I resigned as a lecturer after the university did not fail social work students

A former social work senior lecturer details the on-going battle to maintain academic and professional standards amidst the marketisation of universities

graduating
Lou was encouraged to aim high. Photo: OJO/Rex (posed by models)

Last week, after more than twenty years of university teaching, I handed in my notice and resigned from my post as senior lecturer in social work and course lead of a Masters in Advanced Practice.

I don’t have another job to go to and will, undoubtedly, miss the regular income and relative safety of a full-time, permanent post.

However, I won’t miss the twelve hour days, the working every weekend and the on-going battle with university managers to uphold and maintain the academic and professional standards required and expected on a social work degree programme.

In the end, it was this that finally did it for me, with one case of plagiarism in particular that tipped me over the edge.

This year at graduation, one of the final year students will be qualifying as a social worker having been found to have plagiarised on two separate occasions – once in a second year essay, and once in her final year dissertation.

One plagiarism case too many

While the university regulations are very clear about the punishment imposed for such a serious proven offence for the second time around (students should automatically ‘fail the assessment and fail the unit, with no right to re-sit’), this student has managed to successfully appeal on the grounds that such a penalty is unfairly harsh.

Joining her on the platform at the graduation ceremony will be two of her peers who have ‘only’ been subjected to a single academic misconduct panel having been found to have plagiarised just the once.

Standing behind them will be a further three students whose work was returned to me by the investigating officer and not subjected to the panel’s scrutiny, as their essays contained less than 20% of copied and pasted material from unattributed online sources.

If you’re a practitioner, this is the quality and calibre of the current crop of social work graduates coming to join a team or agency near you.

If you’re a service user, these are the sorts of individuals who might be acting as your care manager or key worker in the very near future.

How has it come to pass that on a course where values and ethics are embedded in the curriculum and the importance of openness and honesty are taught from day one, we have six out of forty-two final year students behaving like this?

How is it, on a University programme that has recently been approved by the HCPC and endorsed by TCSW, we are only able to initiate suitability procedures when misconduct relates to practice? (In the cases outlined above, proven plagiarism was judged to be an academic misdemeanour and therefore outside the reach of the professional suitability procedures).

Changing landscape

The problems, in my opinion, relate to the changing landscape and political context in which social work education has been taking place.

When I first began teaching in 1993, the social work programme was ‘full’ when the course had recruited thirty candidates. Seminars had no more than fifteen students in a class to maximise discussion and debate. Personal tutors had one group of between eight and ten tutees to support on placement, so that visits for the practice learning contract and interim reviews were manageable, given the likely travelling distances.

Since then, student numbers have increased dramatically while the numbers of full-time, permanent teaching staff have remained static. For example, in the department I have just left, we enrolled over eighty first-year undergraduates during last September’s induction programme with the same number of full-time, permanent staff (six) that we have had since the new degree began in 2003.

More students, same number of staff

Running in parallel is a thriving post-graduate / Masters pathway as well as a foundation degree in Health and Social Care:  both these new extensions to the portfolio have been designed, developed and delivered with little in the way of additional staff or extra resources.

What we’ve seen is a student to staff ratio that has steadily risen so that a seminar group of thirty students becomes, by necessity, more of a workshop. Personal tutor groups have doubled in size to at least twenty, so that supporting and visiting your personal tutees, when they are out on placement, is twice the work that visiting ten used to be.

If you are allocated two (or more) tutor groups, then it is a moot point just how ‘personal’ this important relationship can actually be (and just how many tutees you can logistically visit in the time that you have available).

Knock-on effect

The knock-on effect of this intense expansion has had a significant impact on weary academics. Lecturing to a large cohort requires a very specific set of skills and abilities, and holding the interest and attention of such a big group of diverse learners is no small task.

While the time taken to plan and prepare a lecture is broadly equivalent regardless of the size of the audience, the same cannot be said for the associated marking of students’ assessed work: it takes a lot longer to read, mark and write feedback on eighty essays than it ever did for thirty.

Increasing the number of people accessing higher education and implementing strategies to widen participation has changed the academic profile of the student body with a steep rise in applications coinciding with the introduction of the social work bursary.

While numbers may have recently settled, we can (and do) frequently accept candidates with much less than the minimum 240 UCAS points  (3 C grades at A-level) making the first year of study at university a challenge for many students who require specialist input and support from study skills and Student Services.

Mass market in education

But curiously, this does not seem to have a subsequent impact on the class of degree a student might hope to get, with eleven people on last year’s social work course receiving a first, thirty nine receiving a 2.1, eleven receiving a 2.2 and only one person getting a third.

In lots of ways it could be argued that what I am describing is just a sign of the times and reflects a wider pattern currently found in many teams, agencies and organisations where staff are being exhorted to ‘do more with less’.

However, the opening up of a mass market in education and the introduction of tuition fees has led to additional and competing organisational demands being placed on HEIs and academics.

Universities are prioritising customer service and student satisfaction rather than upholding professional standards and providing a rigorous but exacting education.

Many students, for their part, see themselves primarily as consumers rather than learners and have a profound sense of entitlement that if they have paid good money then they deserve a good degree.

The combination of these two forces – a demanding and vociferous student body who are quick to complain and litigate, and a squeamish management team who are more concerned about student numbers, generating income and ‘enhancing the student experience’ – make universities an uncomfortable environment for people like me to be working in.

Social work educators, desperately trying to raise the capacity and capability of the workforce with no support or understanding from university managers, are buckling under the pressure of maintaining ethical, practice and academic standards whilst simultaneously absorbing extra work.

Research output dwindling

It is no longer feasible – if indeed, it ever was – for social work academics to ‘do a little bit of everything’. Colleagues who have been research active in the past have seen their output dwindle; colleagues who traditionally have been more focused on teaching and supporting practice learning have seen their workloads doubled.

Partners in practice (on hourly-paid, fixed term contracts) previously contributing to the teaching programme perhaps by facilitating a seminar or two, are being asked to front up ‘open days’, take on additional marking and are given the ‘opportunity’ of delivering core units and heavy admin roles like induction.

Something has to give and, sadly in my case, I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer be part of an organisation that both ignores and forgives plagiarism, actively supports the inflation of degrees and changes their own rules and regulations to enhance the overall pass rate.

Wipe the slate clean

This summer for example, a student who fails a final year unit can effectively wipe the slate clean, re-take all their units – even the ones they have successfully passed – and start again as if for the first time. In other words, if an individual has the funds and/or is prepared to extend their student loan, the university is more than happy for them to buy an additional year of study.

I don’t think for a moment that my ‘naked resignation’ will make much of an impression on the organisation I have left behind and certainly won’t stop the students graduating who I have concerns about qualifying as social workers.

However, there is some small comfort in knowing that I am no longer contributing to the further erosion of professional and academic standards or colluding in a system that does not understand the importance of gate-keeping the profession.

I also realise that, ironically, my decision to leave is compounding the problem further…

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88 Responses to I resigned as a lecturer after the university did not fail social work students

  1. Alex Boorman August 18, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

    As a busy professional social worker working in a hospital, I can attest that the a significant proportion of my and my colleagues reports tend to be cut and pasted. Are we negligent in our duties? Let’s get real, university is university, and real life and practice are different in many ways. Most students, myself included, saw essays during our degrees as a waste of time with little or no bearing on our future professional development. You are not ‘gate-keeping’ the social work profession by being pedantic about cutting and pasting – a practice that any social worker worth his or her salt will become only too accustomed too once outside of the irrelevant ivory tower of academe.

