Put class back in the classroom

The new social work degree will make entry into the profession more
difficult for working class people. This is another example of the
way that class discrimination is gradually seeping into the

Support for the social work degree clearly comes from the middle
classes. The belief that social workers need longer basic training
is an implied criticism of them and affirmation of the value of
training. This has come about largely through an alliance between
middle class managers, academics and politicians.

Two years’ basic training should be adequate for most social work
jobs. Instead of an extra year, I would like to see a debate about
the type of education that makes good social workers. Many working
class people do not share the middle class obsession with education
and qualifications. They value streetwise knowledge, the ability to
think on your feet and practical skills.

A key philosophical issue in social work is the nature of the
relationship between the individual and the state. Social work
seeks to establish the right balance between respecting privacy and
intervening to provide care and control. The working class regards
social work as part of the controlling state. However, social work
trainers who are predominantly middle class, stress the caring
aspect of the social work role and teach anti-oppressive practice.
Consequently, newly-qualified social workers are ill-prepared for
the job because the values they have been taught during training do
not fit with those underpinning service delivery.

These problems can only be addressed if class is put at the centre
of training. Class must be discussed and thought about more
clearly. Anti-oppressive practice must be taught in a way that
includes getting to grips with class oppression. Unless social
workers have a realistic class analysis they may unwittingly
succumb to pressures to behave oppressively.

The official view is that the new social work degree will raise the
profile and status of social workers. I say social work is actually
being destroyed by managers through frequent restructuring and
endless new procedures, often involving lengthy form filling, which
hinder rather than help front-line workers. Many social services
departments are in disarray and it is unlikely social workers with
degrees will want to work in them.

Social work courses must be radicalised with a new philosophy based
on traditional social work values in which the centrality of class
is recognised.

Hilary Searing is a retired social worker.

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