenge practices, understand power relationships and consider what learning can be transferred between contexts. A story may bring participants in a workshop closer because they provide a way in to share  their perspectives and to listen to the perspectives of others.

The themes covered in the stories include guiding and assessing students; working collaboratively; professionalism and well-being; and quality of provision. Each theme is complemented by a range of coaching questions to advance your practice. Further chapters provide ideas from practice about how to write your own stories about practice and how to use stories of practice collaboratively and creatively. Using a narrative approach may enhance the quality of initial teacher education by recognising and valuing the unique contributions made by teacher educators in the partnership and by supporting effective cooperation within partnerships.  In a time of significant disruption to initial teacher education  and major shifts in policy around the curriculum and induction of new teachers, this narrative approach can provoke a dynamic dialogue to improve and enrich practice.

The Teacher Educator’s Handbook: A narrative approach to professional learning
By Elizabeth White and Miranda Timmermans

Available now in Paperback, EPUB, PDF, and on Kindle for just £20!

ISBN: 9781913453657

May 2021

96pp


Love in the Present Tense by Nina Praske

This book offers practical advice for medics working with young adults being treated for cancer-from a mum’s perspective.

Names have been changed and places are not identifiable.

There is no such thing as objective truth when it comes to matters of a (broken) heart. Probably, every member of my family, including my son James, and every professional involved, would see things differently and from their own angle. All I am trying to do here is to reflect back to people who may work with families of young adults treated unsuccessfully for cancer, what the experience was like for me, as a mum. In doing so, I hope to do something useful, which might help people who will encounter families such as mine and want to do the best they can to help in this most delicate situation where heartbreak and patient confidentiality collide. I know that the team of people supporting my son were highly professional. He could not have had better care and I am deeply grateful for everything that was done for him.

Everyone did everything in their power to save my son who died two days before his twenty sixth birthday. He was a slim athletic, vegetarian and appeared well until he experienced severe stomach pains and was immediately referred to hospital by his GP. The only clue was that, a week before, James told me that his identical twin was a stone heavier than him. I didn’t think too much about this as I thought his twin had gained muscle weight and James had lost a bit through not eating enough while he was studying hard.

James’s cancer was advanced when found and complicated by TB. He had the best treatment which included avoiding unnecessary surgery. We have nothing but admiration for the NHS and every single person with whom James had contact.

What follows  are some practical recommendations based on my experience as James’s mum.  He died eight years ago and I still have intermittent  bereavement counselling, which is something I highly recommend. We are coping as a family. Personally I  felt very emotionally flat and traumatised by what happened and this feeling lasted for many years.  I think this is inevitable. These days I experience joy, albeit in muted colours.

There are a few things that might have made what happened a little bit easier which I have written here in the hope that my suggestions might be helpful. These points are fleshed out in the book . My dearest wish is that it should be on reading lists for medics, allied professionals and others who might be in a position to help people in this sort of awful situation.

Every single person we met in the hospice and the hospital was kind to all of us. Everywhere was clean and pleasant. There was art on the walls. The environment and the staff inspired confidence. James was treated with dignity.

I know the NHS is overstretched so it would be really helpful for a range of leaflets to be available to families or those closest to young adults being treated with cancer. Their purpose would be to signpost available support. NHS staff of course have to focus on the patient and respect confidentiality, but those closest to the patient need information. Many people go back to the family home which may not be where they are being treated, so need to know how to access services in other districts. There was a Macmillan Centre for example in our local hospital but I only found out when I saw a poster in A&E, otherwise I would have contacted them sooner.

There were no delays in James’s diagnosis from his first symptoms. Having been sent to A&E by his GP, my  24 year old son was on his own when he was told he had stage 4 cancer. He had no credit on his phone. He was told to go home and come back the next day. He waited in the waiting room all night alone. James was very polite so didn’t make a fuss about being by himself although he badly needed his family.  Someone should have been responsible for making sure he  was not alone at this stage, should have asked who they could call and should have made that call.

James felt supported by the specialist nurse assigned to him throughout. She was very important contact for him. It is vital to maintain and develop the specialist nurse service. He was probably one of hundreds of people on her case load but he always felt like an individual. She focussed on him, quite rightly, but, as a family, we may well have found it helpful to have a few leaflets she could have given to us to signpost us to sources of support which we could have followed up. We are realistic about the demands on her time and the production of factual information leaflets might be something that could be done by a volunteer or maybe even as a student project.

I think it’s important for the patient to be asked to identify close supportive people, who may or may not be their birth family. While I appreciate confidentiality, I do feel that it would be helpful for medics to know with whom to interact, and how the patient wants this to happen.  James was persuaded by me to go to appointments with his dad. His dad kept me informed but, because denial is so powerful, I didn’t believe him. I needed someone medical to spend a few minutes with me, as did James’s siblings. It still feels wrong to me that only James’s dad would recognise any of his medical team in the street, and that he always had to convey the bad news without any backup.

It is necessary to empathise with the patient and the family. From my perspective I wanted people to be thinking ‘if this was a child of mine’. James was not a child of course but understand that while children become adults, parents are still parents. I spend a year of my life in abject terror and felt totally invisible.

I spoke to the specialist nurse once (for about  five minutes) when James was diagnosed. She told me the cancer would shorten his life, could not be eradicated from his liver and that there was a new drug called Cetuximab, which he probably couldn’t have, but they were trying. She also said ‘call me any time’. I called her once, when James  was found to have TB, and she phoned him back rather than me, which made him cross. There was no further contact. I was totally isolated in my terror. It was not her fault that I had no one to turn to and neither did James’s brother and sister.  For the whole time James was ill, with the exception of his time in the hospice, I felt  like a ‘non person’. I knew I just had to deal with my feelings myself in order to be able to function to support my family. It was dehumanising.  I still sometimes feel like I don’t really exist. Again, I know the NHS can’t look after the family but I suspect other statutory and voluntary services could and  therefore some signposting  to sources of support might help.