    • Anon August 19, 2015 at 10:27 am #

      I just wanted to respond to the above comment by Alex. I am a university lecturer and I think you have missed the point about plagiarism. The writer is making the point that to deliberately pass someone else’s work off as your own in academia raises significant issues about the ethical standards of the student in question. If a student was regularly found doing this on my course I would have serious doubts about how such a disregard for ethical standards would translate to practice. It’s nothing to do with being pedantic. Secondly, you may think the essays you wrote were a waste of time, but the ability to put across a sound and thoughtful argument is essential to critical thinking and analysis – essential skills for good social work practice. There have been a number of criticisms recently from the Courts about the poor standards of reports being presented by social workers for example – in my view it is essential that students go out into practice equipped with these skills.

      • Sabine Ebert-Forbes August 19, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

        Very well put. What is also important to note that essays/assignments are also teaching the student reflection skills, a must have in social work practice.

        In my view if anyone does only copy and paste assignments and plagiarizes contents then I have questions about their integrity. Integrity and honesty are linked in this too, as is trust.

        • Sheila August 20, 2015 at 8:45 am #

          Well said Sabine!
          Out in the wide world how credible will these people be?
          Alex…..everywhere in all organisations they are looking to streamline and make everything cost effective. As your courses have grown the university have probably seen that you are ‘superman’ in your world. But then to recognise you needed support is a failure on their part. I also question the senior faculty leads for allowing the students to pass after the plagiarism.
          In the days of CSS I had to work and study at the same time. I had to burn the midnight oil to study and complete all my assignments. Flow did not come easy for me as I had a young family as well! I was proud of my qualification!
          I hope that the students in question are under strict probationary line management because these people are probably ones that will fail to care for the more vulnerable people effectively.

      • John Levi August 19, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

        I agree one hundred per cent. As a kiwi social work manager who had also completed second year law school, plagiarism is definitely a no no.
        It is cheating clear and simple!
        In Law school you would be shot and rightly so.
        I also completed a honours degree through the Open University and received lower second class honours.
        It was a tough course and I’m no “A” student, but I had to knuckle down even though the lecturer kept giving me low grades for essays.
        I also have the Diploma in Social Work from New Zealand
        I agree whole heartedly, the integrity of this degree is a no brainier.
        You plagiarize, you are cheating, prove to me that this won’t be reflected in that persons practice?
        Which also makes a mockery of the screening process.
        I also have seen and read some terrible social work reports, which is a reflection of management overseeing these reports.
        if the ideas are not yours, then say so!
        To not, is outright dishonesty.
        Who would want that type of person working in the social work mine field.
        I do believe some academics are precious, however when it comes to plagiarism, that guilty party must be shown the consequences, unduly harsh, my foot
        John Levi
        Social Work consultant Youth and Families
        Cork. Republic of Ireland

      • Barbara August 19, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

        After having read this article, it angers and saddens me to see that there are universities who are allowing students to continue in this very dishonest manner. I am a second year student (in September) and a rather mature one at that, I am very proud that I am going to be a social worker, and work hard with integrity and understanding to produce assignments that are as high a standard as possible, and reflect my abilities, i would never consider plagiarism; and when someone deliberately cheats they should be removed from the course.
        It is important that we are honest and knowledgable in our work. As a mother of two young adults with disabilities, it worries that my children could be assigned a social worker who is prepared to not work hard and is openly dishonest enough to to pass off someone else’s work as there own. Is this the level of professionalism that service users are entitled to –

      • Alex Boorman August 19, 2015 at 7:24 pm #

        Plagiarism, in the sense of dishonesty, calls into question the ‘ethical standards’ of the plagiariser. This knee-jerk response is common, and warrants challenge. with plagerism, the ‘lie’ in question has no impact whatsoever upon service users, peers, colleagues, wider services, or anybody else for that matter, bar some tenuous argument about it being ‘unfair on those who play by the rules’, which makes no sense unless essays are marked comparatively between students (which they should not: benchmarks should be absolute, this is clear). Now, we all tell lies in our personal life, but unless they have an egregious effect on our service users or professional life we do not lose our jobs over it! Presumably by the same reasoning you would argue that adulterers are not fit to practice?

        • Steve quilley August 21, 2015 at 3:09 am #

          Quite unbelievable Alex Boorman! By your logic, the question of ethics aside, we might as well just give up any form of assessment and simply certify attendance. This is in fact what many universities are doing. It would be a great deal simpler and cheaper to just hand out the degrees. The mind boggles.

      • Anon August 26, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

        I wonder Alex about the quality of the course you did to qualify as a social worker; as you clearly missed ethic and values! Social work qualification has been watered down enough by introducing a degree. The quality of the applicants applying for practice teachers, could be compared to the someone who wants to go on work experience. Rather than someone who has a degree /has worked and and now doing diploma in s/w. I have stopped offering placements as the colleges i worked with showed no commitment to social work and ensuring that students were ready for the course. I had one student who was failing placement and the college simply did not comprehend! and looking at previous placement could see that they had not followed protocal and obvious that failing student was not option. student writing a good or bad essay is not enough. I did a degree and worked for 10 years before doing MA social work in York.This course was intense and challenging, but the focus was social work practice.The courses rely on experienced social workers many of whom did not do the degree, When they all leave the quality of training will suffer further and the quality of S/w practice. It is not appropriate to reduce the age to increase numbers of social workers. It certainly was not to improve quality. The degree is not focused on Social work practice but a degree.Read the comments from some of the people and ask yourself why are they doing social work? It seems so remote form the job /qualification. I like the lecturer above have decided to leave; as i don;t recognise or agree that Social work can call itself a profession; if it makes a mokery of the quality of courses being offered. I simply have no idea what expectation i should have of a student social worker -whereas before the degree i had a clear expectation. Lastly when talking about social workers (protected title) is it possible not to get distracted by adding in unqualified staff. The profession is not responsible for the roles developed within organisations. However good they are. This distracts attention away from focusing on quality of social workers with irrelevant comparisons. I wish the lecturer all the best for the future and thanks for writing article.

    • Alan August 19, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      Showing my age, but when I qualified in early 1990’s a student failed 2 placements and still qualified with same as I and others on the course. Its been around for a long time and I hate to think how many clients have had poor service from S.W.’s who should not have passed. Is it a reflection on the University to fail someone??

      • Anon August 19, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

        Interestingly my university has tried to fail me twice or more, who knows.
        I have had to attend unnecessary meetings subject to continuing my modules using issues known issues around my disability which they have failed to recognised because my then tutor ‘claimed’ I am not disabled despite a diagnosis pre my degree programme, as I am ‘clever’ and need ‘watching’, she recommended.
        In my final practice module I got taken to suitability to practice. This is by the university social work panel for cutting out a service user’s name left by my practice assessor who ‘failed’ me and for not bring my work for the said supervisor (a graduate of said university) to sign off at supervision. This is despite that she had no understanding of the sequencing for practice observations write ups. All these the university ignored but took me to account adding another year to the long delayed already ‘engineered’. The university ignored that and took 6 months to decide I had no case to answer at a level 2 hearing.
        Nothing was done about the head f the programme saying ‘they had decided not to allow me to retake it due to concerns prior to the hearing of the ‘suitability to practice’.
        A friend who attended the hearing is still finding it difficult to believe what social work lecturers and departments can do. So passing ‘failed’ students and failing ‘passed’ students is unfortunately common, making a mockery of what social what role to be.
        I am seeking formal advice for my own academic experience. I really want everyone to know what may be at stake at this university…I did pay and invested my time and intellect being ‘clever’ academically.

