Social work students from ethnic minorities face struggle

Black students are struggling to pass the social work degree because universities do not have proper systems of support for their needs, a senior academic has said.

Black students are struggling to pass the social work degree because universities do not have proper systems of support for their needs, a senior academic has said.

The General Social Care Council’s report on social work education in England in 2009-10, published in January, identified a trend of black students taking longer to progress through training which had persisted over several years.

Previous research has suggested that there are complex reasons for this inequality, including discrimination encountered during practice placements from service users, according to academics at King’s College London.

But Jane McLenachan, head of social work and health studies at De Montfort University, said some higher education institutions failed to address black students’ needs “at a strategic level”.

McLenachan represented the Joint University Council’s social work education committee on the GSCC’s diversity and progression project group. She said the group identified certain particular support needs of black and minority ethnic students, such as help for those whose first language was not English.

“These needs are often not addressed at a strategic level in the same way as, for example, support for students with dyslexia,” she said.

Shereen Hussein, senior research fellow at King’s College’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit, agreed that the problem was often institutional.

“Some institutions are better than others at identifying ‘at-risk’ students, such as those with a lot of commitments outside of university life,” she said. “BME students are proportionately more mature and have more caring responsibilities.”

Universities and colleges in England are required to report on variations in progression among different groups as part of the GSCC’s annual monitoring process.

Despite the slow progression rates, people from BME backgrounds are over-represented among graduates.

Black students accounted for 15% of social work degree graduates in England 2008-9, according to the GSCC. The 2001 Census said black people made up just 2% of the overall population.

White people made up 75% of social work graduates, compared to 91% of the overall population, and Asian people made up 6% of graduates and 5% of the overall population.

But academics have expressed concern that the Social Work Reform Board’s efforts to improve the calibre of entrants to the social work degree could further disadvantage BME students in the future.

McLenachan said it was important that universities continued to promote routes into social work education for those who may need additional learning and development opportunities.

This was echoed by Jean Dillon, senior social work lecturer at Middlesex University, who said the reform board should encourage HEIs to consider the social context of applicants and provide extra support to black students.

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