Education secretary Michael Gove has pledged to strip out the “dogma” that dominates social work thinking in children’s services.
In a speech to the NSPCC this morning he slammed social work training which he said involved “idealistic students being told that the individuals with whom they will work have been disempowered by society”.
He added: “They will be encouraged to see these individuals as victims of social injustice whose fate is overwhelmingly decreed by the economic forces and inherent inequalities which scar our society.
“This analysis is, sadly, as widespread as it is pernicious. It robs individuals of the power of agency and breaks the link between an individual’s actions and the consequences. It risks explaining away substance abuse, domestic violence and personal irresponsibility, rather than doing away with them.
“Social workers overly influenced by this analysis not only rob families of a proper sense of responsibility, they also abdicate their own.”
He said great practice was too often undermined by such “dogma” and the government would work to “strip this sort of thinking out of the profession”.
He praised the “Reclaiming Social Work” model, pioneered in Hackney, and its high standards of social work which saw up to a third of staff being sacked when the model was put in place.
“I am determined to spread this rigour throughout the children’s social care profession,” Gove said.
He claimed the intellectual demands of many social work courses were not as high as they should be.
“Theories of society predominate over an effective understanding of child development, the cognitive damage that accrues through neglect and appropriate thresholds for taking children into care. And there isn’t enough stress on high quality practice.”
Gove said for him this was a personal mission because his own life had been transformed by social workers after he was adopted at four months old.
He said social work was a noble and demanding vocation which required a level of professionalism every bit as great as that of doctors or barristers, teachers or lecturers.
“I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of child protection in this country.”
He also claimed the Prime Minister David Cameron had been “brave” when he recently praised social workers in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference this year.
The Education secretary has asked Sir Martin Narey, formerly a director general of prisons and chief executive of Barnardo’s, to conduct a review of social work education which is expected to be published shortly.
He said the review would highlight there is currently a failure to be clear about what social workers needed to know and understand when they entered the profession.
“I am sure that if-as I hope and expect- social workers recognise the rigour and helpfulness of Sir Martin’s work the profession will only grow in public respect. A defensive or dismissive reaction will only, I fear, make it more difficult for all of us to achieve the change we need in child protection.”