        • David cole August 19, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

          I overheard this conversation behind me in a social work lecture on ,mental health.
          Two “clever” young ( when I started in social services you had to be 25 to start training as sw)

          When we are qualified will we be approved social workers?
          Yes
          Good, I can’t wait to lock up some Loonies

    • Peter Palladas August 19, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

      In answer to your question, I suggest you are not merely being negligent in your duties by cutting and pasting reports, you are in breach of your profession’s Code of Conduct, you are in breach of your Terms & Conditions of employment, you are letting down your clients potentially putting them at risk, and, quite possibly, you are committing a criminal offence. Heaven help you if ever this comes out at Judicial Review. Hope that helps.

      • Alex Boorman August 19, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

        So if I have to fill in a paragraph on say, a service users benefits entitlement, and there is a perfectly accurate and succinct paragraph explaining this in a previous report, and I simply copy and paste to save time, I have breached the code of practice, and possibly committed a criminal offence. i put it to you that that is unlikely to be the case, Peter.

        • Charles Huddleston August 20, 2015 at 8:05 am #

          You’re missing the point. A previous report may not be accurate but have been assumed to be so because another trusted colleague wrote it.

          Except they may have cut and pasted it too.

          Incidentally, searching through an existing report and cutting and pasting saves no time, encourages poor to terrible practice and is not about the real world so much as sloppy social work. The sort that the Sun loves and the rest of us loathe.

        • Charles Huddleston August 20, 2015 at 8:06 am #

          Incidentally, Alex, I sincerely hope your manager is not reading this…

          • Anon August 26, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

            I hope manager is and. has a duty to act!

    • YB August 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

      I am also a busy hospital social worker and I do not cut and paste, I have more professional pride than that. In any case you miss the point entirely, your university essay is there to demonstrate your ability to assimilate and process infomration into cogent arguments and show you can think.

      This has been going on for some while, fifteen years ago i was aksed to supervise a student, he was intellectually and personally unsuitable for the job, and I failed his placement, albeit with great anxiety as to the impact on him. , However I had no doubt he would be passed through the course and is probably out there managing a team now. There is no point bleating on about being a profession but wanting a NVQ Level 2 standard of education.

    • Sharon August 19, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

      Thanks for this eye-opener. Glad to have this topic open to debate. As a social work educator with a strong practitioner background, I underline the key points being made here about poor levels of accountability and transparency in social work education, practice, and research. This clearly shows the clear conflict of interests in social work – commencing with the undergraduate entrance level programs and continuing in postgraduate trajectories. For those of us committed to social work as profession and discipline, this is indeed an ongoing battle.

    • Jim Greer August 19, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

      Your answer seems to suggest that your University education was a waste of time.
      Cutting and pasting from one document to another can be acceptable if the information being copied is recent or has been verified by yourself and you are sure that it is written in a way which fits the purpose and audience of the report you are writing.
      The danger of cutting and pasting into reports is that the information written previously may be erroneous. Untrue data can be perpetuated ad infinitude through copying. It can also lead to you including information which is irrelevant and uncontextualised. The purpose of a report is to present information in a synthesised way which helps managers and other professionals to reach a decision not generate a required number of words.
      Similarly in your assignments the purpose of for you to demonstrate what you have learned and also grow in your ability to construct and defend arguments. If you have not developed these skills then you will not be able to use written language to defend and advocate for your service users.

    • Paua August 21, 2015 at 12:39 am #

      I find this comment interesting “Most students, myself included, saw essays during our degrees as a waste of time with little or no bearing on our future professional development”.

      An essay is part of an assessment process to demonstrate that some learning (around a topic) has occurred. As a student you want to be clear that you have an understanding of a subject, the essay, reassures you as well as the learning institution that you do actually know what you think you know.

      How can this have “no bearing on our future professional development”.

      I studied alongside people who believed they knew it all already and were only at University to get a piece of paper. Were you in that camp Alex?

      The thing is, as Social Workers, we should be learning every day, and we should be taking advantage of every learning experience made available to us. If you can achieve this in an actually learning environment, how does one achieve that anywhere else??

    • Linda August 21, 2015 at 5:06 pm #

      Yes but this becomes worrying when the cut and pasting continues in the completion of assessments!

    • Not Alex boorman August 25, 2015 at 7:01 am #

      As a busy professional social worker working in a hospital, I can attest that the a significant proportion of my and my colleagues reports tend to be cut and pasted. Are we negligent in our duties? Let’s get real, university is university, and real life and practice are different in many ways. Most students, myself included, saw essays during our degrees as a waste of time with little or no bearing on our future professional development. You are not ‘gate-keeping’ the social work profession by being pedantic about cutting and pasting – a practice that any social worker worth his or her salt will become only too accustomed too once outside of the irrelevant ivory tower of academe.

    • kim August 26, 2015 at 12:45 am #

      I think you do not understand what plagiarism is and this shows perhaps a lack of insight and disregard for learning.
      I am surprised and saddened to think that as a practicing social worker you feel that it is sufficient to ‘cut and paste’. I hope that this is not what you do in assessment reports or records as this would show a lack of analysis and reflection. This is not an administrative task, these are peoples lives.
      If you found your written assignments as a waste of time and not a learning experience then I think you missed the point of academic study.
      As a team manager in a busy social work team i would not accept simply cutting and pasting as a means of recording. I recognise that sometimes you will need to do this in areas of repetition but would leave that to professional judgement

    • Olivier Busin September 5, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

      I would not want you to be my social worker!

    • Dave September 7, 2015 at 8:11 pm #

      Using standard phrases in a report is not the same as cutting & pasting into an essay & then pretending that it is your work.
      Course assignments are designed to provide an indicator of a student’s suitability for the profession before them, the report is to record & inform others.
      Cut & past in an essay shows how to use a word search, not that you know what you are talking about, that you know how to take in information, process it & come to conclusions, an essential professional skill.
      If a practitioner who has qualified – proven that they know what they are doing – decides that a standard phrase says what it needs to, is using a professional judgement that the student has yet to demonstrate.
      Sadly the things that plagiarism demonstrates are dishonesty, a tendency to take shortcuts and an inability or disinclination to work within agency structures.

  2. M McInnes August 19, 2015 at 10:28 am #

    If Social Work is to be held in the same esteem as other health/care professions, poor student performance must be addressed.

    Whilst I do not suggest that plagiarism necessarily impacts upon a student’s ability to work inter-personally with service users, it indicates a level of incompetence that should not be ignored.

    For social workers to best represent the interests of service users and children, their abilities must not be called into question, lest their valuable insights be lost.

    Standards are being raised by all other professions, and we must not fall behind. The unique position of the social worker is, as we all know, invaluable.

    Student plagiarism is the “thin end of the wedge”, and should not be permitted.

    • P Westcar August 19, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

      Quite right Ms McInnes, ‘The thin end of the wedge’ indeed!

