Practice makes perfect?

Health minister Jacqui Smith’s speech on the
future of social work training at Community Care Live last
week contained welcome measures.

was some long overdue action on the shortage of practice
placements. That social work students today can find themselves in
social services offices without ever having any direct experience
of working with vulnerable people is unacceptable. Setting up a
task force to examine both the quantity and the quality of practice
placements is a good idea.

Equally welcome is the
announcement of a review of the funding of practice learning. While
acknowledging the need for additional funding for social work
training through the new training strategy implementation fund, the
government had previously overlooked the urgent need to address
practice learning. Employers claim they cannot provide sufficient
numbers of practice placements because of other demands on their
limited resources. The focus on the ability to work with other
professionals is also a clever way of ensuring that attempts to
break down the Berlin Wall begin early.

However, the most significant
element of Smith’s announcement is the government’s emphasis on
practice learning in the new social work degree. Allocating almost
half of a student’s time to practice learning represents a 50 per
cent rise.

work is a difficult and demanding profession. New recruits need to
feel fully equipped to tackle the ever-increasing and complex
demands of the vulnerable people whom they protect and whose lives
they improve. The minister is right to want to bring theory and
practice together.

However, the question is whether
this fits with Smith’s explicit aim to put social work on a par
with other graduate professions. When the new degree was initially
proposed, the assumption was that the emphasis would be on the
academic, classroom-based element of social work training as a
means of enhancing the professional status of social work. The
government has taken a different route by increasing the percentage
of time social work students will spend outside the

defined social work as a practical job which is not about exploring
how service users got into difficulties. But it is much more than
that. Theory and research are essential to, and must support,
practice. We must ensure they are not lost in the welcome attempt
to improve practice learning.

that shed little light

At last, the nail biting is over and the star
ratings are out. So it’s champagne all round at the eight
three-star authorities and a bottle of flat cola at the ten
zero-rated councils.

new performance measurement table held some unpleasant surprises,
particularly for the six social services departments not already on
special measures. In fact the bottom 10 departments bear no
resemblance to the bottom 10 announced in health secretary Alan
Milburn’s infamous naming and shaming exercise last October. This
demonstrates that the Department of Health has looked more widely
when assessing social services departments than relying solely on
one set of performance indicators.

However, the government could
have gone further. For example, it could have introduced more
ratings and started at the bottom with one star, instead of having
those departments with no stars sounding as if they have achieved
nothing. The star ratings measurement is a small improvement on the
previous system but remains a blunt instrument which aids neither
departments nor the public.



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