‘Alan Wood’s ‘crap’ social workers slur ignores the fantastic work being done in difficult times’: an NQSW hits back

Liane McGovern responds to controversial comments about the state of social work education from the ADCS president

Students
Credit: David Oxberry/Mood Board/Rex (posed by models)

By Liane McGovern, social worker

After arriving home from a long day I was somewhat disheartened last night as I scrolled through my Twitter feed and read the remarks of ADCS president Alan Wood making reference to the ‘crap’ social workers that are produced by social work courses and academics.

The sheer derogatory language used by Mr Wood will do nothing for the morale of a profession and education system which seems to be coming under attack from all sides. As I considered what may have contributed to Mr Wood’s notion of ‘crap’ social workers, it is clear that there is a belief that our current degree programmes and academics are producing social workers who are not equipped to practice.

‘Social work academics have inspired me’

Social work academics are people whose work I value and who have contributed to my aspirations. They are passionate about the future of social work and do much more than simply, in Mr Wood’s words, ‘write letters to the Guardian’ about policy changes they are concerned about. Social work academics have inspired and shaped me into a practitioner who feels truly privileged to work in this field.

There are issues with social work and the need for reform, but these go way beyond the remit of social work educators. The current system and climate in which social workers practice is one of targets, timescales and high caseloads resulting in burnout, stress and workers feeling paralysed in their role.

Mr Wood’s comments again referring to the ‘crap’ social workers  who are unable to meet competencies, appear somewhat punitive. I am in no way suggesting that unsafe practice should be allowed to occur but I find myself wondering whether enough is done to support social workers who are not meeting the required competencies, those whose cases are highlighted during inspections and who are struggling under the weight of the role.

‘I feel valued by my team and employers’

As a Newly Qualified Social Worker (NQSW) I feel supported and valued by my team and employers. The knowledge base I and the other NQSWs in my team have brought from university is recognised and drawn upon (as are the books which line my desk).

I am 10 months into the ASYE programme. While there have been times when my caseload has taken priority over my time to study, this programme provides me with an avenue to grow, to reflect and to consolidate my university learning.

There have been times during my first year in practice that have been difficult and there is always the potential to be overloaded by work at a time when morale is low. Late night and weekend working is par for the course, there is always more that can be done and it would be wonderful if someone would slip a few extra hours into each day.

Those who lead our profession and local authorities should recognise the quality and commitment of the workforce. They should not make sweeping, generalised comments that ignore the fantastic social work that is being done during such difficult times.

I am part of a generation of social workers who are passionate, committed, informed and aspirational; the generation who will develop, grow and contribute to the knowledge base and leadership of this profession.

I would hope that Alan Wood’s comments were set out of context but this should remind us that we all have a voice; and how we use that voice is important. We should utilise our collective voice to celebrate, debate and move forward together – as a profession social work needs to unite.

Liane McGovern is taking part in a panel to debate social worker education at this year’s JSWEC conference. Alan Wood has been invited to participate.

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6 Responses to ‘Alan Wood’s ‘crap’ social workers slur ignores the fantastic work being done in difficult times’: an NQSW hits back

  1. John Ramsey July 11, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Not for the first time one of Hackney’s senior managers passes a derogatory comment on NQSWs.
    In about 2008, I was UNISON convenor in Hackneys’ Children’s Services and raised with the the then Deputy Director, Steve Goodman, his reply before before a House of Commons Select comittee; asked “Is your problem that you have rotten Social Workersin hackney”, Goodman replied beginning “It’s not the only problem…”

    I have a good measure of respect for both Goodman and Woods, and they clearly have every right to an opinion about current Social Work training, but as managers they really should engage their not inconsiderable brains before describing their hard working staff as “crap” or “rotten”.

  2. Ray Jones July 11, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Brilliant Liane. THANK YOU. I am much impressed that after a heavy day of social work practice you had the commitment to be a social work champion. It is really sad, indeed awful, when a few of those in leadership roles undermine their colleagues and those at the front-line. My experience of being close to front-line children’s social workers every week is that there are lots of stars and very few who are ‘crap’ (albeit not a term I would chose to use in describing others). May be Mr Wood, who is the children’s services director in Hackney, has a different experience of his front-line colleagues. I doubt it. I hope he will apologise to them. Ray Jones

  3. Katharine Harwood Lott July 11, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Well done as an AYSE myself I totally agree with everything written.

  4. Helen Burrows July 11, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Thank you Liane for this thoughtful response – I too was very disheartened to read Alan Woods’ comments, particularly after marking my final years’ students’ assignments, and seeing the very high level of analysis and knowledge that many of them displayed. The ASYE work I see is also often of a very high standard. I find it worrying that there is an assumption that only very high academic achievers will make good social workers (eg the Frontline assumption) – many of the best practitioners I know are only average in terms of academic ability, but brilliant with service users, and still also able to use analysis to a high level. Publicly tarring all universities and practitioners with the same dirty brush does nothing for the profession’s morale and professional standing.

  5. Pat Curran July 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    I agree with the comments made by the Liane. Such a pity no mention is made of the enthusiastic band of independent practice teachers/educators like me who have had no pay rise since 2006 and now being forced to have a 30% pay cut in fees this academic year. What now for the future of the profession if they loose our expertise.

  6. Andrew lynch (New Zealand) July 11, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    I endorse all the encouraging comments above – good on you Liane!

    Our Minister of Social Development over here made similarly unhelpful comments 6 months ago. A sad reflection on our leaders indeed.

    Andrew