Social Work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. 

Guided by the fundamental principles of human rights and social justice, we aim to achieve social change through high quality, evidence-based, social work practice with vulnerable and marginalised people, informed by our research.

Social Work has been a core discipline at the University of York since 1966, when it was the first university in the country to introduce an advanced course for social work at master’s degree level. Since then, we have been training social workers to work in public service in the UK and beyond.

Head of Social Work: Polly Sykes

Our research and teaching has a global reputation, ranking 6th in the UK for Social Work in the Complete University Guide, 2023. We research a wide range of issues, including mental health, race, parenting, youth work, family social work, and offending.

We are a team of around 15 teaching and research staff, including colleagues who practice social work in local authorities. We look to apply knowledge to practice, and integrate social sciences into real life. We look at concepts, knowledge, and ideas, and relate these to the real world in a practical way, to provide support and care, and protection and safeguarding, for the public good. The nature of Social Work means that we collaborate with a diverse range of experts across the School, Faculty and University, particularly in areas like Social and Public Policy, Law, Sociology, Health Sciences, Psychology and Education.



We specialise in a wide range of areas relating to social work, with a particularly strong concentration of expertise in relation to mental health, being home to the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research, a collaborative centre of expertise in mental health social work. Members of the group also participate in the work of the NIHR School for Social Care Research and the ESRC Vulnerability and Policing Futures Research Centre.

Impact and engagement

We believe that achieving impact is fundamental to the integrity of our research. Through a combination of academic rigour and applied research, our work makes a difference to international, national and local communities by driving evidence-based improvements to policy and practice.

We collaborate extensively with local and national organisations, including the Yorkshire Urban and Rural Social Work Teaching Partnership. We run a Service User and Carer Participation and Advisory Group, made up of carers and service users in the local area. This group supports students and staff by sharing information and their lived experience in York and the surrounding areas.

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We contribute to teaching across the School and lead the delivery of two professional qualifying social work programmes, one at undergraduate level and one at postgraduate level.



We also run two related training courses for registered social workers with at least two years’ post qualifying experience who wish to gain the necessary qualification to work as practice educators:


Doctoral research

We welcome PhD applications in any of our research areas or allied to our related research interests.

Find a supervisor

PhD students

Our students are investigating a wide of range of topics relating to social work theory and practice.

Meet our students

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