James had intestinal and liver cancer. When he was in hospital and all his university friends were around him he was embarrassed by terms like ‘colo-rectal’,  on the nurses badge, and on the name of the ward.  Please think about the way things are described through an empathic focus on patient dignity (and confidentiality-James  did not want anyone to associate his illness with ‘an embarrassing bum cancer’). How about the term ‘lower GI’? Never lose sight of the fact that the patient may be embarrassed even though the clinician is not. While the professional has been through similar scenarios hundreds of times, for the patient, the situation is new and frightening and they will feel powerless.

My son was an athletic vegetarian with a healthy lifestyle. He was bombarded in the hospital and the media by messages about his cancer being associated with poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. This really irritated him. He was rather amused that the’ beat bowel cancer’ poster outside the hospital canteen featured lots of leafy vegetables and the canteen itself featured mainly chips and white bread. The food on the ward was, however, very healthy, with a good choice for vegetarians.

It would be helpful to develop some information leaflets aimed at young people and don’t adopt a heteronormative perspective. My son was gay. Men also have concerns about hair loss, acne and other side effects which could also be acknowledged.

Understand that denial is a very powerful emotion and terrified families are often very psychologically defended and can’t take on board what is happening, especially without any help. When James had Cetuximab his primary tumour disappeared and terms like ‘curative’ crept in. I clung to this and redefined the word ‘palliative’ with no one at all to contradict me. Denial can be fed by comments like ‘spectacular response to chemotherapy’. I also clung to the idea that the Professor of Oncology from the university where my son was a student was in charge of his treatment therefore could not possibly let his ‘poster boy’ die. I know it’s ridiculous but it’s over ambitious to assume that a mum can grasp that their child has been handed a death sentence. I hardly grasp it even now.

Provide an opportunity for those closest to the patient to interact, however briefly, with the medical team in order to help them to understand the situation. Siblings will have questions as well as parents. James  has an identical twin who wanted to talk about what he could do . He described himself as being ‘full of spare parts’,. Ongoing support for family members obviously can’t be provided by the NHS but intelligent signposting to voluntary and charity sector might help both in the short term and later when all sorts of things are still unresolved.

When we were staying in the hospital we could have done with a leaflet which  signposted us to the relatives room, the shower etc.  We didn’t find  out for over a week that there was somewhere where we could get a piece of toast. Often we were cold and hungry. Thoughtful people who organised things like parking permits for us were greatly appreciated.

It is more important that James’s dignity was never compromised even when he needed to be washed by the nurses. People spoke to him with kindness, sensitivity and interest in him as a person, not just a patient. A bit of discomfort for family members is neither here nor there in comparison but some simple changes would have made things easier.

I don’t know whether there is any room for manoeuvre in relation to meeting with the family briefly  during treatment or after a patient has died but I do think it’s worth considering. Again, even some sort of literature aimed at the family would be better than nothing at all. (I suspect there is such a thing but I failed to find it). I’m sure I’m not the only one who travelled the denial road without anyone to contradict me. After the patient has died, written information about support networks and how to access them is essential.

We all had genetic tests and this was particularly important for James’s identical twin. We heard nothing until James had been dead for over a year. It is deeply unethical to leave a family in a state of perpetual terror for so long. Geneticists need some training to enable them to empathise with people in this situation.  When we eventually met with the geneticist he was very thorough but did spend twenty minutes talking to  James’s twin about some very horrible diseases before telling us that it was unlikely that he would develop them. Ethical protocols around communication with families need to be developed to ensure that this never happens again.

Developing  existing systems of communication between hospital departments and services outside, such as the GP would be helpful. It would have been useful for hospital staff to know about the limitations of the district nurse service, for example, as sometimes we would have had unnecessary trips back to  hospital, 70 miles away, if our GP had not helped out with things which were outside the boundaries of district nursing (such as changing a pic line).

While treatment is ongoing, written information about support networks and how to access them is essential.  There must be organisations to help families who are going through what we went through when James  was ill. I think groups specifically for young people are important too. Although I found ‘Shine’ for James, I didn’t find anything for his siblings or friends. I think a group for students with cancer is necessary and that is something I’m trying to set up. If treatment and home are in two different areas it would be a good idea to develop a local contact, eg via the GP.

A leaflet including websites for Macmillan and similar would help, or even better, informing the patient specifically about Macmillan, and other services close by, would be a useful minimum. This is especially important if services are outside the hospital and in another area. An initial contact by phone would be even better.

It would be useful to teach hospital doctors about the impossibility of obtaining hospital prescriptions in community pharmacies if they are not aware of this problem. Better still, sent the patient home with the drugs they need not a prescription which cannot be filled without a trip to A and E.

Counselling is necessary for the patient and the family. I set up opportunities for James to go to a Maggie Centre in home city but he was too ill to travel. It didn’t cross my mind that someone could have come to him and nobody told me. I don’t think James knew either.

When James was having his operation he came to the hospital with both parents. Only one of us was allowed in  the waiting area and James went in with his dad, which I encouraged as I knew he trusted his dad to be calmer than I could. James was worried in case this upset me and I did not want this for him. I was cut adrift with no support to face the most terrifying few hours of my life alone, wandering around the hospital, contemplating jumping off the roof but knowing that my family need me so this was not an option. Either make absolutely sure in advance that the patient is aware that they can be accompanied by one person on the day of their operation or be flexible if two people come with them. I could have gone to The Maggie Centre in the hospital but I was afraid of what the people there might say to me and not prepared to hear anything that might dent my denial of the gravity of the situation.

