Having a colleague who represented England in rugby union would probably be viewed positively by many social workers today. But in the 1970s that wasn’t the case, explains Mike Leadbetter (pictured right), the new chair of the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) and former England player.
“A lot of social workers at that time didn’t think it was very cool,” he says. “But some of the people I worked with were fascinated. They thought I was a proper person if I did something else.”
Leadbetter made only one appearance for England in 1970 in France, after which an achilles injury prevented him ever returning to full fitness. But his rugby career as a second row included captaining Manchester’s Broughton Park and 35 caps for Lancashire.
“I would love to be doing it now but they [the England team] would eat us alive. We only trained two or three days a week,” he says.
Leadbetter started his social care career as an unqualified social worker in Moss Side, Manchester, in 1972 after working as a manager in a print works, and his rugby career spanned these two roles.
He says that rugby then was very different from the public school image now often associated with it.
“I packed down with people who were doing tough manual jobs. There was a dustbin man in front of me. They were all tough men and they needed the money. If you didn’t win you didn’t get paid.”
Rugby aside, Leadbetters’s path up the social care ladder has been equally successful. After qualifying as a social worker he went on to become director of social services in Tameside, Greater Manchester, aged 39, for seven years. He then moved to Essex in 1993 to be the director there for 10 years. It was while in this role that he became president of the Association of Directors of Social Services from 2001 to 2002.
From Essex he went on to run the Practice Learning Taskforce, set up to promote the practice learning requirements of the social work degree, until last year. He has since set up his own consultancy business and taken on a number of roles including interim social services and housing director at Kensington and Chelsea in London.
Leadbetter is also a trustee of young people’s charity Youth at Risk, which was involved in a Channel 4 series last year about disadvantaged young people undergoing training with the Birmingham Royal Ballet, culminating in a performance.
Leadbetter takes over from former education secretary Estelle Morris in his role at CWDC and says the council has achieved a lot in its first 18 months. He says his priority now is to “really get the message across” about what the council does by setting out a clear agenda that the children’s sector workforce can identify with.
Before her departure Morris said she wanted to get to a point where parents had ambitions for their children to grow up to become children’s services professionals as lawyers and doctors do now. Leadbetter agrees that this is what the council should be aiming for.
“I would like the children’s workforce to have its place in the sun alongside teachers and doctors. Everybody knows what those professions do. We have a fair way to go, but I do think this government is up for it.”
What was the first single you bought?
“Buddy Holly – Maybe Baby.”
Do you have any pets?
“Two adored pussy cats: Mitzi, named after actress Mitzi Gaynor, and Jessie, named after the opera singer, Jessie Norman.”
What would your last meal be on death row?
“A plate of fresh mixed fish cooked in a garlic sauce with parsley and a hint of chilli.”
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This article appeared in the 19th April issue under the headline “Leadbetter’s place in the sun”