Gary Hickman

Gary Hickman

Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Senior Lecturer and Director of Social Work Education

Contact details

Department of Social Policy and Social Work
Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT, United Kingdom

Gary Hickman is a registered social worker and as Director of the social work programmes, provides operational and strategic leadership for both the BA and MA courses, and our Step Up to Social Work programme.


  • Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, University of Birmingham (2004)
  • MCIPD (2003)
  • CIPD Professional Qualification Award, Solihull College (2002)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education, Training and Development of Adults, City University (2002)
  • MA (Child Care, Law and Practice), Keele University (1995)
  • CCETSW's Practice Teaching Award, University of Birmingham (1993)
  • MSocSc (Social Work) and CQSW, University of Birmingham (1988)
  • BA (Combined Honours), University of Birmingham (1985)


Prior to coming into social work Gary spent 5 years as a police officer with the West Midlands Police Force. His social work career spans 14 years as a practitioner and manager, predominantly within Children and Families. He has managed a duty and assessment team, worked as a Child Protection Co-ordinator, and spent 3 years as a Training Manager all with Birmingham Social Services Department. Gary has completed the CIPD's Professional Qualification Scheme and he is a chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Since 2008 Gary has been the Director of Social Work Education and provided a strategic lead in respect of the delivery of all of the qualifying social work programmes as well as identifying future areas of business. As a result, in April 2015 the university secured the tender to deliver cohort 4 of the government’s Step Up to Social Work programme on behalf of the West Midlands Regional Partnership, and more recently Gary has led a Teaching Partnership bid, built upon the very robust Step Up partnership arrangements, which involves 9 local authorities from the West Midlands. Teaching Partnerships are a government initiative aimed at matching universities with councils to deliver gold standard social work education, training and practice development for all social workers.

In addition, during 2015, Gary successfully led all 3 qualifying programmes through the external regulatory approval process with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which approved all 3 programmes without setting any conditions.


Gary is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and regularly presents at conferences on a variety of teaching initatives including service user involvement, practice learning and enquiry-based blended learning with regard to child protection. He is particularly interested in child protection processes, direct work with children, the legal framework governing child care practice and continuous professional development.

In 2010 Gary was part of a successful partnership tender with Nottingham City Council for monies from Skills for Care to deliver specific supervision training and consultancy to social work team managers in Nottingham. This activity was subsequently shortlisted for the National Skills for Care Awards and in 2011 was awarded a School of Social Policy teaching prize for 'Excellence in Teaching and Supporting Learning'.

Gary has co-produced a video promoting the use of enquiry-based learning in teaching of child protection, which is now a case study resource on the university's EBL website. He was also part of an inter-disciplinary group, which developed a teaching resource on 'Safeguarding Children', which can be used with students from a number of different professional programmes within the University.

In 2015 Gary and a colleague designed and delivered the children and families curriculum content for the new final year ‘Advanced Practice: Individuals, Families & Communities’ module. This module is very innovative in that over 5 weeks it not only introduces students to key concepts in both Adults and Children’s Services but also encourages them to apply a ‘whole family approach’ critique to current service provision. Thus the module very much reflects the current debates in government around how best to deliver services to vulnerable people. At the beginning of the module students are introduced to a number of different family members and, through a series of scenarios, both apply concepts and also consider the extent to which a ‘think family’ model is possible. Several formative assessments including on line quizzes and group presentations give the students the opportunity to consolidate their learning and support the summative assessment, which requires the students to produce a critical discussion paper exploring key themes around a whole family approach to service provision and making recommendations around future policy and practice. The module has been very well received as reflected by the student evaluations:

  • ‘Gary and Anne Marie – knowledgeable and enthusiastic which rubbed off on us’
  • ‘Gary’s knowledge of C&F was invaluable’
  • ‘Gary and Anne Marie’s teaching was brilliant. Both friendly and approachable, which made learning easy.’
  • ‘The children and families teaching was really informative and intellectually stimulating’

Following the successful bid to deliver the Step Up to Social Work programme, 50% of Gary’s time is dedicated to that activity. The programme commenced in January 2016 with 38 students. To date the feedback from both students and Local Authorities is very positive. Indeed it is anticipated that we will be asked by the Regional Partnership to deliver both Cohort 5 (January 2018 start) and Cohort 6 (January 2020 start).