Maintain the practice of avoiding pointless surgery but understand that people will construct a story about what is happening based on what they are told by medical people. If the information is not forthcoming or inaccurate this is incredibly damaging. Perhaps doctors need more training in giving bad news, and more support in dealing with it psychologically themselves.

Saying to a patient ‘you know what’s in the discharge note don’t you?’ is not the same as going through it with them. The doctor who came to see James after his operation  said to him ‘we have found a few spots on your diaphragm which we need to check out. They might be related to your TB’. The discharge note included more worrying details. Sending a patient home with a discharge note which contains devastating news is potentially catastrophic, especially as this could then be read in a context in which no support was available. The note should have been explained fully at the time and the doctor should have been equipped with the skills to do so. James never saw that letter because we didn’t show it to him.

When James came back to the ward after not having his operation no one told us for six hours what had happened. We assumed he was just responding very well and it had gone brilliantly. We called family and friends and told them all it was done and he looked really great. As a result his sister went ahead and got on a plane. Later we had to call everyone again and tell them about the few spots of TB. The reality was much worse and no one checked our understanding of the situation.

We took James on holiday and I phoned the Maggie Centre at the hospital, even though I was frightened of what they might say. Someone there told me ‘the cancer may have seeded’. As this person had never had anything to do with James’s treatment I was just very angry and felt she was making assumptions. This anger came from my state of terror. I was on my own miles away from anywhere when this phone call happened.

James felt rather abandoned after he didn’t have his operation as several people who were not his usual medical team got involved. I’m sure this goes with the territory in an overstretched NHS.  My denial had not abated and I still said ridiculous things like ‘palliative just means it’s a setback. You will need more chemo before they will operate’.

James was in hospital for a couple of weeks before he went to the hospice. He was looked after well and his pain was managed. People spoke to him about things other than cancer and that helped him to feel like he still mattered as a person. His pain was controlled and he never had to wait for the attention of the nurses. Everything was calm, clean and not rushed. I kept hearing ‘our aim is to get you back onto chemotherapy’ which I heard as ‘you can still get better’. Again James’s dad had to tell me when eventually the consultant came round and said that there was nothing else that could be done.  I wish we had been told together. I was only half an hour away.We went to the hospice the next day. It is important to help young doctors to give the DNR message. The term ‘you would be a vegetable’ is never ever ok to use with anyone under any circumstances.

The hospice was amazing. For the first time I felt like people were relating to me as James’s mum and that I might even be a real person in a real catastrophic situation, rather than hovering around the edge of something big and scary that nobody seemed to think had anything to do with me.

We all stayed in the hospice from Saturday to Wednesday in a purpose built family room. We were supported and nurtured as a family. Even after  James had died no one rushed us. It was as good as it could have been. There was even a drinks trolley for patients and the opportunity to bring pets in and to engage in various creative activities. People had time for all of us. James’s room looked onto a lovely garden. More important than anything else, his pain was managed.

James’s twin had worked in elder care and he told us what the approach of death would look like. For this reason I was able to wake all my family up in time and we were all with James when he died. It would have been good if someone could have talked to us about the signs that death is near. I would not have forgiven myself if I hadn’t woken everyone up.

We wrote to everyone after James died to thank them for his excellent care. We said that we knew if he could have been saved they would have saved him. No one wrote back and that was very hard. We were not naive enough to expect an ongoing relationship with the medical team or a presence at the funeral but a few words would have been nice.

I’m a bad sleeper and eventually went to the GP. (We had a new GP as we had moved). I told her my son had died and she wrote me up for a very heavy duty anti-depressant. She sent me out of the room with a questionnaire designed to test how suicidal I might be. There was no room on the form to say why I might feel sad. I didn’t take the pills, and I wrote a critique of the form on the back. She said she would be calling me in two weeks. It didn’t happen. I know my GP is also overworked. She would have benefitted from having a few leaflets to give me, eg for Compassionate Friends or bereavement counselling at the hospice.

After James died the hospice did write to us about bereavement counselling at the hospital. Its seventy miles from home but the letter prompted me to contact our local hospice. I rely heavily on bereavement counselling still and it is the only thing that helps me.

When people talk about complicated grief in relation to the death of a young person before their parents I find it surprising. I am very sad and I experience symptoms of PTSD in the form of flashbacks and sleeplessness. I don’t think there is anything complicated about it. I lost my son. My heart is broken. I am functioning.

James did have the best care possible and his death was not preventable. The NHS is overstretched so there isn’t really any scope to look after the family. Organisations like Compassionate Friends and The Hospice Movement can provide ongoing support. Telling people that these things are available is very important.

I am interested in the claim, attributed to Socrates, that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’. James was certainly leading an examined life. As a family we all do. I’ve thought long and hard about  how to live my life with a heart that is broken and will not mend. I am still a mum, and my other two admirable adult children cannot have tragic lives. I love all my children in the present tense and I love their dad, who has a broken heart too and needs to be treated with kindness. I don’t want to oppress people with my grief, but self care is a political act and I try to keep mentally well.  I am careful not to be over anxious about my other children. We have all been checked out and do not have cancer (although I did have one of those curable cancers which is now fixed). I  believe  that my adult children have a right to an inner life. I don’t go through James’s  possessions. He was a great writer but  personal things that he didn’t write for me I don’t feel I should read. Friends and family support us but some people keep their distance and we have to accept that. James’s death was and is terrible for many people.

