Taskforce report: We’re not out of touch, say lecturers

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Social work lecturers have rejected claims made in the Social Work Task Force’s final report that they are out of touch with the realities of frontline practice.

Michael Preston-Shoot, dean of health and social services at Bedfordshire University, said he found it “hard to recognise the criticisms” in the report.

It claimed “strong concerns” had been expressed about the calibre of some lecturers and tutors in England, particularly on applying theory to practice and urged them to “avoid any temptation to criticise from the sidelines”.

“By and large, social work academics make every effort to keep up-to-date with the realities of frontline practice through research,” said Preston-Shoot.

Concerned by criticisms

He supported the taskforce’s recommendation to improve the delivery of the social work degree, but was concerned by the anecdotal nature of the criticisms in the report.

“People reading it do not have access to the data it’s relying on or to how the taskforce has evaluated it,” he said.

Karen Broadhurst, a social work lecturer at Lancaster University, also defended fellow academics against the claims. She worked closely with practitioners and, like her, most lecturers “seek out ways to get involved” with frontline practice.

“I would think that most higher education institutions would expect their staff to be involved either through research or service user and agency engagement.”

However, Broadhurst admitted that social work lecturers can become “a bit divorced from the realities of practice” if they have high workloads in teaching and are unable to engage in field research.

But she stressed that she fully supported the work of the taskforce and its recommendations.

Student-staff ratio

She said part of the problem was the ratio of staff to students. “Some of the complaints from students might be because they’re not getting enough time with tutors.”

Chandi Patel, head of social work at Sheffield Hallam University, said the quality of teaching was “inextricably linked” to research.

“Of course there are going to be inconsistencies across the country, but a lot of the lecturing staff I manage have links with frontline practice through research or serious case reviews,” she said.

The taskforce outlined a comprehensive action plan to raise the quality and status of the social work profession in England earlier this month after a wide-ranging review of training and practice. The government has accepted all 15 recommendations made by the expert group, and will publish a detailed implementation plan early next year.

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