By Bill McKitterick
David Croisdale-Appleby’s review of social work education in England has radical differences from its “sister” review of children’s social work education by Martin Narey – yet there are also some striking similarities. Both reviews address the key issues of workforce planning and the variability in the rigour and substance across social work education, including the woeful inconsistencies in practice learning opportunities and the challenges of aligning the Health and Care Professions Council’s Standards of Proficiency with the Professional Capabilities Framework. The challenge for social work and social workers now will be to take the lead in making the most of both reviews.
Both reviews have demonstrated the limited impact of the Social Work Reform Board’s proposals in a number of critical areas, like employer and university partnership on workforce planning, the provision of good enough practice learning opportunities and for newly qualified social workers (NQSW) during their assessed and supported year of employment (AYSE).
The reviews have also picked up on a number of issues which I personally saw discarded by the Social Work Task Force and, subsequently, the reform board, such as whether there should be a greater emphasis on social work education being set predominantly at master’s degree level, adopting a model of social workers as practitioners, professionals and social scientists, and the lack of emphasis on continuing professional development.
There are shared concern in both reviews about the about the academic or intellectual capacity of entrants to social work education, recognising the complexity of the responsibilities of social workers and the knowledge and skills they require. This is a question of how well candidates are prepared for entry and, critically, how well the higher education institutions support and educate the candidates they have accepted. Social work has to work hard to ensure it remains a professional rather than technical occupation, with individual critical analysis and evidenced informed practice at its heart. David Croisdale-Appleby is far more assertive in this respect, particularly in emphasising the role of social workers as social scientists and cogently identifying the enduring lack of research preparedness and research funding for social workers and for social work practice.
Both reviews acknowledge the need for social workers to be capable of working with adults and children, not least because children have adult parents. There is a difference in emphasis, but I am confident that a consensus can be achieved so we do not end up with a divided profession, or social workers who lack the breadth of capability to make career changes in the future.
The position of social workers who are also managers requires greater attention than has been given by both reviews. They are responsible for the professional development and reflective supervision of the social workers in their team or service, and equally importantly make social work case decisions. This requires greater attention and analysis; management and professional leadership are too often conflated. In addition, the practice skills and knowledge required in managers who are social workers and professional supervisors require and deserve exceptional investment.
The total expenditure of government funding and the personal investment of social workers in their qualifying education and continuing professional development is substantial, but the capacity and willingness within the profession to improve and enhance could be used to greater advantage. In the current economic climate, it is unrealistic to seek more public funding; the solutions lie in making better use of existing resources and, crucially, making far better use of the expertise, experience and enthusiasm within the profession, rather than relying on government initiatives and funding, and the work of quangos.
Bill McKitterick works in social work leadership, supervision, early development of social workers and workforce development. He represented directors of social services in the negotiations leading up to the new social work degree in 2003. Email