  3. Charlotte Drury August 19, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    To compare cut and pasting of material for reports to passing off someone else’s work as your own is to misunderstand the problem being raised. This speaks to ethics and values, which are, or at least should be, fundamental to practice. A student who cannot be bothered to do the work and who is then happy to cheat, lie and subsequently complain about the unfairness of being failed has questionable ethics. If they are willing to cut corners and cheat in the relatively stress-free student environment, what hope have they of coping with the stress of a social work role, when ethical dilemmas that have profound, life-changing consequences are a daily occurrence? If a student is not capable of working to a particular academic standard then how can they be expected to engage effectively with the complex data they have to collect in assessments, how can they engage with current research and theory to ensure their practice remains up to date and how can they make the well-evidence and sound judgement calls that the profession necessitates? To demand academic rigour is not pedantry, it is ethical, it is appropriate and it is also safeguarding the rapidly diminishing (if Alex Boorman’s reply is typical of the attitude of current practitioners) professionalism of social work practice.

  4. Claire P August 19, 2015 at 10:33 am #

    During my time at university, I was verbally abused and to be honest bullied by one of my course mates. When she was challenged by tutors she told them she suffered mood swings and verbally abused people from time to time. She remained on the course. All I think now is God help her service users.

    It really is all about the money for universities now.

  5. Jonesy123 August 19, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    If academe is irrelevant (and I’m not necessarily disagreeing),why does social work training continue to be taught in a University? Perhaps this is what infact needs to be questioned….

    • Anon August 26, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

      That’s the point ! Social work degree is relatively new…prior to this you had to have a degree, have 2 yrs work relevant experiencer and be over 25 and then do course Dipsw. The numbers werer small compared to 70 kids in a lecture hall! They were quite tough to get on to. Then the government said there were not enough SW and created the degree to increase numbers not quality! The idea was that the trained sw would provide learning on site…degree should be scraped.

  6. Jenny August 19, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    I totally agree-ive had a few experiences as a practice assessor whereby practice of my atudents has been shocking-from contacting service users on facebook, to throwing files, inappropriate dress, and abusive language/attitudes to service users. Addressing this with the universities was a total nightmare and in the end all students have passed (ive since learned in the case of one she no longer practices). I acknowledge that students are just that-students-and are there for learning opportunities but in my experience the students i refer to have not learned from their mistakes and refuse to acknowledge their behaviour as even a concern. The basis/principle lf practice learning is that by the end of a final placement you are “ready to go” and should be practising as an NQSW level.

    • john stephenson August 19, 2015 at 12:53 pm #

      Good God get real ,you would have thought that this student had conducted some gross misconduct .How many S/W assessments are cut and pasted,perhaps the Education Services may be better served with your lack of involvement in them .Get over yourself.

      • Michael August 19, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

        So, passing off someone else’s work as your own in order to get a qualification is not gross misconduct? Really?

  7. Tracy August 19, 2015 at 12:48 pm #

    I think the author of this article is sadly correct. As a practitioner and also having been a practice teacher I too have experienced the conflict between maintaining sound, ethical practice and the market forces that now exist in universities. Academic institutions are afraid of failing a student – even those who exhibit poor standards and questionable behaviour. Standards and expectations are lower than they used to be – and i’ve seen some of the results of this in the work-place and upon clients. It’s not being pedantic at all – i’m a practitioner and i don’t want to compromise my own standards and professionalism by copying and pasting reports. Credit to the lecturer for making a stand and acting on their values.

  8. Emily August 19, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    How depressing is this article and the subsequent replies? For me, it is a sad indictment of our profession when we cannot counsel out those whose personal ethics and values conflict so clearly with our proclaimed professional values before they have even qualified. I’m shocked but sadly not surprised by the first response from Alex which clearly demonstrates the ‘so what’ attitude that I have seen in far too many practitioners. I too could retell stories of bad practice and poor personal conduct of students and qualified social workers but the reality is we are so stretched that people look the other way across all areas of practice. I’m sad to say that I’m now so drained by this profession that I’m looking at other options. It’s oimpossible to be part of the solution and I just don’t know how much longer I can be part of the problem.

  9. Ola August 19, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    Plagiarism is a very big problem. There needs to be a crackdown on students. Good practice needs to be instilled whilst studying to be a social worker.

    • Suzie August 19, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

      I Agree!!!

  10. sissy akimodo August 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

    I totally agree I have often asked myself what sort of sws are being rolled out by the universities. Sws who cannot write a coherant report. I have been practicing for over 25 years and I have seen a decline in the quality of nqaws being turned out. The problem is that no one wants to talk out it. The truth is that some people arw not suirable for the job and should not be let loose on vulnerable families.

  11. Terry Lord August 19, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    I have been working as an assessor for the Work Based Learning program’s Diploma in Health & Social Care level 2 & level 3. I have similar concerns as to the quality of the work provided by level 2 & level 3 learners who are supposed to be professional care workers & the tick boxing to secure funding from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). Learners are not accountable for not submitting work or even meeting with the assessor as part of their contract with SFA & training provider. The winners are the training providers who do not seem to provide a quality service or experience for the learners but can claim around £3 500 per learner per qualification.

    One area that also concerns me is if a learner does not submit work, it is acceptable from the quality team that the assessor word processes/writes the learners verbal answers for qualification. Public money is being wasted & abused by so many training providers. This money could be better used with-in colleges who could provide a suitable learning experience & assessor to support them in the work place. In my experience some training providers are manipulating the paperwork to secure funding & actually harassing & bullying most of their learners with phone calls. Also some of the learners should not be receiving funding from public money as they are not interested in completing any work themselves for the qualification. Funding should only be available to those who can show commitment to the Work based learning program’s Diplomas

  12. Annie August 19, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    I sat on a university selection panel for the social work course and thought never again. There was no selecting, the uni gave everyone a place bar one and only because I really dug my heels in after hearing some questionable value judgements in the group discussion.

  13. Ali August 19, 2015 at 1:04 pm #

    I am extremely proud of the fact that I am a professional, registered, social worker and I take offence when people do not take our profession seriously.
    Having said that, if the caliber of the up and coming social workers is not monitored and quality controlled we will not have a battle stand when the powers that be try again to circumvent our role.
    I interviewed for four days last year for three social work posts, we were able to appoint 1 candidate out of 27 candidates. We were horrified at the standard of writing and their presentation at interview.

  14. Michael August 19, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    Unfortunately, the situation described in this article is, and has been prevalent for some time not only on social work courses but in universities generally. As a guest speaker at a College once I told two students that if they wanted to have a separate running conversation then perhaps they could do so outside my lecture, only to be taken to task afterwards by the course tutor. That is not as bad as cheating (which is what plagiarism is) but nevertheless is indicative of the same consumerist ethos that prevails in education, where hard work and application seem to be seen as optional extras.
    Sadly, I have seen it also in the workplace where no-one is ever found to be ‘not up to the job’ but where any excuse will do for poor performance or laziness – ‘stress’, ‘home circumstances’, ‘lack of support’- and no that does not excuse hamfisted management responses to genuine difficulties!

    Having a sense of social justice and fairness should not be a reason for turning a blind eye to these things – it should be a reason not to do so and to ensure that people are dealt with and rewarded honestly.

