Excellence hides loss of spirit

So farewell, then, the National Institute for Social Work. After
40 years, NISW is to make way for a young pretender, the Social
Care Institute for Excellence.

Still an institute, yes, but note two significant changes. The
first is that Scie will be about “social care” rather than social
work, an implicit reference to the government’s avowed aim of
professionalising social care as a whole. And, the second, perhaps
more ominously, is that word “excellence”. Not, of course, that
there is anything remotely wrong with the word as ordinarily
understood. But what does it mean in the mouth of this government,
the creator of Scie?

NISW has had a long and largely honourable career as an
organisation committed to carrying out and disseminating research
in social care. Its values were firmly rooted in the finest
traditions of social work and it upheld the principles which the
profession holds dear long after the government and the media had
lost patience with them. In short, it has been a champion for
social workers when they most needed one and when anyone else who
may have claimed to speak for them was too weak to be heard.

Will Scie be an independent voice for social work? It seems very
unlikely. Nobody should be misled by the government’s decision to
set it up as a charitable company. Scie’s mission is to spread the
gospel of “what works”, which is in fact the government’s dubious
definition of excellence. This mission will neither be independent,
nor rooted in the traditions of social work. Good, old-fashioned
casework is likely to be sacrificed, even as a principle, in the
name of measuring outcomes and achieving targets.

No wonder the user movement has questioned Scie’s motives. Many
of NISW’s invaluable resources will be adopted by its successor,
but its spirit will be lost.

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