Practical bias sparks alarm

June 14, 2002

Academics are alarmed by the practical emphasis in the long-awaited curriculum for the new social work degree and by the lack of information about funding.

The degree replaces the two-year diploma as the qualification for social workers. It will be introduced in 2003 and is part of a government drive to improve the status of social workers and address chronic staff shortages.

Announcing the curriculum, health minister Jacqui Smith said: "Social work is a very practical job. It is about protecting people and changing their lives, not about being able to give a fluent and theoretical explanation of why they got into difficulties in the first place.

"New degree courses must ensure that theory and research directly inform and support practice."

But Joan Orme, professor of social work at Glasgow University and chair of the joint university council social work and education committee, said:

"Part of the argument for the qualifying level being raised to an undergraduate degree was that social workers need to understand the causes of social problems to enable them to deal with them effectively.

"Users have the right to expect social workers to understand what they are doing and why and not just to operate according to formulae and procedures."

Academics have long argued for a more generous system of student funding for social work students. An announcement on this will be made after the summer spending review, due next month.

An announcement on the funding of student placements will not be made until 2003.

Professor Orme said: "The General Social Care Council is encouraging universities to seek accreditation for the new degree this summer.

"But many universities are deterred by the lack of information about funding."

The requirements for social work training set out the minimum standards for entry to social work degree courses and for the teaching and assessment that social work students must receive. Students must spend a minimum of 200 days in placements.

Professor Orme added: "All the evidence we have suggests it is not the number of days in practice but the quality of the practice learning that is crucial."

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