Between 2000 and 2004 I undertook an M. Litt (Master of Letters) research degree awarded on the submission of a thesis entitled: ‘Sure Start - Interprofessionalism and Partnership (Findings of a Local Evaluation Study)’. This was preceded by undertaking all taught elements of the M.Sc in Comparative Social Policy including Methods of Social Research and Comparative Social Policy/Welfare States. My research was facilitated through simultaneously being awarded a tender in the North-East of England to evaluate five Sure Start Local Programmes. The aim of the study was to evaluate the impact of interprofessionalism and partnership principally with respect to achievement of national government objectives and targets; also to examine some of the outcomes of inter-professional working, for example changes in individual professional roles/new ways of working and increased parent participation.
I became a Professor of Social Policy at the University of Sunderland and continued to undertake local and regional research studies externally funded through a range of agencies, for example, Primary Care Trusts, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and other Local Partnerships. Undertaking this M.Litt degree enhanced my capacity to undertake collaborative research in the area of children and family policy, and I subsequently published several journal articles and later co-authored a book based on this research ’Evaluating Sure Start’ (2008). I’d previously worked at the Universities of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Derby before going to the North-East and as well as consolidating my understanding of how social problems are defined, how policies are formulated and administered, the degree helped to hone my research skills especially the course on techniques of qualitative methods which was application-led and included observation exercises, focus groups, and analysing interview transcripts.
My research interests have broadened out and I’d describe myself as a social scientist engaged in social policy and applied professional research whose main interests include:
- The organisation, delivery and evaluation of health and social care
- Professionalism, identity and culture as related to provision for children and families; and learning disabilities; and
- Developing a research-active curriculum in higher education
I’ve become Editor of the Journal Social Work & Social Sciences Review -An International Journal of Applied Research; and in 2011 was awarded a Visiting Plumer Research Fellowship from St Anne’s College, Oxford; and prior to that a HEFCE Fellowship in Research-Informed Teaching and became a Programme Leader for an MA in Interprofessional Studies. I am currently contracted to write a monograph for Critical Publishing: ‘Professionalism and Identity - the case for social work?’ due to be completed in 2015.
I valued the support of several tutors at Barnett House particularly for the scholarly and supportive student-focused research culture which they helped to create during my time spent there.
In particular I’d like to single out Teresa Smith who was my research supervisor and mentor and assisted my self-evaluation. Her interests in family centres, multi-agency working and experience of working on a series of evaluations of programmes for very young children proved very constructive along with the intellectual rigour and focus which she provided throughout (I had been awarded previously a PhD from the University of Sheffield in 1980, and since then had taught full-time in post-1992 Universities; hence the opportunity to have someone supervising me and focusing on my personal research directions was a huge advantage).
The time during which I had been connected with the department constituted a sort of personal reorientation, an actual ‘flight’ from a professional role. This entailed a period of further study (mid-career) that offered an opportunity for structured reflection on developments of working at a University as the culture was more intimate, more about sharing ideas, and absorbing new literature sources than I'd perhaps previously experienced. Advocacy of continuing education helped me to reconnect with a research community, working alongside international students where everyone was at a different stage of development, hence there was pressure to carve out an identity. Following twenty years of employment in post-92 Universities, both teaching and researching, this reorientation of professional practice offered a 'space', a breath of fresh air, and an opportunity to network as well as providing excellent research training. This 'downshifting' from being an academic staff-member to emerging again as a student was to seek the calmer waters of a less responsible position, where I'm one of a group and no one is dependent on me.