BASW’s decision to form a college has triggered fears that the sector will appear fragmented
An official statement from the British Association of Social Workers described its pledge to launch a UK college of social work as “bold and historic”.
Yet in just seven days, the decision to ballot the association’s 12,500 members over the issue is proving so divisive that it may become historic for the wrong reasons.
So far one BASW council member has resigned over the issue, while initial responses from ministers and the sector have been sceptical, if not negative.
The official college development group consists of social workers, employers, academics, and unions. Other professions have shown that a successful national college requires the involvement of all of these groups.
Yet so far only one other national body – Nagalro, representing children’s guardians, a niche section of the workforce – has signed up to BASW’s proposal for a UK college.
While Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and former BASW chair, believed preserving the college’s independence was important, he doubted whether BASW possessed “the credibility or legitimacy to establish a college in its own right”.
John Dixon, immediate past-president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, agreed, warning the move could be “self-defeating”.
“It’s a shame because we’ve got the official group which Adass is supporting, which has been agreed across the sector,” he said.
“If they’re giving social workers a voice that’s brilliant, but I don’t think BASW will command the involvement of the other organisations that need to be a part of that.”
The Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee, representing 75 universities in the UK providing the social work degree, said the announcement could confuse social workers and give the impression of a fragmented sector.
Hilary Tompsett, who chairs the committee, questioned BASW’s decision to announce the council’s recommendation before having the full backing of the membership.
“Social work is a profession that should be able to tolerate different opinions and work together to produce the best outcomes for communities and the profession. The grit in the oyster might make a good pearl but you need to be in the right shell to make sure that happens.”
BASW’s Fran Fuller: ‘Why we did it’
Fran Fuller, acting chair of the British Association of Social Workers, explains how and why the decision was taken:
“BASW has really tried to work constructively with government particularly over this issue – we have met with ministers, worked closely with civil servants, written papers, commissioned work and shared best practice and innovative ideas.
“We actually do know what we are doing and we are cross that our proposals are ignored; when we offer help and resources we are patronised.
“The situation for social work and particularly the users of social work is urgent and we must have a real effective college led by and accountable to social workers.
“The current view of the college is neither potent nor compelling enough to make a difference. As the professional association in all humility we have a responsibility to act.
“Personalising this to Hilton Dawson is actually an insult to the members of BASW council who are very experienced and able people who have worked closely and intensively on this issue for a long time. This resolution was passed by members after a long debate and a democratic vote – for some of the time Hilton wasn’t even in the room. Nor is he the strongest voice within BASW on this issue.”
Voices of dissent: social work leaders opposed to BASW move
Baroness Morgan, children’s minister
“I find BASW council’s decision to ballot its members on an additional social work college very disappointing. It would be very unfortunate if BASW were to decide it no longer wished to participate in creating a single voice for the profession.”
Helga Pile, national officer for social workers, Unison
“Unison will continue to take part in the college development group. We have always had concerns that the focus on the college risks becoming a distraction from implementing other pressing reforms and this only serves to confirm those concerns.”
Moira Gibb, chair of Social Work Reform Board in England
“To split this capacity into competing colleges would be short-sighted. I see no reason why a UK college might not be the end result if that is what social workers in England and the other countries so choose.”
Roger Kline, social care spokesperson for trade union Aspect
“While we respect BASW’s decision, Aspect will continue to take part on the development group that is planning the college, as we believe that the opportunity represented by the taskforce recommendation should not be missed.”