 I am an academic and I can help by talking on excellent courses about end of life and developing and participating in insider perspective research. I have always been a great collaborator. Mainly at the moment I am an actor. Everything I do is performative and I find that I can function, even though I feel fairly emotionally flat much of the time. I’m very reflective and I prefer to live inside my head than to fully engage with the social world. The pandemic was pretty easy on me actually. My sense of self is very shaken and I do not know how other people perceive me, although I can’t say that I’m particularly concerned. I’ve got a strong moral compass and I don’t crave external validation. I believe that it is important to live life with dignity and compassion. My main focus is on being supportive to my family, but I also want to tread lightly on the earth and be a decent person. James wanted people to give blood in his memory and to stop eating meat and turning the corners down on books. You didn’t know him but he was kind, funny and very decent.  He is loved and he is missed. Love in the present tense, always.

I’m sorry if this story is difficult for you to hear and I appreciate your  courage and urge you to go into the workplace and flex your empathy muscles. Your work is very important and makes a real difference.

Wordsworth deserves the last word.

‘’I loved the Boy with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and he is taken from me – yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it’’.

Wordsworth.

From a mum.

Nina Praske is author of Love in the Present Tense: A bereaved mum’s story

Available in Paperback, EPUB, PDF, and Kindle for £14.99

ISBN : 9781913453534

320pp

November 2020


He Died Waiting: Learning the Lessons – a Bereaved Mother’s View of Mental Health Services

by Caroline Aldridge

Caroline Aldridge, a social work lecturer, bereaved mother, and independent author, has written and self-published a book, He Died Waiting, with a purpose. She invites readers into her world in the hope of changing peoples’ hearts and minds and provoking positive change. Her personal and professional perspectives are cleaved together in a rich account of lived experience.

Through Caroline, we get to know her eldest son, Tim, who had bipolar disorder. The mental health services Tim encountered were chaotic, inaccessible, and unsafe. Tim never seemed to be the right kind of ill to get the help he needed. Like many other people with mental illness, he joined an endless waiting list. He died waiting for an appointment.

Caroline was thrust into the incomprehensible and brutal procedures that follow an ‘unexpected death’. The collision of her professional and personal life led to consequences beyond anything she could have imagined. She encountered a cruel, system-wide, culture of denial and defensiveness.

Nevertheless, this is a positive narrative about the power of integrity, relationships, compassion, and love. Tim’s story illustrates the impact of the current crisis in mental health services and the empty rhetoric of commitments to ‘learn lessons’ when things go wrong. Caroline’s book is a plea, for policymakers, organisations, professionals, and the public, to exercise decency, challenge unsafe or unkind practice, support people in distress, and push for improved services.

The foreword, by Sara Ryan (author of Justice for Laughing Boy: Connor Sparrowhawk – A Death by Indifference),  says, He Died Waiting is a “searing account of love, family, mental health and the grotesque response from those responsible … it literally took my breath away.”

This book is perfect for students and practitioners across health and social care who want to immerse themselves in the ‘service-user’ and carer experience. Caroline is developing resources for practice educators, to support them to use He Died Waiting as a learning resource. The book and these resources are available on Caroline’s website: www.learningsocialworker.com Caroline tweets as @CarolineAldrid5 and @waiting_he

Reviews:

“The book draws a picture of Tim and I felt like I could stand in his shoes and view his encounters with professionals from his perspective. As a student, this book reminds me to be curious, kind, compassionate and non-judgemental” (social work student).

“I urge all in social work, nursing and all human services professions to read the deeply moving He Died Waiting by the courageous Caroline Aldridge” (social work team manager).

“When you have a story as vivid to support your learning you remember exactly why it is that you are doing what you do” (mental health practitioner).

“I couldn’t put it down. So much resonated with me as mother” (bereaved parent).

“This book is beautifully written. I veered from admiration to despair, from tears to hope. It will not only move you but will leave you asking what you can do to effect change” (mental health service-user).

Reference:

Aldridge, C. (2020). He died waiting: Learning the lessons – a bereaved mother’s view of mental health services. Norwich. Learning Social Worker Publications. ISBN: 978-1-8382420-0-8


Personal Safety for Social Care and Health Staff

The recent tragic events involving Sarah Everard brought into sharp focus the potential risks affecting women in particular. It also reminded me of the risks facing social workers in the course of their daily task visiting children and families in the community. Hopefully the easing of lockdown restrictions will enable social workers to engage in more face to face work. This is vital and welcome but workers and employers need to be aware that it has the potential to bring additional risk.

The safety of social workers, health workers and other social care staff has been a concern of mine for many years. As a practitioner in children’s social care I received threats, intimidation and actual violence myself.  Like many others, I used to think it was part of the job , but came to realise with more experience that it was not acceptable .

Feeling safe at work is essential for social care and health workers to enable them to do their job properly. The task of relationship building, assessment and decision making depends on the worker being able to work calmly without undue stress. This is important for individuals and families as well as workers to get the best understanding of their needs. A worker who is feeling insecure or frightened is not able to function effectively, and poor decisions may be made as evidenced in a number of Serious Case Reviews.

There have been many initiatives to address this issue from the government task force in the 1999, and campaigns led by Community Care magazine. There has been some recognition of the importance of the issue and a safe working environment is required by the current Standards for Employers of Social Workers 2020. I am aware however that attention to staff safety at work is very variable and many practitioners feel themselves to be personally at risk in the course of their jobs.