Postgraduate supervision

Gary is interested in supervising postgraduate students undertaking study in the field of social work with children and families. He is particularly interested in research that looks at service users’ experiences of children’s services provision.

Gary has also acted as a mentor on CWDC practitioner led research programme.


He has completed a small scale evaluative study of 'open door' service provision and he was a member of the research team, which undertook a feasibility study regarding the national evaluation of the Children's Fund. In addition Gary is interested in the role of human resource management in social services departments, and career development and lifelong learning for professional social workers.

Other activities

Gary has extensive experience of quality assuring social work programmes. He is a Visitor for the Health and Care Professions Council and regularly undertakes ‘approval visits’ to social work programmes across the UK. He has participated in University validation panels as the ‘external expert’, and held several external examining roles. Currently Gary is the external examiner for the BA Social Work programme at the University of Bournemouth.

Currently Gary is Co-Vice Chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC), and represents the social work academic community at a number of key forums, including the national ‘Social Work Education Funding Advisory Group’, which makes recommendations to government about the provision of current student bursaries and advises on the effective distribution of the Education Support Grant, so as to ensure that the quality of practice placements are maximised within available resources. In addition, Gary represents JUCSWEC at the national ‘Key Partners Group’, which is chaired by the Chief Children’s Social Worker.

As Director, Gary created and chairs our Admissions Suitability Panel. He also represents the School on the Fitness to Practice User Group, and has ensured that, for social work students, panels are appropriately represented and chaired.

Gary has a particular interest in Employability and has worked very closely with the College Alumni Office to enhance the social work web pages by including the career narratives of past graduates. In addition Gary has, together with the School E Learning Manager,  produced a film about 'What makes a social worker' for inclusion on both the ‘Progress’ site and our own Social Work site. In addition he delivers preparation for employment workshops for all Final year social work students, as well as individual advice and guidance on personal statements and mock interview.

In 2009 Gary was instrumental in securing the involvement of Radio 4 to produce a series of programmes entitled ‘Who would be a social worker?’. This involved interviews with staff and students from both the BA and MA social work programmes throughout the students’ final year of teaching and first year of employment. Three programmes were then broadcast in May 2011.


Cooner, T.S. & Hickman, G (2008) ‘Child Protection Teaching: Students’ Experiences of a Blended Learning Design’, Social Work Education 27(6) p. 647-657.

'The Children's Fund National Evaluation: A Feasibility Study' available at website.

'The Family Haven: An Evaluation of Family Support for Homeless Families' only available from the Agency.

Conference presentations

Hek, R and Hickman, G (April 2011) Portfolio Design for Robust Assessment of Students at SWAP, JUCSWEC and Care Councils Conference on Assessment: London.

Hek, R, Paris, A and Hickman, G (July 2010), Innovative interdisciplinary practice learning at JUCSWEC Conference at University of Hertfordshire.

Aiers, A, Cooper, S and Hickman, G (July 2008), Involving Looked After Young People in the design and delivery of the social work curriculum,  At JUCSWEC Conference, University of Cambridge.

Aiers, A, Cooper, S and Hickman, G (November 2007), Involving Looked After Young People in the design and delivery of the social work programme, at UCLAN Authenticity to Action Conference, University of Lancashire.

Littlechild, R and Hickman, G (July 2005), Developing new partnerships in social work student selection, JUCSWEC Conference at University of Loughborough.

Cooner, T S and Hickman, G (July 2004), Knowledge transfer: utilising e-learning to level the playing field for child protection teaching, at JUCSWEC Conference, Glasgow University.

Hickman, G (November 2004), Service user involvement in social work education, at Tri-City Exchange Conference, University of Birmingham.