  15. Janette August 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    I take issue with Alex Boorman dismissing what happens in a learning setting as being an ‘irrelevant ivory tower of academe’. Reports written in a professional context are not the same thing as written work submitted as part of a learning process.

    Essays and dissertations, as well as contributions in tutorials and seminars, are evidence that a student is able to demonstrate that something has been learned or that a skill has been mastered. If it’s acceptable to cut and paste someone else’s learning there is no evidence or therefore guarantee that anything has been learned and the student therefore shouldn’t be endorsed by the university as having attained a specific standard of knowledge or skill.

    It’s got nothing to do with the difference between ‘real’ work and learning. It’s got everything to do with what a degree endorses and if a social work degree endorses a graduate as being well informed and skilled enough to work effectively as a professional in the field then we have a choice of three pathways – it isn’t acceptable to plagiarise or, if ‘real’ social workers think it is and it doesn’t make any difference to the graduate’s ability to be an effective social worker then the content of the degree needs to be revised only to contain what’s necessary or, finally, make it possible to be a social worker with no qualifications and just learn on the job as you go along.

  16. Serena August 19, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    For me, I did my degree and did not plagiarise anything, ensuring everything was done appropriately and I suppose in the end, they should have to do the same. For me if the majority do it appropriately without cutting corners and considering the ethics & values, then they should have to.
    In regards to professionalism, this would be my concern that people do not consider how these people will be as social workers and cutting corners, will they quote a service user incorrectly or make it up, would they share information appropriately?
    That is where my concern would lie at the end of the day, the importance of their ethic and values in the social worker role would be diminished somewhat if there are little consequences once asked to complete the work and becoming repeat offender of plagiarism.

  17. GGLS August 19, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    I do feel the ever more dominant issue of student / consumer value for money is a dangerous attitude for students to adopt. This perpetuates the misconception that now debt is heaped onto students (by a callous political decision) the responsibility for learning rests chiefly with the institute rather than the individual student. In my experience the opposite is true, the student is primarily responsible for their own learning and therefore should be able the critically examine why plagiarism is a breach of ethical standards; and by extension a huge question mark over their maturity, integrity and competence for the world of practice.

    As the author of the article makes clear Universities have no more resources in spite of the tuition fee hike, but what resources the do have are ample for a motivated and conscientious student to maximise their own potential.

  18. Anon August 19, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    Let’s be realistic about universities, they are degree factories heavily subsidised by the state through student loan schemes. Most, if not all, are charities but operate with a ruthless business ethic, charging a kings ransom for an increasingly impoverished education – more and more students with the same or fewer lecturers and support staff – not a good return on the investment of time and money by students and the public purse.

    It was very different back in my day (1990s) with good access to lecturers & one-to-one tutorial support although the openly declared fascist that qualified on a masters social work course was a real contradiction – I wonder if he’s still practising?

    More recently, I’ve worked in HE/ with colleagues with some lecturers heavily pressured not to fail students, particularly the overseas cash cow students that swell the university coffers even further.

    Universities are powerful, wealthy and largely unaccountable. Education is a right but expensive, poor quality and increasingly remote higher education is not improving standards or workforce competency in the longer term and uni’s don’t create jobs either; rather they flood the market with graduates that have no hope of a graduate career pathway, simply because the jobs don’t exist.

    Isn’t it time for a wholesale review of higher education and it’s place in society and the professions?

  19. Jen August 19, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

    Well done to the lecturer standing up for good academic standards on social work courses.
    When I trained in late 1980’s there were several students who didn’t bother to attend lectures but did jobs (this is when we got LA grants, so no loans). I travelled a round trip of 90 miles a day to attend the course on EVERY day. Many of the same students failed placements and were still passed.
    Those of us who studied hard and took the training seriously and were actually really wanting to make a difference for future clients felt very let down by the Uni course concerned. We felt it undermined our commitment and hard work. I loved being a social worker.

  20. CK August 19, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    I enjoyed (and still do) writing academically about social work, and I believe I’m also a good practitioner in the ‘real world’ (whatever that is).

    Am I strange?

    • Andrew August 19, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      CK, yes…..very strange indeed. I hope you find help soon.

      Andrew

  21. Mark August 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

    In reference to Alex Boorman’s post, it is indicative of modern Social Work (and society as a whole) problems. It’s always the shortcuts, (cut and paste), the easy way (not writing assignments) and glib responses (gatekeeping and ivory towers) to something you do not like (such as a persons devotion to a field that they are passionate about)
    The fact he did not take the time to read and understand what the OP was trying to say in relation to plagiarism, after him and his university colleagues in their infinite wisdom believed that academe, was a waste of their time. Of course some Social Workers believe they were born to do the job and that the degree course was a three year hindrance and they should have just been patted on the back, told how great they were. and go get em!! Of course University lecturers are the gatekeepers for entry level professionals and just taking what was said on face value, these people should have been canned, no question, as their honesty and integrity is significantly called into question. That’s not to say that the universities are not at fault, they are, these days they are a money making collective so canning a student is going to have a major impact on finances which contradicts a sound business model = of course you can stay on the program! If lecturers such as this are not permitted to do their jobs then Social Work training does not belong within this environment.
    I spent 12 years in the military and peer and organisational recognition came from excellent training, teamwork and moral standards, hmmm social work supposedly, who knew..!!
    I work within the Court system now and the standard of some social work (let alone the report writing which is a different animal altogether) leaves me wondering where it all went wrong).
    And finally to presume all practitioners IN REAL LIFE cut and paste and that this is accepted flies in the face of everything we are taught (hence the lectures and the confirmatory and assessable criteria – THE ASSIGNMENT) and against the codes of practice as it happens. Are children’s cases (or service users) supposedly assessed based on their own merits making anything other than template use questionable?

  22. Charles August 19, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    I agree with the sentiments expressed by Anon and Charlotte. I’m 64 and will be retiring in March of next year. I qualified in August 2010 and was the oldest student in the year group. I worked hard for my 1st Class Degree and Hertfordshire University took the matter of plagiarism very seriously. To learn that other students achieved their degrees on the back of the work of others is at best naive but at its worst is cheating and devalues the hard work of the other students who work the long hours needed to submit their best work, it is also dishonest and in my opinion fraudulent. Social work and social worker’s relationships are predicated on developing honest and ethical relationships with their service users and with their employers. The decision by the writers’ University to allow 4 students to qualify does feel very much like consequentialism.

  23. SITONDIDO August 19, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    God if you are there please, bless the brave senior lecturer and protect the vulnerable children and adults from the would have failed students; they are the added risk to what we are already battling with.
    Universities producing competent social work graduates continue your good work.

    Honesty is second to none!

  24. Chux August 19, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    As a third year student I was dismayed at the blanket unbalanced stance of the article and the responses. As a mature student I had to strongly argue my case to get to the interview stage of the university selection process despite a very successful career in another social discipline. I have worked hard and to date achieve good results for my work and also positive feedback from placements. Neary’s report criticsed the standards of academic education and whilst I had some sympathy with his viewpoint we need to be careful not to tar all with the same brush and assist the current political doctrine to further marginalise and privatise SW education and the sector as a whole. The danger is we add weight to their argument without balancing the argument with many excellent dedicated and well rounded NQSW who do proceed onto delivering excellent conscientious services. I also think that students do have the right to apply a consumer approach to the course for the very same reason as the author cites, that is that the marketisation of SW degrees reduces the quality of educational input and I for one expect the best of my lecturers as the profession has the right to expect the best if me.

