Opportunity for a second opinion option for students who fail
the Diploma in Social Work was welcomed. Whether the option is
being properly used is being questioned Philip Whiteley reports
The revelation that the University of North London has not been
following guidance on second opinions for social work training
placements has ignited a blaze of controversy.
Stacey Oliver, a Diploma in Social Work student, had to argue to
win a second opinion, which, under guidelines issued by the social
work training council CCETSW, should have been granted
automatically. When it came the second opinion flatly contradicted
the practice teacher’s fail recommendation and criticised the level
During the meetings and correspondence which ensued Oliver
became so discouraged he changed from social work to a health
Exacerbating his insecurity was the fact that, as a black
student negotiating with a mostly white organisation, concerns
about discrimination were never far away.
Oliver argued that the main reason for introducing the second
opinion was ‘the disproportionate number of failures among black
students’. Its abolition, proposed in the review of the DipSW, is a
cause for concern.
He acknowledged the practical difficulties in implementing the
second opinion, but added: ‘That is not my problem. I am trying to
follow the rules, not make them up.’
The problems can be formidable. Martin Davies, professor of
social work at the University of East Anglia, outlined the
potential for clashing with college rules.
He said where a second opinion contradicted the first, his
university’s regulations would not permit a changed verdict. ‘If a
second opinion has a right to a veto, I don’t see how that can work
within existing regulations.’
‘Social work already does it better than other professional
The second opinion created the risk that ‘courses will end up
saying “what the hell, we’ll pass everybody”,’ Davies said.
But Gary Clapton, Scottish representative of the National
Organisation for Practice Teaching, said poor implementation was
It was wrong to use the process as a complaints procedure, he
argued. ‘It can be used in a creative sense, as you are then moving
away from the judicial process.’
On the question of race, he said: ‘The key thing is fairness,
and catching the problem early. One has to be fairly skilled or
have access to ethnically sensitive, equality sensitive
Indications are that reform, not abolition, may be the
compromise reached by CCETSW to resolve the dispute.
If the option is retained, funding would be a key aspect. Davies
said his second opinion cost £800. Extra consultancy on race
issues, if part of the new arrangements, would need to be taken