Is the review of social work education a genuine attempt to improve service provision for those most vulnerable in society?

What one ‘academic’ really thinks about the proposed review……

Government has announced a review of social work education to be under taken by Professor David Croisdale-Appleby (OBE). I do believe we need to see change in the system, however, am I convinced this is a genuine attempt by government to improve social work education and the quality of practice?

My instinct tells me there is no need for a costly review because the decision has already been made, we have ‘Frontline’ and ‘Step Up’ already, no matter that we do not really know whether they work or not that is not the purpose of this exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to reduce cost and divert attention from the real issues. Regardless of where you train or your academic ability unless change occurs in the organisational and managerial culture of health and social care, and additional resources are provided, those high flyers government are seeking to attract to the profession will soon succumb to the harsh realities of life as a professional in social work. My fear is social workers will be less prepared as local authorities ‘educate’ workers who can follow policy and procedures, rather than practitioners who challenge.

Some suggest students are not prepared for practice on their courses, is this the case? Could it be students are prepared for social work but the problem is many local authorities do not want professionals trained to work with people, they want workers trained to work with the system?

I do not disagree that some provision of undergraduate social work education is not of an appropriate standard, and some of those on courses are not suited to the role, but maybe that’s a consequence of the continued demeaning of the profession by politicians and the media and the process of funding in higher education. These are all part of the equation which needs to be looked at. However, will a perceived shift of emphasis to local authorities address the apparent failure of higher education? In some cases yes and some no, because some will be good programmes and some will be not so good, some local authorities will be up to the challenge, others not. Is the proposed ‘new’ system not so dissimilar from the system which pre-dates the current DipSW and degree? Where local authorities trained their own social workers, and will it not be reviewed in a few years because it is perceived to have failed by what ever incumbent government wants to divert attention away from addressing the real issues that face social work?

I appear to have completed the loop de loop of life, where I am now experiencing a reappearance of the system I took part in replacing many years ago!

Maybe I am missing the point. Frontline has some big academics advising, however, the emphasis for providing training and education appears to be on local authorities because the whole of higher education is failing. It feels like there has been a campaign against university social work education departments in the last two years based on the failure of the few. We saw it with the removal of PQSW, which I would argue has had a positive effect on practice in many areas, however, the focus when reviewed was on where it did not work, thus leading to the system being replaced. It saddens me that it appears those who teach in universities are perceived as some doddery relic from the past with limited knowledge of social work today, or even worse they live in an ivory tower totally out of touch with reality (just for clarity I actually live in a bungalow) and clearly have nothing to offer in terms of education for social work. I see it on social media sites where ‘academics’ views and opinions are rubbished because they are not front line practitioners, where the label of ‘expert’ is attached to them by others and then disparaged. When in reality not many would call themselves an expert, and firmly believe academics and practitioners are not in competition with one another, but complement one another. This is the approach I use when working with qualified practitioners and it appears to work very well.

Still, it’s a good old tactic divide and rule, let’s all blame each other rather than look to those with power and the ideology underpinning so many of the divisive policies handed down by this government.

Still the one good thing to come out of ‘Frontline’ is that it has reminded me I need to stop off at Pampured Pets on the way home! (Barney, 18 years old, tabby, dodgy eye, one replaced hip, one pinned hip, a small hole in his ear and a massive hole in my bank account)

About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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