  25. Rachel August 19, 2015 at 2:50 pm #

    I am very proud to be a social work professional and worked very hard to gain my first class honours post qualifying degree. To hear that students are being allowed to gain such an important qualification by cheating is really disheartening to me, especially if it is the group of social workers who qualify after only doing a one year Masters without any prior learning. My only solace is the fact that by working so hard and being blessed with good mentors I learnt what critical evaluation and good social work is about, and that there is always more to learn. The comments from other social workers on this site disheartens me too, sad that they are having to cut and paste reports showing that they are unable to promote person centred work and are just part of a processing machine, powerless to be able to do their job well.
    I am right behind those of you on here commenting about values, which funnily enough I thought what social work was about? and that if you are prepared to cheat what else are you prepared to do. Well done this lecturer.

  26. Mary August 19, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    I find this incredibly interesting, as a student of Social Work my Lecturer delivered the same verdict she did on my original presentation of my dissertation. Despite all the changes I made and all the extra study I put in, she delivered the exact same verdict she did on my original dissertation. This made the difference between a 2:1 and a 2:2 but I was not allowed to question her judgement. I detest the right that enables anyone to be unquestioned when it comes to the decision of a final grade. Which is the way it was initially, everyone should have the right to question a grade, no one is infallible and everyone should have the right to question a grade. Sorry I have no sympathy, if you gave the wrong grade, you deserve to be questioned and challenged. Isn’t that what a true Social Worker is about?

    • meg August 20, 2015 at 6:40 am #

      Did you fail the first time? If it was a resit lecturers do not write extra feedback they have enough to do with checking for plagerism and writing teams of feedback for people who have handed in work at a pass standard

  27. Graeme Tiffany August 19, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    Now that we know student fees cost more to administer than the amount recouped (i.e. it would save money if higher education was free) this testimony adds to the weight of evidence that the rationale behind the fees system is ideological. In a nutshell, paying to go to university constitutes an individualising process designed to destroy the social values associated with education for the common good. Furthermore, it indoctrinates students into contractualism: teaching that all in life has to be bought and sold. It seems to be working.

  28. chesters August 19, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    I’m very interested by the posts here. I agree totally with the original article, and with all the comments defending the importance of professional, and academic, standards for social workers and students.
    I have been university lecturer (social work) and external examiner; a social work practitioner, and a practice teacher. I can take a ‘long term’ view and I can honestly say that in the last 15 years or so, it has been my experience that most social work qualifying programmes in the UK will (a) enrol anyone and everyone who applies, and (b) work very hard not to fail anyone, in spite of plenty of evidence of unsuitability, whether academic or otherwise (including values)
    One example of poor practice: I was Independent Chair of a Practice Assessment Panel for one qualifying programme, and at the same time, working for a different University qualifying programme in relation to practice placements.
    It emerged during a PAP meeting (when we looked at placement reports) that students on this programme had been supervised on their placements by a person who was, at the same time, a student on the other course I was working for.
    So this individual, who was currently studying for the sw degree, had taken on a ‘job lot’ of students to personally supervise on placement ( the particular programme was desperate for placements, and there was money in it for the agency)
    No-one – including the General Social Care Council, who I informed – saw anything especially wrong with this, The best they could say was ‘well it’s not ideal’ and ‘as long as it only involves first year students, it’s OK’

    I think this kind of practice is indefensible, but is characteristic of the ‘anything goes’ attitude which seems all too common. I’m glad I’m no longer a part of it.

  29. TJHA 1 August 19, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

    As a recent NQSW I still remember the nights I worked through to get my essays and assignments up to the best standard I could and the thought of plagarising someone else’s work to pass off as my own never even occured to me. I had a classmate who consistently plagarised within the first year and she was eventually dismissed from the course because she couldn’t understand that she had done anything wrong and continued to plagarise regardless of the warnings given to her. Any form of plagarism is inherently dishonest and in social work, dishonesty has no place. It is also a lazy and

    All I can hope of these NQSW is that they fail through their ASYE (which I found far more difficult than any assignment I can remember) and from this failure, their fitness to practice should be questioned. This does raise grave concerns with me, both as a practitioner and a NQSW that this university are allowing students through in this manner. I admire the lecturer for their courage in taking this stance

  30. Donna August 19, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

    Reflecting on what is read and putting forward one’s own conclusions takes much time and effort but a good report reflects a sound understanding and a commitment to good practice. To me plagiarism reflects a lazy and uncommitted attitude.Maybe some people who get through education in this way are committed and knowledgeable, but for those of us who work hard its upsetting to hear about this sort of thing. I do agree in certain instances that people should be given extra chances. Of course for those with certain learning difficulties who find it hard to process certain tasks I agree that extra help should(and is) being offered, but if this is to do with institutions making out they are the best then standards out in the field can fail. .Its got to be the same rule for all.

  31. Leigh August 19, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    I have just qualified and worked hard to do so. However the number of students in my year who failed modules was astonishing and some how they qualify just like me.
    Some failed modules in the first year which often referred to ethics and values. If you are failing in ethics and values then social work is not the road for you.

  32. Jane August 19, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

    This is a valuable debate, however this has been a long standing problem. While doing my course at university, there were clearly people on the course that did not belong there and they were given opportunity after opportunity to undertake placement after their practice was called into question. And yes they graduated with us, leading me to question the integrity of the university. As a practitioner I see the same thing happening all over again, student that have failed previous placements for the quality of their work and their practice along with their academic work are given chances to do the placements over again. The difficulty that I have encountered is that the universities do not want to fail students and they put a lot of pressure on us to find a way of passing these individuals, which I refuse to do, I worked really hard to get me degree and I do not see why these individuals should get a free pass.

    It is about time some took a stance on this, well done.

  33. Pete Brown August 19, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    Excellent article, thank you. Where are our leaders? If we continue to allow our ethics and values to be diluted by the corporate machine, what will happen to our already fragile credibility? As a third year student I want to enter the profession on the assumption I have made the grade not because I have paid the fees. It is sad that we have lost a principled educator because of this, I wish you good luck for the future.

  34. NQSW August 19, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Yes Universities should take a tough stance on plagiarism. However, this article portrays that students hold all sorts of power when it comes to the “market” of University. From my experience as a NQSW Universities clearly held the power and there were times when you would feel that your “consumer rights” were void.

    Paradoxically it was feedback on assignments that was plagerised! We all knew certain tutors / lecturers whose feedback would be bounded about, word for word. Yet students were in a powerless position to challenge.

    Clearly there were some — the minimum, who took a lazy approach to education. However, it was easy to spot this and any interviewer or potential manager would soon recognise a lack of knowledge or slap hazard practice.

    I worked incredibly hard and commited myself to social work education resulting in me achieving a first class honours — of which I am incredibly proud. I find it disheartening that the article portrays contemporary SW education as inadequate and furthermore depicts nqsw’s as lazy, unethical and unfit for practice.

    Good practice will always shine through. Let’s support NQSWs and Students who work hard, on a challenging programme, in a climate where their standard of education, and even general aptitude are constantly being derided in reports and media blogs. It appears that increased marketisation merely attracts more criticism to students, not makes them more powerful.

