Last week, a senior lecturer and doctoral student argued my report into the education of children’s social workers was based on opinion and judgement rather than generalisable fact, and that it leant heavily on anecdotes from parties that were largely unnamed.
Disagreeing with the conclusions I reach in my report is entirely legitimate. And, indeed, attacking those conclusions on the basis that I fail to justify them would be reasonable also.
But even when one makes allowance for a little partiality, which helps to provide an entertaining article, this critique is, at best, misguided.
This is not the first time that it’s been suggested that my report is anecdotal. But it’s no less excusable for that. And it’s untrue. An anecdote is a short, amusing or interesting story about an incident or person. There are no stories in my report, amusing or otherwise.
There are a number of sources whose identity I’ve protected (and frankly, that was vital and I make no apology for doing so): The external examiner from one university who, without any prompting from me, criticised the poor literacy of some social work undergraduates; the lecturer who wrote to me to tell me of the pressure on him to pass the work of inadequate students; the social work students – in significant number – who either had critical things to say about their course or their practice placement (or both). All had their own reasons for wishing to remain anonymous. But their views were no less valid because of that.
Of course, had my conclusions been based only on those opinions then they would have carried much less weight. But in reality I drew upon, and referred in my report to, previous studies and opinions from a large number of bodies and individuals, including but not limited to, The Education Select Committee, The College of Social Work, Eileen Munro, Lord Laming, The Social Work Task Force, The Reform Board, NSPCC, The National Student Survey, The Destination of Leavers from Higher Education Survey and Policy Exchange.
So, by all means, dispute my conclusions, argue against them, and perhaps consider inviting me to debate them with staff and students (only two universities have taken up this much-repeated offer). But don’t pretend they’re not conclusions that have been reached by a number of previous studies and voiced many times by serious and respected commentators, such as Herbert Laming.
Finally, a bit of advice for the author: If you want to throw a bit of conspiracy into an argument, it’s important to be clear about one or two facts. It’s said that my report was written with language Michael Gove has been quick to use, and my reward for writing it was to be appointed, after publication, as a ministerial advisor. In fact, I’ve been advising ministers at the Department for Education, first on adoption and then on children’s social care, for three years.
The article then concludes with a rhetorical flourish: A critically minded undergraduate might be inclined to ask one more question. Why did Michael Gove call for a second review within weeks of Croisdale Appleby being appointed to carry out this task? In fact, care minister Norman Lamb wrote to David Croisdale Appleby in April 2013, asking him to undertake a review. This was four months after Michael Gove commissioned mine and two months after children’s minister Edward Timpson announced the review.