Social work on probation

October 6, 1995

The implications of the Home Office decision to scrap the diploma of social work as the compulsory entrance requirement for the probation service are more far-reaching than the interests of the social work departments which are being squeezed and the probation lecturers whose jobs are on the line. The decision is testimony - if further testimony were needed - that the Government is still suspicious of higher education, still sceptical of the contribution universities make to professional training.

It follows the decision to move teacher training out of the university lecture halls and into the clamouring, overfull school classrooms, because, it is assumed by the Government, sitting-next-to-Nelly is the best way of doing things. This philosophy has hardly been an unmitigated success in teacher training as recent reports show. It limits horizons, reducing professional preparation to narrow training. Such an approach is inapproriate in these days of rapid change. The prospects for the new probation training scheme do not look promising.

The decision also raises questions about the Government's approach to the criminal justice system. Universities have long provided the system not only with probation officers equipped to deal with the sensitive task of helping ex-prisoners out of porridge, but also with an essential resource of research and consultancy on policy issues like the balance between retribution and rehabilitation. Such involvement places a heavy responsiblity on academics as Christopher Cooper points out in the American context (pages 12-13). But that does not mean Government will do better without academic input. Such input is now in jeopardy, amid fears that a no-nonsense boot-camp philosophy is being given priority.

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