08 August 2009

On social work training

'Degrees in social work are viewed as being "difficult to fail" - a reputation that is unacceptable, a select committee of MPs has said.'

As I wrote several years ago;

When I taught on social work courses, on which the majority of other tutors were former social workers, they were often exemplary tutors. They brought all their professional skills to bear in counselling and supporting students, and were enormously sensitive to their difficulties and any form of discrimination to which they might potentially be subject. Also true to their professional background, they acted as advocates for their "clients". So it was that our assessment boards were interminable affairs, as tutors produced reams of evidence of extenuating circumstances to argue that students who had failed, or failed to submit work, should proceed to the next year of the course, or be granted extensions to produce the required work for completion.

[Note; I left social work education fifteen years ago. I have confirmed in the last six months that in at least three not untypical programmes, nothing has changed in this respect.]

Recently [2001, but this is the same borough in which the Baby Peter case happened], the Director of Social Services for the London Borough of Haringey admitted to the inquiry into the death of Victoria ClimbiƩ (a child killed by her aunt and partner who were supposed to be looking after her) that some of her staff had not read the Departmental policies and procedures on child abuse because, although qualified, they could not read very well. [Primary Source reference here see pp 77-78]*

This pre-dates the introduction of the degree-level qualification for social work, but even then it was at what we would now regard as NQF (National Qualifications Framework) Level 5 (i.e. two years of university-level education)
As someone said (sorry, despite my usual academic pedantry, I can't reference this);

    "I'm all for students being supported and being given the benefit of the doubt, as long as my doctor/dentist/airline pilot/plumber didn't learn that way!"

I was criticised severely for telling the students at the start of the course that I was not so much interested in their welfare as in the welfare of their future clients.

The problem with "supporting" students is that in many — probably most — cases it does not work. It merely defers their ultimate failure: or of course it results in collusion between the staff and their incapable students to "dumb down" the course so that they do pass, with a devalued qualification which potentially costs employers a great deal of money to compensate for, and in some cases costs livelihoods and lives.

I wrote that explicitly to provoke debate, and get beyond the bland edu-pap regurgitated by "trainee" teachers. So I added a caveat distancing myself from the sentiment.

I withdraw the caveat.

* Lets get it from the horse's mouth: this is the relevant transcript from the Climbie enquiry:

MR GARNHAM: How are you going to achieve this? I ask because Mary Richardson told us that some staff had a real difficulty with the written word, that guidance -- and we have seen this time and time again -- guidance is not always followed or even read, so how are you going to make these improvements? Do you agree with Ms Richardson by the way?

16 MS BRISTOW: I believe any large organisation you will always have some staff with literacy problems and I think one of the difficulties in our society is it is very hard for people to admit to that. There is a social stigma attached to admitting difficulty with literacy or numeracy.

22 MR GARNHAM: Difficulty with literacy and numeracy is a problem in trained social workers, is it?

24 MS BRISTOW: I believe that does in some cases occur.

1 comment:

  1. Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.


Comments welcome, but I am afraid I have had to turn moderation back on, because of inappropriate use. Even so, I shall process them as soon as I can.