My book was developed from these concerns and is still relevant to the task today, including general risk awareness for lone practitioners and also those in specific social work based situations. I believe that the issues covered would benefit from being discussed in team and management meetings as part of planning for the return to normal practise from the coronavirus pandemic.

Brian Atkins is the author of Personal Safety for Social Workers and Health Professionals, Critical Publishing

Anti-racism in Social Work 2021: Patiently Waiting

By Wayne Reid

BASW England, Professional Officer, Social Worker & Anti-racism Visionary

This article represents my personal perspectives and not the views or sentiments of my employer or any other organisation.

‘Outlaw wisdom’

Question – What does ‘Megxit’’, the KCMG medal and the Social Work professional standards all have in common?

Answer – They are all influenced by White supremacy ideology. 

The treatment of Meghan Markle and her son Archie (as disclosed in her recent interview) triggered reminders for me of the sickeningly racist KCMG medal and highlights some parallels with Social Work.  Of course, Britain’s long history of colonisation and slavery, very much casts a revealing spotlight on many of our ‘modern institutions’.  An immediate and far-reaching example would be our colonised education curriculums.  I realise ‘moral’ positions are subjective.  However, it is undeniable that the subjective moral opinions (and decisions) of the powerful ‘elite’ in our democracy dictates all of our lives.  “Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated.” (Martin Luther King).

I’d like to impart some ‘outlaw wisdom’ (as described by the White actor Matthew McConaughey), specifically on how ‘Megxit’ and the racist KCMG medal interrelates with the existing regulatory standards, poor working conditions and the disproportionately negative implications for Social Workers of colour.  Meghan feels she was not afforded any protections or support from the Royal Family.  Similarly, many Social Workers of colour have also expressed their dismay at the lack of protections or support during the disproportionately high number of investigations into their practice.  The absence of protections and support for Social Workers of Colour further exposes them to the ‘weathering’ of pervasive racism on a daily basis.  Obviously, these are just a few examples of how White supremacy works against us (people of colour).

For me, there are several correlations between the KCMG medal and the regulatory standards for Social Workers.  Both are symbolic of the implicit values and ethics of the institutions they represent.  Both symbolise ‘normal’ and ‘respectable’ White history.  Both involve exerting authority (overt & covert – acknowledged and subliminal) over others (particularly people of colour).  Both imply honourability in compliance.  Both require understanding of the ethos of each institution.  Both, possibly unconsciously, perpetuate ‘the lie’ (Professor Glaude) and the ‘values gap’ encoded as ‘accepted wisdom’ that “White is best.”  Although Professor Glaude’s work refers to ‘the lie’ upon which America has predicated its beliefs, the relevance to the UK is unquestionable.  Symbolism can generate misplaced feelings of ‘pride’ and ‘patriotism’ in those who are compliant and ‘apprehension’ and ‘isolation’ in those questioning the implicit beliefs.  Citizens of “Great Britain”, with its historical adherence to White supremacist ideology, can be all too easily seduced into accepting the ‘inherent rightness’ of a position – even if that position is in desperate need of modernised review.  Whether this relates to Social Work and how we respond professionally (to the least fortunate in our society), or on whom we confer honours via symbolic medals, it should all be reviewed with a sense of equal respect for ALL people.  Therefore, I feel this also has relevance to the regulatory standards and other aspects of Social Work.

Maybe the morality of my perspective runs counter to the ‘norm’.  However, I feel I have evidence and intelligence to support my claims.  I have previously written: “Disappointingly, [neither the] education and training standards for 2019 or 2020, nor the professional standards for Social Workers, explicitly refer to anti-discriminatory (ADP), anti-oppressive (AOP) or anti-racist practice (ARP)  I refer to these facts to underline the importance of these fundamental principles…  Without explicit inclusion, how else can Social Work educators and workers be properly educated and held to account on [ADP, AOP and ARP]…? The current Social Work standards are regressive and do nothing to advance the principles set out by their predecessors – despite the desperate and obvious necessity…  I feel their omission in Social Work regulation is a travesty of social justice in itself.”  My publicly documented concerns have not yet generated a response from Social Work England (SWE) or MP’s with the power to review and introduce new legislation or guidance.

The regulatory standards (nor their associated guidance) make no reference to the Black and Ethnic Minority workforce (or service-users of colour).  I’ve commentated widely about how many Social Workers of colour feel unsupported during fitness to practice investigations.  Indeed, their statistical over-representations could lead practitioners to feel the current standards overtly  dominate and punish Social Workers of colour (very much like the brother in the KCMG image).  I believe, at best, the standards are non-racist, but they are most definitely NOT anti-racist.  Due to the omissions of ADP, AOP and ARP, I conclude that central aspects of the education, training and the professional standards in Social Work are inadequate and may currently be unfit for purpose.  Perversely, the standards can be perceived as tools being used to discriminate and oppress Social Workers of colour (and consequently service-users of colour).  However, I can only infer that the value of my opinions on this matter have about as much merit as the life of the unfortunate brother on the KCMG medal

My mentality is to carry on regardless.  My narrative reflects my lived experiences and those of people like me who are routinely judged, based on their skin colour.  I write this article from both personal and professional perspectives.  I use the terms ‘people of colour’ and ‘Black and Ethnic Minority people’ interchangeably for ease.  In my observations, I reiterate, I do not speak on behalf of all Black and Ethnic Minority people or Social Workers – as we are not a homogenous group.  I also do not want to be heard as the tokenistic ‘Black voice’ of my employer (BASW).  My writing here may not represent the views of the Association.  I’m one of many Black voices in the profession.  I realise that I’ve been ‘let in’ (to some extent) to express my views because (to quote the Black historian David Olusoga), I “won’t scare the horses.” 

