Martin Narey defends social work education report against ‘misguided’ critics

The government advisor takes issue with a critique of his report, published in Community Care last week

Sir Martin Narey
Ministerial advisor Sir Martin Narey (Rex Features)

Last week, a senior lecturer and doctoral student argued my report into the education of children’s social workers was based on opinion and judgement rather than generalisable fact, and that it leant heavily on anecdotes from parties that were largely unnamed.

Disagreeing with the conclusions I reach in my report is entirely legitimate. And, indeed, attacking those conclusions on the basis that I fail to justify them would be reasonable also.

But even when one makes allowance for a little partiality, which helps to provide an entertaining article, this critique is, at best, misguided.

This is not the first time that it’s been suggested that my report is anecdotal. But it’s no less excusable for that. And it’s untrue. An anecdote is a short, amusing or interesting story about an incident or person. There are no stories in my report, amusing or otherwise.

There are a number of sources whose identity I’ve protected (and frankly, that was vital and I make no apology for doing so): The external examiner from one university who, without any prompting from me, criticised the poor literacy of some social work undergraduates; the lecturer who wrote to me to tell me of the pressure on him to pass the work of inadequate students; the social work students – in significant number – who either had critical things to say about their course or their practice placement (or both). All had their own reasons for wishing to remain anonymous. But their views were no less valid because of that.

Of course, had my conclusions been based only on those opinions then they would have carried much less weight. But in reality I drew upon, and referred in my report to, previous studies and opinions from a large number of bodies and individuals, including but not limited to, The Education Select Committee, The College of Social Work, Eileen Munro, Lord Laming, The Social Work Task Force, The Reform Board, NSPCC, The National Student Survey, The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey and Policy Exchange.

So, by all means, dispute my conclusions, argue against them, and perhaps consider inviting me to debate them with staff and students (only two universities have taken up this much-repeated offer). But don’t pretend they’re not conclusions that have been reached by a number of previous studies and voiced many times by serious and respected commentators, such as Herbert Laming.

Finally, a bit of advice for the author: If you want to throw a bit of conspiracy into an argument, it’s important to be clear about one or two facts. It’s said that my report was written with language Michael Gove has been quick to use, and my reward for writing it was to be appointed, after publication, as a ministerial advisor. In fact, I’ve been advising ministers at the Department for Education, first on adoption and then on children’s social care, for three years.

The article then concludes with a rhetorical flourish: A critically minded undergraduate might be inclined to ask one more question. Why did Michael Gove call for a second review within weeks of Croisdale Appleby being appointed to carry out this task? In fact, care minister Norman Lamb wrote to David Croisdale Appleby in April 2013, asking him to undertake a review. This was four months after Michael Gove commissioned mine and two months after children’s minister Edward Timpson announced the review.

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2 Responses to Martin Narey defends social work education report against ‘misguided’ critics

  1. Carla Kerenyi July 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Narey’s understanding of basic terms is notoriously poor and often tending towards bias. His definition of anecdote is an instance of prejudice. A more acceptable definition that the one he draws on is “Anecdote” – (Of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

    Most accept that the Narey report is deeply ideological and driven by his puppet Master, the sidelined Michael Gove. A close examination of his report quickly reveals several flawed assumption that are not supported by empirical evidence. As far as his willingness to debate is concerned, one soon discovers he is very selective about with who and where he is prepared to debate.

  2. Jill Jordan July 31, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Narey is clearly a man on a mission but one that may prove to be short-lived now that Michael Gove has unceremoniously departed. While Narey tries desperately to court favour and recognition, with a social work academic circle (himself being a failed academic), his report may soon be confined to the trash bin where it clearly belongs. There is general agreement that the report is one of the most shoddy, insubstantial and disingenuous. A minor point but it is also badly written.

    What Narey report does, in short, is hijack narrow conservative belief, empty them of content and redeploy them in the name of moral order, social consensus and his own search for glory. It is an astonishingly impudent enterprise. It is also strikingly unoriginal.

    The bottom line is that Narey has only a minimal grasp of front-line social work. He has never gotten his hands dirty by having to visit a disadvantaged family living in miserable conditions on some grey, peripheral working class council estate. Moreover, he has little sense of the historical and economic influences that have shaped the social work agenda. He misleadingly thinks things “can be fixed” like a plumber going to work on a leaking bent pipe. Alas, what we find with much of Narey’s contributions (and this is most evident by observing his Twitter account) is nothing more than a bumptious egotism.