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CYC-Online Issue 38 MARCH 2002 / BACK
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Developing by delegating: Building leadership through masters' programmes

Mark Smith

When I agreed to this column it was on the basis that I would co-ordinate a regular contribution from Scotland. That was back in September last year and I now find that Iíve written every one of them myself. I donít think itís that Iím reluctant to let go. Its more that delegating the responsibility can be as time consuming as writing the column. Iím finding the same with the Masters course I run. I had no idea of the time and administration involved in contacting potential contributors, negotiating what they might offer and trying to timetable around their respective teaching or practice commitments whilst maintaining some coherence within the programme. Added to that, the nagging doubt that someone might call off at the last minute means that I tend to prepare something to have in reserve anyway, thus making it easier at times to teach the class myself.

The redeeming feature in this is that the Masters class donít need too much direct teaching. They are experienced, able and enthusiastic practitioners, drawn from throughout Scotland and from different areas of group care practice Ė from secure accommodation to respite services for disabled children and young people. Teaching them really is about utilising adult learning processes whereby I set them running in a particular direction and they do the rest.

Although it all still feels very new, this first cohort of students is actually half way through the taught component of the course. Having covered modules considering historical and international perspectives on group care, looking critically about what research and inquiries tell us and a double module on understanding and assessing young people, we are about to move into the next double module which I've called Leading and Learning. This will consider some of the organisational aspects of the work but will also focus on some of the opportunities and responsibilities of Master's students to become leaders in the field and to take forward the professional agenda for group care in Scotland. One of the ways I hope they will do so is through engaging in writing from a practice base. Once they move into the dissertation stage of the programme I would expect that many of their projects will be of a quality to be submitted for publication in reviewed journals. Writing which reflects the views and experiences of group care practitioners is at a premium here, as it probably is elsewhere, with the consequence that the agenda is set for the discipline by those with little or no experience of working within it. In Scotland we now have the opportunity to change this and realistically, the onus to do so falls upon this and subsequent cohorts of Master's students.

It isn't easy to take that first step of bringing your writing into the public domain, especially perhaps when seeking to do so from a group care practice base. Traditionally workers in the sector can feel that what they have to say may seem somehow mundane or inadequate within the wider field of social work writing. It's what Jack Phelan talks about when he asserts the need to validate a 'plain language' through which residential workers might convey the complexity of the task. In the first column I wrote for CYC-ONLINE I spoke about the need to develop a 'voice' for group care in Scotland. Most of them don't know this yet but I intend that some of the Master's students represent that 'voice' in future columns. I look forward to introducing the first of these, hopefully, next month.

I suppose though, I'll write something to have in reserve, just in case!


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