For the record, I’m not aspiring to be a ‘nice guy’ when it comes to combating inherently racist regimes and systems. ‘Niceness’ is often weaponised against people of colour.  My motivation is for the cause, not applause – and the cause is Black Lives Matter.  This is a hearts and minds campaign.  I’ve previously commentated on how the legacies of slavery are not just outdated ideas; but are actually woven into the very fabric of modern society.  The prelude to my current thinking is outlined in my previous articles here: 1, 2, 3 & 4.  My narrative is a combination of fact, evidenced-based opinions, and solution-focused methods.  Consider this a comprehensive (and forensic) report from the forefront of ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’. 

The Wake-up Show

There is a big difference between being anti-racist and not wanting to be seen as ‘a’ racist.  Equally, there is a category of people, who are more scared of being labelled as racist, than they are of actually being racist. 

An individual (or organisation) that is anti-racist is much more likely to recognise why they themselves are potentially racist; understand how they have been socialised to be inherently racist and identify the benefits they receive from the existing racist structures.  Those embracing macho ‘anti-woke’ and ‘politically incorrect’ descriptors as laudable (even a ‘badge of honour’), seem unable (or unwilling) to view introspection, self-reflection or self-awareness as supreme personal qualities.  ‘White psychosis’ (as described by Kehinde Andrews) is expressed in strange ways. 

It’s a damning indictment on society, when to be described as ‘woke‘, or to be a ‘do-gooder’ or in any way ‘virtuous’ is considered derisory.  This defies my sense of logic and is ‘selective outrage’ to me.  Personally, I think it’s an important quality to want to “do good” for my fellow human beings and strengthen our societal interdependence. 

Perhaps you might want to challenge the next self-proclaimed ‘anti-woke’ advocate to actually define the word ‘woke’ during one of their blinkered monologues?  I suspect their logic will be laced with absurdities.  Some will cite the Commonwealth as a victory on race relations.  ‘Common’ ‘wealth’ for who?  Ah yes, possibly a Freudian slip in retrospect…  “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy [social] justice can have.” (James Baldwin

My mantra is “pure, proactive and unapologetic anti-racism”, which underlines my militant spirit when it comes to ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’.  My mentality is influenced by the hostile environment inside and outside of Social Work.  I hope any readers resist the urge to ‘tone police’ my opinions.  My observations reflect my environment – the ‘hostile environment’.

If you are a White person reading this article, and my article seems brutal in places, then please consider whether YOU might be part of the problem and whether YOU should DO THE WORK to become a better person and ally!  Normalise changing your opinion when presented with new valid information – it is healthy.  So, if you describe yourself as ‘anti-woke’ or ‘anti-BLM’ and have no interest in changing that view, then for your own wellbeing, I suggest you stop reading now – as this article will be uncomfortable reading.  “There is no form of protest that is acceptable to racists” (Bernice King).

The profusion of complaints to the National Trust and Sainsbury’s about their attempts to promote racial equality indicates to me that the ‘anti-woke’ are content with the status quo.  Seemingly, they applaud the rise of White supremacy, as opposed to wanting to engage in progressive debates on racial equality and other forms of discrimination.

In my work, I’m able to act as an Anti-racism Visionary for Social Work across England.  I utilise different strategic approaches including: shock and awe; edutainment; collaboration and allyship.  My knowledge and expertise relates to anti-Black racism and developing support and protections for Social Workers of colour (and our allies).  I hope to continue working effectively with organisations, leaders and relevant stakeholders nationally to properly integrate the essence of anti-racism into Social Work at every level.  I genuinely want to engage and collaborate with authentic allies and professionals who want to improve the circumstances of Social Workers and service-users of colour.  Preferably, with people who are honest about where they (and their organisations) are at on their anti-racism journey. 

Patiently waiting

I am saddened by the inaction and silence (so far) from Social Work England (our national regulatory body) on anti-racism.  Since May 2020, I’ve reported widely on the significant deficits I observe within the profession and the wording of the regulatory standards.  I have highlighted the lack of protections and support for Social Workers of colour; cited their over-representation in fitness to practice panels and commentated on their disproportionately negative outcomes on Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programmes. The coverage and prominence of anti-racism in Social Work in recent months has been inescapable (since George Floyd’s murder).  The silence from the regulatory body of the profession (and MP’s) continues to perplex and concern me.  Furthermore, confidence is not instilled when the majority of the regulator’s workforce is predominantly White with no transparency about how this is being addressed or reversed.  This could be mistaken for ‘pigmentocracy vs meritocracy’.

In collaboration with colleagues and allies (inside and outside of BASW England), I’ve amplified the voices of Black and Ethnic Minority Social Workers in OUTLANDERS.  I’ve published an anti-racist Social Work framework and outlined readily deployable strategies.  I’ve developed a comprehensive ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ presentation and delivered it at nearly 100 online events internationally (since May 2020).  I founded the BASW England Black & Ethnic Minority Professionals Symposium (BPS) (which is a multi-talented network of professionals across England).  I was joint winner of ‘Author of the Month’ in December 2020 for Social Work News magazine.  I’ve created a repository of anti-racism resources, which is utilised by thousands of Social Workers, organisations and stakeholders across the UK.  Here is my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ portfolio.  Despite my prolific work on ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’, I’m disheartened I have not been approached by the Social Work England (SWE) hierarchy or responsible Ministers to explore how my solutions to promote anti-racism within the profession might be attempted.  I fear losing any momentum we have.    

I remain patiently waiting for any opportunity to progress this work meaningfully.  Admittedly, I am crestfallen, because I do not want to interpret the lack of responsivity as denial and rejection of my knowledge, expertise and lived (personal and professional) experiences.  I hope the lack of communication is not pejorative. 