  35. T August 19, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    My placement provider tried to fail me during my first placement when I raised concerns with them and my uni about team conduct, namely breaching confidentiality by holding team meetings in public places and discrimination against certain service users. What did the uni do about it? Protect their relationship with the LA involved by ‘allowing’ me to defer, effectively making me start placements all over again, what message does that send out to students who stick to their values and ethics.

    I agree that university courses seem to not be focusing on what they need to be doing. They should be providing students with good quality placements and weeding out the students who are not suitable. Copying and pasting is in my view lazy and has no place in social work education or practice.

    Perhaps if I had the author of this article as a tutor I would have had a more positive experience to the start of my career. Luckily I survived my experience at university and had two further placements which were excellent in quaility and have been working as a social working for nearly 5 years.

  36. Chris Goodhead August 19, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Shouldn’t those students be congratulated on their creative and resourceful use of plagiarism and in fact marked up for demonstrating the very ability that will serve them well as practitioners? Namely, fitting everything in when there’s not enough time to manage a massive, insurmountable mountain of work.

  37. Roy Everett August 20, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    May I widen and shift this discussion? I conjecture that a more serious problem than covert plagiarism in university assignments is the overt positive citation of supposedly authoritative yet incorrect material. If this is repeated many times within a culture, be it academic or practising, the incorrect material becomes absorbed as a consensus. The effect depends on the context. If the citations are to documents relating to a specific case in court, the problem can lead to miscarriages of justice: a barrister asking “are you seriously suggesting that all these independent witnesses are lying or copy’n’pasted each other assessments” is a formidable opponent. If the citations are to “standard treatises”, the problem can lead to groupthink, mass hysteria and the mis-education whole generation of students and practitioners. It doesn’t matter if the original incorrect material was the result of deliberate lying, normal human error, error of judgement in a complex case with incomplete information, guesswork which turned out to be wrong, or mental disorder leading to bizarre false memory and delusional thinking[1]. Nor (to return to the point) does it matter whether the error is propagated by valid citation or by plagiarism.
    Nullius in verba!
    [1] Moore, L: It happened to me. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2005/05/09/it-happened-to-me/ (Retrieved 20150820)

  38. Andy Cook August 20, 2015 at 12:14 pm #

    Two years ago I received feedback from my Supervising Social Worker. She said the Child’s Social Worker was intimidated by our level of experience and was having difficulty working with us (amongst many incidents we fed back to our SSW was she believed one child sexually assaulting another was linked to boredom during the 6 week school break and not important enough to support the victim). She was dreadful and said the most bizarre non-child-centred things. No safe care awareness and no understanding of how to translate a child’s difficulties into useful support for us, school or the child. We struggled with language (both written and spoken). Her understanding of Foster Care and Looked After Children was nil. She eventually decided on a course of action that overlooked the child’s needs and ended badly for the child (we all keep our jobs and move on but the child is now worse off).. It all makes perfect sense now after reading this article (Andy. – Foster Carer 10 yrs).

  39. Dave Ensor August 20, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

    No wonder we Social Workers do not get a positive recognition when some people think it is acceptable to pass off someone elses work as your own in order to gain a Degree. And yes, there may be Social Workers that lie cheat and prcatice badly. So… does that mean its ok for the rest to do it?
    There are very few, or less effective, trusted or up to the job leaders in the profession. We have people that deign to be the media voices, but they appear to be not working to anybody that I know’s aims.
    Universities and other organisations that direct our future mapping, as well as the media spokes persons need the same test as Tony Benn used to ask.. “Who appointed you, to whom are you answerable, and how do we replace you?”

  40. Mature Student August 20, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    I also am a mature student going into my final year of my degree and am completely shocked about the things that lecturers/heads of departments are letting students get away with. My university know about several students who plagiarise in all their work and yet they are still joining me in my final year….. There are also students who have failed placements only to be given a second chance on a “easier” placement to ensure that they pass!!
    These students are going to be case holders and make serious decisions in their roles as qualified social workers …………. Universities focus on their own stats and targets not about training people to do the job!!

  41. Jo August 21, 2015 at 1:28 am #

    Can I suggest given that we are in the social work profession and therefore are meant to be trained in looking behind behaviours to root causes etc that we do that in this situation to. I believe the reason for any student committing plagerism will probably be as individual as that student and such we should not use blanket responses and assume that it is always indicative of laziness or that that person is morally unsuitable etc as always as we should no the devil is in the detail!!! however I am also not suggesting it is right! I think there also has to be some acknowledgement of the amount of information that is accessible today via the Internet and understand how this is changing the world we live in. For example the author highlights that students pass with up to 20% plagerism however I know from personal experience that the systems that are used to indicate these figures are more complex than they initially present, for example a recent essay I handed in had a number of direct quotes from a peer reviewed website and was referenced appropriately however I was unaware that a Wilkipedia page had been developed on the subject i had written about and had used the same material there fore when my essay was scanned it showed a significant amount was plagerised from Wikipedia

  42. anon August 21, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    Im an FE & HE lecturer(levels 1-5) in a different subject area and I have to say the problem is across the board we are forced to pass and get through students who quite frankly should not have been admitted in the first place but our managers demand 100% pass 100% retention and high intake numbers which as educators we know is mutually exclusive.

    its not about education any more its about the money (to keep you in a job say management ) and pleasing ofsted the quality standards of students in the meritocracy no longer count for anything

  43. Anon August 21, 2015 at 10:59 am #

    As a mature student with a criminal past who was accepted on a social work course I have mixed feelings about the lowering of standards that have been discussed in posts. I feel that I would not have been given that chance some years ago as the assumption that leopards can’t change there spots is an obstacle that I have had to confront on many occasions. I left school with no qualifications but went back into education at forty years old and trained as a counselor and worked for seven years in that field. My experience of university is one of disappointment, I have struggled and worked hard with the academia but managed to pass all modules only to see my young peers have extension after extension and essay deadlines moved to accommodate the students who offer a range of excuses for more time. I have observed the general competency of these students and feel that educators will lean over backwards so that they can pass and have wondered what they would need to do to fail. Having said that I have also considered if standards had not fallen would I have not failed to.

  44. Linda August 21, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

    I was responsible for a final year SW student on placement with my agency. I refused to pass their placement and was told that I should be careful as it might be deemed as a racist action on my part. Fortunately I am fair and evidenced their failings. The university in question informed me that the process of failing a student is quite onerous. Not only did I refuse to pas the placement, I terminated her placement with my agency. Plagiarism, incomplete assessments and client notes. Did not feel that I could be responsible for this person obtaining a qualification to provide intervention for children and families.

  45. Jane Susanna ENNIS August 22, 2015 at 8:54 am #

    Not about social work courses but an example of the general malaise. ……I had a friend who resigned after she was told NOT to correct the spelling and grammar of the students who were studying English literature.
    My partner teaches history, he says that many of his students are effectively only semi-literate. I offered to teach Remedial English and basic grammar, but I was told the students would ‘feel insulted’. You are only allowed to do this as part of an ESOL course, apparently.

