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‘Being an Oxbridge social worker is like being the only one who turns up to a party in fancy dress’


(Credit: Mood Board/Rex Features, posed by model)

Oxbridge social worker Yvalia Febrer tells us why she approves of proposals to try and make child protection social work more attractive to graduates from the UK’s most prestigious universities.

Being an Oxbridge [Oxford or Cambridge graduate] social worker is a bit like being the only one who turns up to a party in fancy dress. You stand out, most people make fun of you for it, a few admire and respect you for it – and you can guarantee nobody will ever let you forget it.

Personally, I think the proposals to “raise the status” of social work and get more Russell Group* graduates to apply via the new Frontline scheme couldn’t come at a better time. For starters, there aren’t enough people coming into social work as it is, so any drive that promotes the profession and gets more people on board can’t be a bad thing. Secondly it’s the least-respected occupation in the country, as John MacAlister, who authored the Frontline report, makes clear.

In almost six years of social work I’ve only met one other Oxbridge graduate.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that coming from one of the UK’s elite institutions automatically means you’d make a better social worker, I will say that academic ability and analytic skill are important for social work, particularly in frontline child protection. Aside from the fact that you need to be able to write a good court report, you also need to be able to absorb a large amount of information in a very short space of time, analyse it, theorise about it, make hypotheses, and come to a decision and recommendation based on that analysis (preferably incorporating research as part of your evidence-base).

And if that weren’t enough, in a busy frontline team you need to do this with numerous cases, all at the same time, under an immense amount of pressure and scrutiny. A truly good education should teach you how to do this. Whether that’s from a Russell Group university or not, you need that intellectual challenge in order to make you an accomplished and skilled practitioner. Based on my own analytical skills and on common sense, I would argue that you’re more likely to get that from one of the UK’s leading universities than from anywhere else. So if the party needs more people and we can invite who we want, why settle for anything less?

Yvalia Febrer is a senior social worker in an initial response team in London.

*The report found that, of the 2,765 people starting social work master’s-level courses last year, only five completed their undergraduate degree at Oxford or Cambridge, among only 150 from any Russell Group university. View the full list of Russell Group universities

Kirsty McGregor

About Kirsty McGregor

Kirsty McGregor is Community Care's workforce editor. She reports daily on social workers' pay and conditions, education, training, career progression, registration and fitness to practise. This includes issues affecting newly qualified social workers across the UK and the recent development of the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) in England. She is also responsible for producing job hunting and career progression advice.

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