Here, we catch up with senior lecturer in Social Work, Lauren Martins, to chat about the revalidation with Social Work England.

If you’ve recently joined Canterbury Christ Church University, we appreciate that meeting your lecturers can be a little daunting at first. But here at CCCU, we believe in an environment of mutual respect and approachability.

Also, our lecturers aren’t as scary as some might think! To prove this, we caught up with senior lecturer and social worker Lauren Martins to talk about her role and Social Work England.

With both their BA and MA courses having been revalidated by Social Work England this year, Lauren shares how she implements their professional, education and training standards in the CCCU curriculum.

Tell us about yourself and how you got into social work.

I didn’t get into social work straight away. I graduated in 2009 with a degree in criminology and psychological studies.

Right after uni, I worked in police custody as a designated detention officer. Here, I saw persistent offenders, and everything was quite reactive. I realised that I wanted to work somewhere that offered preventative support to people before they potentially got to crisis point. This is what I really became passionate about, so I used my knowledge of the law to fight for people’s rights and promote social justice.

I left the police and joined the Probation Service as a Programme Facilitator where I ran groups across Kent. I became an HMPPS accredited facilitator in Building Better Relationships, which was a domestic abuse programme with male perpetrators.

As these roles were unqualified, I decided to apply for the Think Ahead programme, which was a fast-track graduate programme into social work, and I specialised in mental health.

After qualifying, I went back to probation where I worked as a Criminal Justice Social Worker/Probation Officer in Chatham in the community rehabilitation team.

Within 18 months I was promoted to the role of Senior Probation Officer. I managed a team of 25 Social Workers and Probation Officers and was responsible for nearly 900 offenders in the community and in prison.

But then covid happened and I fell pregnant, so things changed a lot. Whilst I was on maternity leave, I decided that I wanted to make a bigger impact. So, I went into education.

Tell us about Social Work England and their approach to social work, education, and training.

So, we’ve recently been approved by Social Work England, and I really enjoyed seeing how student-centred they were. They worked collaboratively with our students. They really wanted to hear the student voice, which I think is important for collaborative working and inclusivity.

They also placed a real emphasis on working with people with lived experiences and involving them in the process, which is something that we’re also passionate about, so it was good to see these aligned priorities.

Another thing I liked to see was their commitment to evidence-based practice. They were really interested in our research, so it would be nice to work with them in the future as we put a lot of emphasis on driving research in our department and beyond.

It would be nice for Social Work England to visit as I’d really like to show them our Hydra Suite. As our revalidation was virtual, we weren’t really able to show what Hydra can do. We’re the only university in the UK to use Hydra, which is a simulator that students use to practise in different simulated settings. Whilst we explained what it was virtually, it didn’t do it justice. So, it would be great if we could show this equipment in person.

Social Work England state that it is their role to ensure social work students are taught by experts – how does your expertise help in the university environment?

Students always tell me that they like the fact that I make things real and relatable. I take quite a narrative approach to my teaching. So, I’ll offer a real-life experience alongside theoretical teaching for example.

We also like to work with experts by experience. They come to seminars and are involved in our skills days to share their thoughts and experiences with the students, which is invaluable as our students can really get an understanding of what the job is like.

I also like to bring research into practice. I’ve recently been published in the British Journal of Social Work looking at inter-agency working. So, I incorporate this when relevant to my teaching in class and add published work onto the reading lists.

But I don’t think that it’s just us that are the experts. The students are experts as well. I like to take a flipped learning approach to my teaching to break down those traditional power dynamics. Giving students autonomy in the classroom lets them actively explore and collaborate, which is pedagogically important. It’s all about working collaboratively, being person-centred and accommodating to a range of learning styles.

Another example of my department’s expertise is the fact that most of us are registered social workers. We also have to commit to the professional standards and undertake CPD, which makes us accountable for our learning and development as well.

How do you ensure that you maintain inclusivity, diversity, and equality in your core social work values?

Respecting diversity, promoting equality, and being inclusive are key values that we have, and are also embedded in BASW’s code of ethics, which we also follow.

There are a lot of ways that I do this on a daily basis. From building a solid rapport with all of my students to being transparent with my own neurodiversity, it’s important to break down those barriers and be person-centric in your approach to teaching and just interacting with people on a human level.

I’m also trying to decolonise the curriculum through providing a diverse reading list and challenging some Western perspectives for example. It’s interesting listening to people’s different ideas and gaining multiple perspectives on things.

How do you ensure that your students are ready to practise after graduation?

Obviously, our students sit a range of modules to really get that variety of what social work is. Students undertake modules in social work law, safeguarding, research mindedness in practice, theories and methods, leadership, and many more.

I’ve already mentioned my flipped learning approach to teaching. I’m trying to move us away from that didactic approach into more creative, innovative methods of learning, which is different to what we’ve done before.

Another thing which is new this year is the development of our skills days. We’ve just had three court skills days where practitioners from different areas came in and provided workshops to students on court etiquette, giving evidence, thresholds, wellbeing in preparation for a mock court day. It’s really important that all social workers know how to navigate court as it’s a fundamental skill to have in the job.

We also have a mock court room, which enabled our students to practise these skills alongside real professionals.

Not only this, but we use Hydra, which lets the students practise inter-agency work and critical incident management in a safe place before they qualify.

And, of course, our students have their placements. Here, we try and give them a real variety of placements so they can apply their knowledge and independent learning in the classroom to the practice environment.

We also offer employability days where organisations like Social Work England come to campus to network with our students. This way, our students can ask any questions that need answering, and they can make those professional connections.

There’s also a huge range support for our students at a university-wide level. Every student has a personal academic tutor (PAT) and in social work that stays with them for their entire course. We also have excellent support services, including disability and mental health support for example.

As an academic, it’s my responsibility to ensure that my students know where to go for when or if they need that extra support. This is where my strong rapport comes in handy with my students because I know them well enough to know if they need some extra help.

Lastly, for me personally, I don’t sugar coat the reality of social work. It’s hard work. Sometimes, it’s like spinning multiple plates. But I’m honest with my students because I don’t want to set them up to fail. I came into this job with the intent of preparing the future generation of social workers with the skills and knowledge to excel in their roles. So, I always make sure that I’m honest and genuine in my approach to teaching and working with them.

What is your favourite part of the role?

Oh, this is an easy one to answer! I love working with the students. My students are transforming lives, so I want to make sure that they’re given the best education.

I really do want the best for them, and it’s reassuring to know that, once they become registered social workers, they’ll be ready to face challenges with the knowledge and skills that I taught them at CCCU.