Critical reflection as an organisational and professional practice in supervision: A study in two local authority children and families social work teams

Kate Leonard

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The thesis presents a critical examination of the policy context, understanding and use of the concept of critical reflection as an organisational and professional practice – focussing on practitioner supervision in two English local authority children and families social work teams. Critical reflection is analysed through an exploration of the history, theoretical approaches and current debates by policymakers, practitioners, managers, and academics. Recognition of the varied meanings given to critical reflection led to a constructivist approach using a single case study design. Data was collected using documentary analysis, interviews with managers, professional development staff, supervisors, practitioners and observation of supervision.

The study highlighted that critical reflection was one element recommended by Munro (2011:39) to enable ‘a system that values expertise’ in social work. The tension between accountability and professional requirements encapsulated in the bureau-professional nature of social work underpinned the reality of critical reflection in supervision. A complex picture of similarity and difference emerged although all participants identified a common view of the process of undertaking critical reflection that was also reflected in policy. This common view was extended by supervisors and professional development staff who used an eclectic approach made up of a complex mix of values, theory, policy and practice experience. Supervision appeared to be a relationship that was socially constructed and situated, requiring discretion in how policy was enacted. However, there was predominant agreement on what critical reflection looked like in practice between practitioners and their supervisors. The study highlighted that critical reflection was a fluid, dialogic and embodied process where practitioners used professional judgement and discretion to critically reflect, within and beyond prescribed organisational frameworks. These findings illuminate the value of a research methodology that recognises the unpredictability and complexity of supervision, the importance of the professional and organisational context and engaging with supervisor and practitioner perspectives.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Evans, Tony, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • critical reflection
  • children and families social work teams
  • supervision
  • case study

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