Inaugural Professorial Lecture by Dr Jo Finch

1 May 2024
1 May 2024
6.00 PM7.30 PM

Waterfront Building, Ipswich Campus
Book your free place here
Jo Finch headshot

Bennett Girl Made Bad: Critical reflections on social work policy, practice and education

Arguably, one of the most misunderstood and unpopular professions, (bar estate agents) social work policy, practice and education in England, has been subject to constant reform, often in response to tragic events, namely when children are murdered by their parents or caregivers. The profession of social work has thus been perceived politically and very publicly to have failed when these awful events occur. Indeed, who can forget the live public sacking of Sharon Shoesmith on TV, by Ed Balls in relation to the death of Baby Peter.

The image of middle-class do-gooders, or indeed woke lefties continues, as David Cameron once proclaimed “social workers just need common-sense”, continues to proliferate. Cooper and Lousada (2007) argue that the public outpouring of anger, when children die at the hands of their caregivers, is because social workers have failed to prevent such horrors being made known to the public. In other words, social workers have failed in their role as the buffer between some uncomfortable and deeply distressing truths about the realities of people’s lives, and the public need for certainty, security and safety. Indeed, our proximity to the “other”, often but not always, those on the margins of society, the oppressed, the discriminated against and those most negatively impacted by neo liberal regimes, may in turn, cause us to also be perceived as “the other”. On the other hand, social workers are largely employed by the state, their practices governed by legislation and often do not practice what their professional values preach – our history is not a positive one at times. The care vs control debate thus continues to rage.

Alongside this, there has been a constant narrative in England, that social work education is also “failing” and this has been uncritically accepted by many, including our very own Chief social worker for Children and Families, Isabelle Trowler, who promoted and championed a number of fast track postgraduate training programmes, which has undone significant gains in widening participation on traditional social work programmes. Additionally, there have been four social work regulatory bodies, a failed College of Social Work, numerous changes to the framework in which practice is assessed on placement, for example, key roles, national occupation standards and now capabilities alongside the PCF, Knowledge and skills statements, and now knowledge skills and behaviour frameworks.

I will critically reflect on some of these developments, which will be interwoven with the personal, i.e the influences of my past, not least attending a radical comprehensive school in the 80s, some important people in my life, the connections to my pedagogical approach, my writing and research, and will attempt to identify some golden threads, not least a commitment to fairness, equity, challenging injustice and saying it as it is.

Lastly I reflect on “not being one of those professors”, i.e. of keeping it real, grounded and never ever, saying “its more of a comment than a question….”


Dr Jo Finch is a highly experienced social work educator and doctoral supervisor. She has been working in the higher education sector for 19 years, with experience of teaching on a wide range of programmes, including: BA (Hons) Social Care, BA (Hons) Social Work, MA Social Work, post qualifying Practice Education courses, and Professional Doctorate Programmes (EdD, DSW). She is known internationally for her work on practice learning and has published widely on this topic. She also writes about PREVENT and social work, and undertakes commissioned research.

Career Overview

Jo began her career in social care, working with adults with learning disabilities. She then trained as a social worker and worked in a number of London Boroughs as well as charities, in both adults and children & family settings. She also worked as a play therapist and practice educator. Jo then moved into teaching social work students in 2002, and has worked at a number of universities.


Jo completed a BA (Hons) Politics, at Newcastle University (1993); a Diploma in Social Work and an MSC in Social Policy and Social Work studies at London School of Economics (1997); a Practice Teaching Award, Goldsmiths, (2001); a Post Graduate Diploma in Play Therapy, Surrey University; (2001); a PGCE (PCET) from Greenwich University (2007); and a Professional Doctorate in Social Work, Sussex University (2010).

If you wish to join this lecture via Zoom, please email and you will be sent the link nearer the time.