‘Dear Martin Narey – social work education must be more, not less, robust’

The Social Workers Assembly address government advisor Martin Narey's comments about splitting social work education in an open letter

The Social Workers Assembly. Photo: @TSWAssembly

A group of social workers and academics have written an open letter challenging government advisor Sir Martin Narey’s divisive comments about social work education.

The Social Workers Assembly, a grassroots body set up following the closure of the College of Social Work, have addressed comments by the former adoption tsar that adults’ and children’s social work education should be split.

You can read the full letter below

Breakdown of values

The letter, which gathered more than a hundred signatories, sets out the organisation’s belief separate directions for social work education would contribute to a breakdown of social work’s “purpose, skills and values”.

Instead, the Social Workers Assembly have said the degree course should be made more, not less robust, with a generic foundation and more opportunities to specialise at a more advanced level.

More robust

The letter stated: “In most countries the evidence has been in support of longer programmes, allowing greater development of practitioners.

“A separation of training to produce fast track children’s practitioners is not social work as is commonly understood on either the national or international stage.”

Social Workers Assembly Member and social worker with adults, Simon Allen said: “Social work education does need to be reformed but it needs to be even more robust –  we need not to reduce training but actually to strengthen it.

“The letter is about putting social work education on the table. The more conversations we can have about it the better.”

We read with disappointment the comments you made in regard to both social work as a profession and social work education overall in your speech at the recent ADCS conference.

We believe that the separate directions suggested for social work education in the future would contribute to a breakdown of the purpose, skills and values that underpin our profession, regardless of which areas of practice we inhabit.

While agreeing that a two-year degree is not sufficient to assure quality or to ensure trainees receive the breadth of experience that social workers require, we believe that the suggestion of separating children’s and adult social work into two educational pathways will not address this issue and will further contribute to the erosion of our profession.

Despite policy support for programmes such as Frontline and Step-up, we would note that the former is yet untested in terms of both outcomes and sustainability, and the latter is one of the many routes into social work which we believe should be valued and available for those seeking entrance into our demanding field.

Social work has a place on the international stage. Many of our European colleagues have demonstrated clear evidence in terms of effective educational routes into social work and we believe the UK could learn from this body of evidence. In most countries the evidence has been in support of longer programmes, allowing greater development of practitioners, for example the programmes in Scotland are 4 years in length, in Poland, Germany and Denmark degree programmes are 3.5 years in length. These are based on the acknowledgement that social workers need grounding in a whole range of theory, knowledge and skills and an understanding of working with families, systems and issues that develop through the lifespan. A separation of training to produce fast track children’s practitioners is not social work as is commonly understood on either the national or international stage.

The social work referred to in the current policy direction and specifically in your speech, is limited to statutory children’s work, however we would like to highlight that there are nearly 90,000 registered social workers in England, and many more in Wales, and yet more who practice in undesignated roles within the voluntary sector. These social workers provide a whole range of support that is fundamental to the wellbeing of individuals, families and groups in our diverse communities. These roles are vital and of equal importance, without them the negative experiences of individuals and families and pressures on statutory social work would be even greater than is currently the case. Social work is about building relationships and supporting families as a whole, without this knowledge it is our belief that social workers will be unable to fulfil that role.

Children’s social work does not happen in a vacuum. Issues such as transitions and wider legislation, for example via the Care Act, the Children & Families Act, and the Mental Capacity Act, are all fundamental elements of ensuring positive outcomes for citizens of all ages, with extensive evidence to support that view from both academic and practice based research.

We want to promote excellence in our profession. It is disappointing that the current policy agenda appears to be discounting the experience and expertise of many in order to promote the views of a few.

Social work is not a method of increasing or decreasing political capital, for many it is a lifeline. The Social Workers assembly will not sit back and allow the current policy direction to go unchallenged.

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6 Responses to ‘Dear Martin Narey – social work education must be more, not less, robust’

  1. Esther Hack July 28, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Excellent letter!

  2. Dave Ensor July 28, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    I thought that moving from diploma to degree was a very good move. but by watering down training and splitting children and adults is self defeating. it will put us back 40 years. I have had the privilage to have worked as a Social Worker with both adults and children, in different settings. This has provided me with a very rounded and substantial base for my practice.
    I would not have had this any other way. Also – not everyone realises their potential, or identifies their strengths at the start of their training.

    Four years is the Australian way as well as many other countries.

    We seem to have people telling us what we should do that I have very little confidence in. They are appointed by….? and answerable to…? And it does not seem clear how they can be replaced by us.

  3. Trevor McCarthy July 28, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    It’s a good response to Narey’s misguided proposal.

    It is also true that while many entrants to the social work profession are certain where they would like to specialise others move into previously unanticipated areas of specialism as a consequence of being exposed to them in the course of their training and placements.

    There is also a need for rounded overlapping professional training – children’s social workers need to be fully aware of adult issues and provision as do the adult social workers engaged with parents and others who have access to children.

    There are also many areas of supposedly separated curricula which need to be delivered identically to both strands. Running social work careers on narrow tram lines will make it difficult for service managers to develop the expertise to lead whole systems (conflating education and children social work has meant that senior managers have a major knowledge deficit as they have either come up through a teaching or social work career path).

    It is a nonsense, unlikely to improve public confidence in and acceptance of an improving profession to attempt to achieve this entirely by fast tracking and fragmenting professional developmental training.

    Initial training needs to be more comprehensive and the recent shift where vital elements of preparation for practise (e.g. alcohol and other drugs knowledge and skills development) are shunted into PQ training need to be reversed.

    Narey could hardly be more wrong if he’d tried.

  4. Nora McClelland July 29, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    thankyou SW assembly…the letter reflects my view

  5. Samuel Okwei-Nortey August 2, 2015 at 11:03 pm #

    Thank you, SW Assembly. Good response.

  6. Debbie August 3, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

    The education of social workers is hampered by the university sucess figures and lately the fees and they will not fail poor social work students who they recruit as students and who during their studies don’t develop the required skills and social competence required to meet the requirements on qualifying to practice as a social worker. The task of failing poor social work students is often left to practice educators who are brave enough to identify the lacking of capacity of a social work student. Frontline has the right idea because if you have skills and personnel capacity to develop as a social worker these are the foundations which expertise can grow upon, if you don’t then you should be told so and supported towards another career path and not left to qualify as a social worker and then contribute to poor practice adding to the lack of public confidence in the profession. It’s time to speak out and stop poor social work being practised.