  46. Anon August 22, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    I was a disabled mature Student, I found that despite the efforts of my disablement advisor Tutors,(not all) never read my assessment, and consequently on several occasions when my health problem affecte my meeting deadlines, I was given a basic 40% for the work. One tutor commented that” given the extra time you took, I would expect your facts to be accurate, The Accrington Pals had no connection with the First World War”.
    The whole university system below the top two layers is in a mess. Those former Polytechnics now known as Univercities, are just Production Lines. They do not strive to educate students, they teach them how to obtain qualifications that satisfy employers. No more than that. At the higher grade universities students are educated, and encouraged to move forward into research. They are educated as a whole student to go into the outside world as a specialist in a particular subject, but with a worldly education.
    Why is this? MONEY.

  47. Gill August 23, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    I think most of the replies to this issue have missed the point entirely. Lecturers are paid to ensure their students are prepared for the work they encounter when they leave. It is no good blaming the students if they are failing. You need to look at your teaching methods and the environment you are teaching in. I think this particular lecturer is fed up with the university management not the students. Remember the students are a product of the system. If I was lecturing and students were found guilty of plagerism I would teach them why it is not advisable / ethical by giving them an extra essay to do on that subject. I would record my conversations and then I would be prepared to challenge anyone who supported an application to appeal. I suppose it is like teaching in schools….it is easy to exclude students for not behaving appropriately…it is far more difficult to teach the students appropriate behaviour.

  48. Anon August 24, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    As a current social work student myself, this honestly does worry me. I take great pride in both my written and practical work. I know for sure there would be uproar in my class if it was known of students plagaraising and appealing. This is really worrying!! Even reading some of the comments from others and hearing their blase attitude towards not only this article but their own work is horrifying!!
    As a student social worker I have been subject to being accused of being racist (along with 3 other women) due to our complaints with feeling that the students were not commited (not turning up to meetings on time, not even turning up, not attributing towards a presentation) and this turned very nasty which was a great shame! None of us would have had a problem if contributions were equal.
    The matter was dealt with well, and was also challenged which I was very grateful for. But it is really a shame that some come to University – as stated before – for their piece of paper.
    I’m glad that I am a proud student social worker, ready to start my placement and dedicated to this profession. I hope its not all bad!

  49. Mark Wogan August 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    I think the spirit of social work with its philanthropic background seems to have been hijacked by Keynesian social compact breaking down and the subsequent consequences upon the corporate elites and the working class.

    Seems to me that social work in the 21st century is about the educated bourgeois with their degree “however its gained” and it’s this which is eroding the collective values of social work in the workplace…

  50. Terry McClatchey August 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    The original article is a valuable contribution and I hope the auhor is encouraged my most of the posts in response. Some are however deeply disturbing. I hope (but fear not) that some are from anonymous trolls just seeking to be provocative. If not, I would would like to think that HCPC will be checking some identities.

    It would appear that some contributors are unable to distinguish between appropriate quotation (of yourself or others) and plagiarism.

    There is no problem with using the useful tool of cutting and pasting if the person knows what they are doing and they are using their own (or colleagues/organisation’s) words with permission for routine tasks or where consistent repetition is expected.

    What is wrong is to attempt to pass off as your own original thought someone else’s work without permission or acknowledgement.

  51. Finola Moss August 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

    If ‘Education’, is made an unaccountable commodity, it will become as worthless, as the emperors clothes.

  52. Miss T August 31, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    Cutting and pasting whilst carrying out the social work role is unprofessional and has potential for mistakes. Especially when a young person reads their files and discovers there is information about a sibling instead of their own, or incorrect details about their case.
    If this style of writing is ignored whilst at university It can only encourage this practice when out in the workplace. Too many students are being ‘mollycoddled’ through this degree, which can only undermine the profession even further.

  53. Michael September 1, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Interestingly as a Social Work practice teacher in the 1990’s I had the unfortunate responsibility to fail a student on their final placement. Their practice was poor and they had completely the wrong values to join the profession. This was only picked up after nearly two years on a Masters degree course.
    The University were horrified at my decision and I was personally subjected to questioning and ultimately the person was given he opportunity to undertake a further assessment in a different setting. No doubt she passed this placement but I hope she recognized she was not cut out for this profession.
    Universities are good at academia but it is only in the real world or practice where your true values become apparent.

  54. Jonny September 6, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

    “How has it come to pass that on a course where values and ethics are embedded in the curriculum and the importance of openness and honesty are taught from day one, we have six out of forty-two final year students behaving like this?”

    So 35 out of 42 didn’t behave like this. Glass more than half full?

    I think Alex raises some valid points, particularly about copying and pasting on reports. In opposition to some previous comments, I feel that social workers would actually be doing a disservice to service users by wasting unecessary time re-wording and re-typing standard sections of reports that refer to previous events that have not materially changed in any way, especially where we ourselves typed them in the first place. Often, when we assess, review, and reassess a service user’s situation, many of the material facts have not changed, so we update the report to reflect actual material changes, the rest does not need to be changed as it hasn’t changed. So in effect, we copy and paste reports all the time, by allowing what has gone before to stand (unless it has been found to be false). So I think that’s what Alex is getting at, and it’s not in breach of any codes of conduct, professional standards, or legal requirements in my humble opinion.

  55. Geana Smith-Wallace September 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    As a university lecturer, practice educator and practitioner of social work I am disgusted to hear that students are not being taken to task for the quality and integrity of their assignments. if they are not willing to put in the work they should not benefit the outcomes. the majority of submission systems indicate percentages of plagiarism there should be a limit as to what will be permitted.
    preparing assignments to demonstrate and evidence your learning and understanding should not be seen as a waste of time. for some students to be able to consolidate their learning, development and understanding in this way is a testament to their progress and should not be shunned.
    For practitioners preparing reports, if you are using your own work created by you in prior reports is this considered plagiarism, I think not!!!.
    For Practice educators, how many different ways can you say that a student is competent and has achieved the desired standard or not as the case may be??
    above all I feel that each social worker, student, experienced lecturer, practice educator or otherwise should have self pride in what they do and the work they produce, if you are unable to do this then why on earth are you here????

  56. Anne September 11, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    Here are my observations that need to be addressed by Universities, HCPC, BASW and employers:-
    1. What is the point of suitability/ fitness to practice procedures if the recommended outcomes are ignored?
    2. What is the point of inviting independent experts if their views are going to be overuled? No point being there.
    3.Plagiarism is serious, its falsification and manipulation of records/ document. A dishonest act, to deliberately mislead and misrepresent others for personal gain. The judgement is unprofessional, subjective, risky, and clearly calls into question their ability to manage professional boundaries and codes of practice.The behaviour by a person is a good indicator of future behaviour, how are we assured they will not falsify records such as visiting a child or make up home visits (this happens).
    4,Universities are also accountable to HCPC standards, as these newly qualified at the point of registration have to meet the standards of proficiency.
    5. Employers can introduce sanctions such as withdraw placements,not send staff to the univeristy for other courses. can indeed refer to HCPC. Can insist before job appointment a disclosure with information sharing permissions if the NQSW had student conduct/ disciplinary issues.A formal complaint to the university and its revalidation process is a point to also object to the course standards not being upheld to prevent the course approval going through.
    6. This and other universities be warned, because if the organisations stop offering placements and they could, you cannot run your course. Partnership working cannot be ridden rough shod. Universities are accountable to their partners including placements, practice educators and bodies like HCPC and Skills for Care..
    7. Students are having a rude awakening when they begin employment, as employers certainly wont put up with such conduct, and its a quick exit off the ASYE.Do not expect a job if you have this history because we do not want you because of your lack of ethical standards and duty of care..