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Expert Comment: Does Social Work training need upgrading?

0127 Dr Michael Lavalette Thursday 13 February 2014

As the Narey Review calls for higher standards in the Social Work training, Professor Michael Lavalette, Head of Liverpool Hope's Department of Social Care, Work and Justice, looks at its recommendations.

Here we go again, another day, another Government report into social work education!

Sir Martin Narey's review (published today is just the latest in a series of reviews that have taken place over the last few years.

In the aftermath of the death of Peter Connolley, Eileen Munroe was tasked to undertake a fundamental review of social work (including social work education). Her Report into Child Protection was published in October 2010. It led to a number of significant changes in social work. It led to the setting up of the College of Social Work and transferred responsibility for university course validation and professional registration to the Health and Care Professionals Council. It established a new framework for social work education and training (the 'Professional Capabilities Framework') which has required all course to redraft and remodel their social work programmes to meet current standards.

At Liverpool Hope we were one of the first courses to go through the new validation process last March (2013). Our students who started in September 2013 were amongst a tranche of students undertaking the new programme for the first time. Indeed two weeks ago I was at a London University who were validating the new programme for a start in September 2014.

Yet even before the students had started on the new degree programmes Michael Gove had asked Sir Martin Narey to undertake another review of social work education! He was being asked to review and consider the failings of a educational framework that hadn't even started.

It would seem that one of the requirements that is now needed to write a Government report is to be a psychic!

Narey's review makes several recommendations. Some (at least for us at Hope) are not novel or new.

For example, he suggests that social work classes should be smaller (but we have always restricted our entry on our BA and MA courses to 25, so that's not new for us). He says that students shouldn't get access to courses with less than 240 UCAS points (our minimum is 280)

A larger set of recommendations is clearly aimed at forcing the College of Social Work to be much 'more rigorous' in their endorsement of social work programmes. But whilst these recommendations are aimed at the regulators it is clear their intention is to have a much greater influence on what is taught within social work programmes.

Gove has been repeating a series of right wing mantras about social work recently. He claims there is too much focus on 'social justice and oppression' and not enough recognition that the role of the social worker is to control the behaviour of families. Narey clearly shares the Gove 'vision'.

But Gove's claims are based on an inadequate understanding of what social workers do.

Social workers are involved in a process of helping people to change. Part of that necessitates understanding the impact of inequalities,poverty and oppression on people's lives. Of course this does not mean that social workers use this to 'excuse bad behaviour'. In fact social workers regularly challenge people about the things they say and do and the consequences of their actions.

Neither is it the case that social workers are the only profession that thinks inequality matters. Most of the world's leading epidemiologists now agree that poverty and inequality have a huge impact on people's lives and life chances in a whole manner of areas.

Behind this assault on social work education is a broader process of transformation. Gove's plans for social work, like his plans in teaching (through Teach First, for example) are to challenge and undermine professional knowledge bases as part of a process of professional deskilling and transformation of social work and welfare services.

For those of that are committed to social work and social work education the Gove/Narey plans represent an attempt to undermine the social work knowledge base. Gove/Narey are determined to turn social work into a 'practical' and 'technical' task, with little room for consideration of the complexities of life and the impact they have on people's lives.

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