In my work role (in BASW England), I have proactively spearheaded the resurgence of anti-racism in Social Work.  Alongside the wide-ranging accomplishments of BASW colleagues and BASW members, numerous other activists and groups have also made strides in accelerating the ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ movement in recent months.  These activists include: Anti-racist Activism (@SWAction21); Shabnam Ahmed (@schoolofshabs); Social Work Action Group (@SWactionuk); Claudia Crawley (@ClaudiaWPC); Black Social Matters (@Black_SocM); The Anti-racist Library (@AntiRacistLibr) and many others.  Anti-racism Lead Practitioners are now employed at Brighton & Hove and Sutton councils – which are fantastic appointments.  It’s positive to see new precedents being set in this regard.  I hope we can continue to be bold in pushing the anti-racism agenda forward in Social Work policy, practice and education.

The above fellow activists, allies and colleagues are at various stages of their Social Work careers and are based in wide-ranging settings; working towards a common goal – embedding ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ and upholding social justice.  However, many of our endeavours are embryonic and need nurturing.  Support from Social Work leaders will be vital going forward.  The ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ movement requires ALL Social Workers of colour and their allies to galvanise, strategise and mobilise bravely.  Collective action is resistance.  “Find your brave.”  Anyone who attended the OUTLANDERS virtual launch event knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I do not wish to appear populist or journalistic in my observations, but I genuinely do not know whether some of the senior personnel at SWE are aware of my work or are just ignoring it.  I would prefer transparency and to be told that my efforts are not in accordance with their perceived vision – if that is the case.   I recognise there are minefields and pitfalls in embedding anti-racism in Social Work.  However, my door has remained metaphorically wide open for months.  I hope to work collaboratively and effectively with those in charge of policy shifts wherever possible.

Those who finance, regulate, inspect and dictate the profession’s policies must do more than just be seen to acknowledge the advent of another social justice celebration.  Black History Month, Holocaust Memorial Day, LGBTQ+ History Month, International Women’s Day etc are often all met with bland blogs or unexciting position statements with woolly platitudes (if it all).  However, there is rarely accountability, substance or, more importantly – action.  What is beneath the veneer?  This tokenism is not just confined to anti-racism.  My intelligence feels insulted when I read comments like: “…our statement of intent and inclusion shows how [anti-racism] is part of our core business.”  How can that be, when no actual proof is presented or when ‘anti-racism’ is only mentioned (fleetingly) once in the entire document?  Personally, I will take the stockroom over the showroom any day.  This can easily be mistaken for brazen performative allyship.

So, to reiterate and summarise, what really is the level of commitment, motivation and intention from SWE on anti-racism?  I think any plans to address these matters ‘privately’ (like the Royal Family’s response to ‘Megxit’) will not set the right example for the profession.  I fear this would be a volley into the ‘long grass’.  Also, just so we are clear, suppressing racism does not mean racism does not exist. 

Sadly, to my knowledge, none of the ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ activities that I’ve been involved in have generated endorsement or support from SWE.  I sent an open invitation to SWE to view an online presentation I was delivering at the Anglia Ruskin University on 25/03/21.  Unfortunately, I did not receive a reply.  I shared a draft version of this article (with my portfolio and presentation) with SWE to offer them the right to reply and/or shape the final version.  I received the following reply: “[We do not wish to make any comment at this point.]  We will continue our dialogue with the sector more broadly, as well as various representative groups within it, on all matters relating to equality, diversity, and inclusion (including anti-racism) as we continue to develop our work and approach. The strategic conversations we are involved with at a national level will also drive conversation and change.  Good luck with the article and your portfolio.”

Scything through the ‘long grass’

A Community Care article (from July 2020) cited the lack of ethnic diversity within the SWE workforce.  In a previous article, I queried whether this was being treated as a top priority.  I’ve had no response and (to my knowledge) there has been no news on this front.  For me, it’s also a concern that our regulator does not appear to have 1 designated Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead Officer.  I’m pleasantly surprised to read the Royal Family plan to recruit a ‘diversity tsar’.  My hope is this will be replicated swiftly in Social Work regulation.

Other Community Care articles (from February 2021 and March 2021), have reported on the “delays in fitness to practise processes having ‘life-changing impacts’” for the workers concerned.   Social Workers of colour are over-represented in these cases.  Therefore, it’s probably safe to assume they are the same unfortunate individuals being disproportionately affected by this.  Again, I’m unaware of any action being taken to remedy this.  We need transparency.  We must scythe through the ‘long grass’ to make any real progress.

I’m keen to ascertain the details about if/when/how these issues will be resolved.  I think it will be important that staff members responsible for EDI at SWE are well versed in the multi-layered complexities involved in fitness to practice investigations.  I’m pleased to see our regulator has developed a Professional Experts Panel and is appointing members with a solid background in social justice and workforce development.  However, I was unable to find any information about the panel members (including their backgrounds and careers in England, UK and overseas) on their website.  Again, I feel it is important that the panel can reflect with insight, the diverse range of backgrounds and experiences of those within the workforce.  Also, transparency about the panel’s membership would be welcome.  Obviously, I am keen to develop ’Anti-racism in Social Work’ in policy, practice and education.  My hope is that there will be scope for improved partnership working with BASW and myself on related matters.  I genuinely welcome any contact or indication of future plans I receive from our regulator.

