The majority of social workers and students broadly agree with Martin Narey’s recommendations for reforming the training of children’s practitioners in England, a snap poll by Community Care would suggest.
Community Care’s poll was filled in by 134 qualified social workers, 71 students and 27 academics; 31 respondents gave a different job role or declined to say. The results show support even for Narey’s most potentially controversial recommendations, such as allowing undergraduate students to specialise in children’s social work after their first year.
Almost a week after Narey published his 18 recommendations for improving initial social work training – and education secretary Michael Gove revealed the chief social worker for children and families is looking into developing a licence to practise arrangement – reaction continues to pour in.
Many have focused on the recommendation to allow earlier specialisation within the degree, as well as to transfer regulation of social workers from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to The College of Social Work (TCSW).
Early on in the debate, TCSW said it was “equal to the challenge” set by Narey to take on the HCPC’s social work duties, but the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) questioned how a body with no proven track record of regulating could take on such an important role. BASW chief executive Bridget Robb pointed out that the HCPC’s duty to protect the public is at odds with TCSW’s membership model.
The HCPC defended its approach to regulation, stating: “We are confident that our standards and processes are fit for purpose and complement existing mechanisms for the delivery of health and social care education. We have worked closely with the social work community to develop these.” It will consider Narey’s recommendations in more detail at its next council meeting in March.
BASW also expressed concern about the consequences of splitting social work into a distinct checklist of skills needed for adults and children’s social work.
University of Hertfordshire lecturer Tanya Moore went further. Writing in Community Care (in a personal capacity), she said of Narey’s recommendation that undergraduate students should be allowed to specialise after their first year: “This would be two years too soon. Asking students to make a decision about their future careers so early into their training disadvantages students, the services and, ultimately, the people we support.”
The response from the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUC SWEC) and Association of Professors of Social Work (APSW) was welcoming, in contrast to the reaction of some individual academics. The two bodies said they were “cautious about making too quick a response” before David Croisdale-Appleby’s review of social work education in adult services was published.
But they did argue that, instead of introducing a new specialist children’s social work degree, the profession should build upon the existing arrangements, as some courses already allow students to specialise through their placement and dissertation choices.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services supported Narey’s review and acknowledged that employers needed to do more to shape social work education and work with universities and TCSW to ensure sufficient high-quality practice placements are available. Behind the scenes, some academics told Community Care they felt the review put too much emphasis on the shortcomings of some degree courses, without paying enough attention to the role of employers.
Meanwhile, practice educator Helen Bonnick notes that some commentators have mistakenly understood Narey to be arguing in favour of less theory on the degree. “By my reading, this is not what Narey says. [He] has chosen to give space to two particular points: that there is not enough focus on theories and understanding of child development and on child protection issues; and that there is sometimes too much focus on anti-oppressive practice and empowerment.
“Certainly there are students I have worked with who have needed more, not less, teaching on anti-oppressive practice. In my opinion, there is room for more teaching in almost every area of the curriculum.”
On Twitter, some criticism was levelled at Narey for the methodology used in the report, which Narey makes clear is not a formal review, but one based on conversations with people in the sector.
just read Narey review of #socialwork education – ironic demonstration that plural of anecdote is not evidence
— Richard Humphries (@RichardatKF) February 13, 2014
Narey has this to say of his chosen methodology in the foreword to his report: “I have had a large number of private interviews with employers, academics, students and newly employed, established and retired social workers. That approach encouraged many individuals to be rather more candid than they might otherwise have been. That has been vital.”
Finally, former director Bill McKitterick, who has a long history of working to improve training and development of social workers, says that, while there is much good in Narey’s review, there is no escaping the fact it is yet another report produced by a non-social worker.
“For once money is not the issue; what is needed is to use the expertise and experience within the whole profession. Then perhaps the next major review of an aspect of social work can be initiated and undertaken from our own leadership, rather than from a politician or government or following a national scandal.”