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Joint post by Joan Forbes and Elspeth McCartney

This is the first post linked to the event: BERA 2013 Conference: Social Theory and Education SIG papers – the paper is entitled:

‘Professional social capital in schools and children’s services: understanding the distribution of leadership culturally’

The co-authors of the above titled BERA2013 paper have been working together for a number of years, based in the disciplines of Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) (Elspeth) and Education (Joan). We are both interested in inter/professional and inter/disciplinary practice across the children’s public sector (for discussion of our use of the slash, see Forbes & Watson 2012, listed below in the bio). Stressed in social policies internationally, co-practice is seen to require a ‘cultural shift’ in professional education, attitudes and behaviours, but there has been very little investigation of what makes co-practice work. We have identified the SLT/school relation as a key instance that sheds light on issues of wider significance. SLTs and teachers have historically worked together, influenced by educational policies, such as those including children in mainstream schools and offering additional support to all children who need it. The work of these two professions crosses public sectors (health, SLTs, and education, teachers); affects language and communication, a key requirement for learning; and is negotiated without one professional having managerial responsibility for the other. The joint aim is to plan and deliver appropriate language learning activities for children who struggle, requiring both professions to adapt their practice. This co-work relation provides a lens through which we focus on co-working in general.

Joan had written on inter/professional power and knowledge exchange, and Elspeth on systems approaches. From these starting points, and from our participation in the Applied Educational Research Scheme, Schools and Social Capital Network (2005-08), then through ESRC funded seminars series (two series between 2005-09) and related research, we developed a shared interest in researching the social relational aspects of working together. Our co-authored studies embrace elements of the classic models of social capital theory in the work of Bourdieu, Putnam, Coleman, and Woolcock to examine co-practice relations. We have now co-authored a number of papers and chapters that draw on social theory to examine policy and practice relevant to the preparation and work of teachers, therapists and other professions in children’s services (see e.g. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 26.3).

The idea for our BERA2013 policy study paper grew from two previous studies in Scotland. These earlier analyses indicated to us that the identities of child sector leaders are crucial for future services; and that, at odds with the major Scottish Getting it Right for Every Child (GiRFEC) cross-sectoral agenda, a mono-professional (education) vision of schooling persists in key education policies. This is evident, for example, in inattention to the contribution of other professions across the sector in the 2011 ‘Donaldson Review’ of teacher education (see e.g. Scottish Educational Review, 43.2). We then turned to John MacBeath’s model of Six forms of leadership distribution and particularly his ideas on leadership distribution culturally, that is ‘practising leadership as a reflection of [a service’s] culture, ethos and traditions’ – or bridging social capital. For us, this framing aligned with our research focus examining the re-design (or not) of sector leadership relations that are outward looking, inter- and trans-professional in nature, cutting across previous boundaries whether of discipline, profession, or agency sector. So, seeking to understand the distribution of leadership culturally, we identified two key questions to focus our analysis: How does children’s services policy constitute leadership? And What social capital relations underlie current policy constitutions of leadership? We found that the leadership relations needed to achieve the Getting it Right for Every Child (GiRFEC) policy agenda are lacking in current NHS and Education policy statements (International Journal of Leadership in Education, 15.3 – see below).

It was unsurprising then when a 2012 evaluation report by Education Scotland identified ‘disjointed and poorly coordinated responses’ across a number of dimensions of child services’ joint working approaches. Identifying the disconnect amongst policy ambitions related to GiRFEC, and wider social inclusion and well-being agendas, directed the purposes of our BERA2013 paper: Professional social capital in schools and children’s services: understanding the distribution of leadership culturally.

In preparing the BERA paper, we reviewed selected key policy documentation applying our inter/professional social capital theory frame in order to understand the effects of mono- and/or inter- professional shifts and trajectories. We found that, while recognizing that the status quo (mono-professional practice) does not provide good services, the new children’s services agenda, GiRFEC, has not, as yet, led to the introduction of the necessary cross-sector, cross-professional and cross-disciplinary governance and policy needed for better integrated public sector working. We highlight a number of key co-practice policy prescriptions, in addition to the major trans-sector GIRFEC agenda, that collide disjunctively with parallel mono-professional policy perspectives.

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For example, we found that despite policy intentions and markers, attempts to encourage  practitioner leadership and distributed leadership practice have not radically altered the culture of schools and children’s services in Scotland, a finding shared by Mike Cowie and Megan Crawford in their research. And so we argue that the preparation of well-equipped inter/professional leaders demands renewed close attention to the earliest formation of practitioner identities in inter/professional education in universities. This in tandem demands that the universities and (the separate) professional bodies involved in professional development in the sector re-envisage their roles and tasks. This would include addressing hard questions about inter/professional leadership preparation in the current context of service transformation; inter/professional leaders’ enculturation and socialization; inter/professional leaders’ identities formation; and the role of leaders in inter/professional working. While wider individual child achievement beyond academic attainment has national cultural value, inter/professionalism is not (yet) symbolically or in practice afforded cultural value in the child sector in Scotland. Rather, inter/professionalism is viewed with suspicion as a distraction from more privileged Scottish (mono) professional narratives.

Our research and writing for ‘Professional social capital…’ has prompted us to further apply social and multiple capitals theory to investigate the political and policy significance of inter/professional social, intellectual, knowledge and skills capitals relations in the children’s sector. Thus, we are now focusing on inter/disciplinary knowledge relations across the sector; and also – critically – universities’ preparation of inter/professional practitioners that form practitioners and leaders who are confident and competent to work assuredly in the sector. This involves exploring the effects of current inter/professional bridging and linking social capital relations, between the knowledges privileged in and by the university disciplines that prepare child sector practitioners, and the knowledges now needed in co-practice relations as these are being re-designed across the sector (see the Teacher in Public agenda developed with the Centre for Modern Thought, University of Aberdeen).

We thank Mark for his invitation to write this blog post. Reflecting on our BERA2013 paper in this way has revealed to us the ways in which our current work has developed from our very early questions about the practices we each uncovered in the operations of predominantly (mono) professional social capital. Our reflections again foreground the need for us and for our colleagues across the child sector to resist governance and policy messages that privilege mono-disciplinarity and mono-professionalism. Rather, we need to focus anew on building and strengthening our own trans-disciplinary and trans-professional social capital relations, through a sustained agenda of research and writing that contributes to understanding the complex agenda around inter/professional social capital relations – to the benefit of future child sector transformations.

Joan Forbes & Elspeth McCartney are co-authors of the related article: ‘Leadership distribution culturally? Education/speech and language therapy social capital’ which was published in the International Journal of Leadership in Education, 15.3, 271-285.