Social work remains institutionally racist

Sir William Macpherson (RIP) coined the term ‘institutional racism’ in his report into the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence.  Macpherson’s investigative report concentrated on the role of Metropolitan Police.  The report was ordered by the Home Secretary on 31/07/97.  In 2019, Ibram X Kendi published his book ‘How to be an Anti-Racist’.  Therein, he states he would relegate the term ‘institutional racism’, and instead, refer to ‘racist policies’.  I can understand and appreciate both positions and their contemporary relevance.  One of my previous articles evidenced some indicators of institutional racism in Social Work.  It received widespread agreement (and acclaim) from my peers.  However, sadly, it failed to generate any response from SWE, the institution responsible for policy changes in Social Work.

When I share my ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ activities on Twitter, LinkedIn etc, I can only imagine the responses from those who do not contact me, who overlook my presence and ignore my polite requests.  Whatever one thinks about the use of such media platforms, they are an accepted method of modern communication.  From teens in their bedrooms, to the Whitehouse – it is the ‘new normal’! ‘Sound bites’, cliches and sassy one-line statements abound, I acknowledge they can be ‘reductivist’ and oversimplify issues sometimes.  However, notwithstanding those observations, I want to believe that SWE’s silence is not complicity with aspects of existing inequalities or oppression. 

My concerns are that until visible progress is made, Social Workers may construe this silence as ‘wilful blindness’.  In a world of ‘influencers’ and demi-god statuses set by ‘celebrities’ and TV personalities, dangerous opportunities exist to corrupt the truth.  I think the recent Piers Morgan’s demonstration of ‘White fragility personified’ (and Susannah Reid’s silent collusion) is one such corrupting and divisive episode.  It will be interesting to see if Mr Morgan resurfaces in a better situation for his career very soon.  This very public debacle basically weaponised and perpetuated the potentially damaging effects of lazy racism.  However, Mr Morgan’s career does not seem to have been harmed by such actions previously.  Time will reveal if my scepticism is unjustified.

I realise this article highlights connections between elements of society which for some people might not be easy to view as related.  I know some will passionately disagree.  I welcome constructive and intelligible debate.  I suspect that some people without colour, will lose interest and patience with ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’ eventually.  I realise that for some people without colour, the intricacies of language and terminology (BAME etc); ascertaining covert racism; demonstrating authentic allyship etc can all be extremely challenging and tiresome.  However, there are some simple dichotomies we can easily extract.  Anti-racism is about: Black liberation vs Black subjugation; allyship vs White supremacy; human rights vs inhumane violations.  The more ‘subjective opposites’ might be ‘right vs wrong’ and ‘good vs evil’.  What side are you on?  As with all subjective opinions, varied perspectives will arise and I’m open-minded enough to consider them.  Anti-racist values, ethics and objectivity within organisational policies can be achieved. 

On a more positive note, I’m pleased the Chief Social Workers for Adults and Children & Families have acknowledged their previous shortcomings on these matters and re-emphasised the importance of anti-racism.  Hopefully, this will involve the Workforce Race Equality Standards (WRES) being made mandatory and universal across the profession with a sense of urgency and supplemented by other national initiatives from key Social Work stakeholders and policy makers.

The OUTLANDERS anthology

OUTLANDERS: Hidden narratives from Social Workers of Colour, is an anthology of essays, stories, poems and other miscellaneous works – which I co-edited and compiled in collaboration with Siobhan Maclean.  I’m proud to have been involved with OUTLANDERS and the richness and uniqueness it exudes.  People have enquired whether I will profit from the book.  Definitely not!  The profits will go to the Social Workers Benevolent Trust (SWBT).  At the time of writing, the book has sold 1000 copies and raised £700 for the SWBT.  As far as I’m concerned, OUTLANDERS is a legacy piece of Social Work history and literature.  Siobhan and I’s ‘labours of love’ for OUTLANDERS is an eternal gift to the Social Work profession.

The anniversary of George Floyd’s murder

As the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder fast approaches (25/05/21), I want to gather intelligence and map the anti-racism activism that has taken place across Social Work.  I want to publish my findings and showcase the strides being made in the profession and spotlight where the ‘anti-racism deficits’ exist across the Social Work landscape nationally.  So, please email me with any ‘evidence’ you have, such as: articles, flyers, group activities, posters, virtual events, statements, updated guidance/policies/procedures etc to protect and support Social Workers of colour.  Just basically send me anything and everything your Social Work organisation has undertaken on anti-racism over the past several months!  Please contact me at wayne.reid@basw.co.uk or @wayne_reid79 (Twitter) to enable me to give your accomplishments a platform.  I’ll do whatever I can to promote organisations that are really serious about ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’.  The closing date for submissions is 14/05/21 at 5pm.

The iridescent flag of anti-racism

Consider this, has any Black human rights activist ever been welcomed by ‘the establishment’?  No.  The obstacles we face are simply just the latest manifestations of what people like me have battled continuously against throughout the ages.  My adversaries will probably try to assassinate me (or my character) at some point.  However, whilst there is air in my lungs, I will continue to educate, equip and empower Black and Ethnic Minority Social Workers and our allies.  Also, I will continue to mercilessly spotlight, shame and subvert opponents of ‘Anti-racism in Social Work’.  I suppose I’m like the proverbial ‘thorn of anti-racism’ in their backsides.  It’s the perfect antidote for ‘anti-wokism’.  Let the goodness flow! 

You can call me an ‘extremist’ if you want.  I admit, I’m extremely anti-racist.  Ultimately, my destiny is to see the iridescent flag of anti-racism flying high on the Palace of Silence – or die trying.

Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. The only real enemy of progress is ignorance and ‘wilful blindness’.

Social justice must prevail.

‘One world, one race… the human race!’

As always, thanks for reading.