Anti-social work behaviour

November 22, 2012

What a disgrace it is that Michael Gove, the education secretary, chooses to disregard the positive work that social work academics undertake in supporting and protecting vulnerable people. The arena in which social workers practise is ever-changing: it is not open to simple applied methods.

In arguing for a TeachFirst approach to social work education that seeks to train on the job rather than in universities, Gove implies that existing provision is not fit for purpose. His views and actions can only further demoralise the profession and upset his espoused aim of attracting more bright candidates to social work at a time of great tumult in higher education.

Gove's proposed changes also ride roughshod over the painstaking work of the Social Work Task Force and the Social Work Reform Board, and the recommendations now being implemented under the auspices of the College of Social Work overseen by the Health and Care Professions Council. So much for joined-up thinking in government or, indeed, evidence-based policy.

Lord Carlile of Berriew's report into the Edlington case in Doncaster, commissioned and backed by Gove, fails lamentably to consider the expertise and commitment of social work academics and practitioners. It pays scant attention to the oversubscription apparent on so many social work courses (up to 10 applicants for each place on qualifying programmes at both the bachelor's and master's level). The peer's report also fails to consider social work research that demonstrates our success in protecting children and young people - something, perhaps, that makes the tragedies and failings when they do occur appear more common than they really are.

Social work education and research in the UK is among the best in the world. It is undermined at society's peril, as we will increasingly need such services as demography changes and demands on families grow.

Jonathan Parker, Professor of social work and social policy, Bournemouth University.

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