Diary: ‘We explain that social work’s values are non-negotiable’

A possible mismatch between social work values and a student's stance on homosexuality pose a dilemma to this anonymous social work lecturer and his team.

Image: Image Source/Rex Features
Image: Image Source/Rex Features

Monday

I am, reluctantly, the admissions tutor for our social work course. This unpopular role involves, among other thankless tasks, persuading colleagues to interview candidates.
We’re already three weeks into the first semester but senior management insist we continue to recruit new students as we have not yet reached our target.

This makes a mockery of our 85% minimum attendance requirement and causes dark mutterings from the team who are already trying to use any ‘spare’ time to prepare their teaching. 

“No students, no jobs,” I remind them perkily. I even annoy myself sometimes.

Tuesday

We receive the outcome of a recent academic offences hearing. I identified that about 35% of this particular student’s essay was material copied word-for-word from various (unacknowledged) internet sources.

Finding plagiarism is a painstaking and time-consuming process. It can take hours.

The outcome of the hearing is: “The academic offence of plagiarism has technically taken place. The dissertation will be zero rated and the student may resubmit the piece of work which will be capped at the maximum grade of pass”. 

As all second submissions are capped at 40%, this means there is, effectively, no penalty whatsoever. I wonder why I bothered.

It occurs to me that (at a rough guess) one out of every 20 essays I mark is at least partly plagiarised.

Extrapolating this to the number of social workers in the country (roughly 80,000), I estimate that approximately 4,000 practising social workers obtained their qualifications by cheating. It’s a sobering thought for a profession that prides itself on its values.  

Wednesday

I am chairing our team meeting. A tutor wants to discuss a handwritten letter they have received from a student. The letter states that the student “knows homosexuality to be a sin and wrong in the eyes of God”.

The student insists they could work professionally with gay and lesbian people in most situations but said they could never help a gay couple adopt a child or condone a civil partnership.

The student is asking the tutor if they can continue on the course with these views.  The tutor would like the team’s view on an appropriate response.

The team’s views range from “unless they change their values they cannot possibly practise social work”, to “it doesn’t really matter – they can choose not to work in adoption” (a view that provokes some robust protestations).

Some suggest that only a few weeks into the course such conflict is to be expected and that the student’s position might change as they are exposed to other viewpoints. We agree it is not for us to tell the student what to do. 

We can merely explain that the profession’s values and equality legislation are non-negotiable and that they must, ultimately, decide for themselves whether they can reconcile the requirements of the profession with their religious beliefs.     

Thursday

Several colleagues are off sick. I am asked to cover someone’s session at short notice. I have a PowerPoint presentation but little else (there should be a DVD and some handouts – I have neither). I reluctantly head off to the classroom, grumbling “hell is other people’s sessions”.

No-one finds this amusing. They may be unfamiliar with Sartre or they may just be fed up with me grumbling. Most likely both.

Friday

A colleague is bemoaning the fact that the second year group they have just taught had no idea what the term ‘financial abuse’ meant. “Show them your wage packet”, I suggest. I am growing grumpier by the second. Thank heavens it is the weekend.    

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