Social Work England to quiz students on anti-discriminatory practice teaching

Regulator commissioning study to assess trainees’ experiences of representation and cultural sensitivity on courses, along with how Covid impact has differed by students' protected characteristics

Black student in university library
Photo: Samuel B/Adobe Stock

This article has been amended 

Social Work England is to probe students’ experience of cultural sensitivity, representation and training in anti-discriminatory practice on their courses, as well as how Covid-19’s impact on trainees has differed based on their protected characteristics or level of deprivation.

The regulator issued a tender last week for a contract to conduct research with both students and education providers on a range of issues concerning equality, diversity and inclusion, Covid’s impact, the future of social work education and the case for registering students.

Specific questions that the research will ask students include what their feelings and experiences are of representation and cultural sensitivity on social work courses and placements, and of anti-discriminatory practice in training.

Issues concerning the representation and experience of students from Black and ethnic minority groups and others with protected characteristics on training courses, including in relation to the curriculum’s focus on anti-discriminatory practice, have come under the spotlight in recent months.

Spotlight on anti-discriminatory course content 

In July, chief social worker for children Isabelle Trowler wrote to Social Work England’s chief executive, Colum Conway, seeking assurances that the regulator was ensuring anti-discriminatory practice was integral to social work qualifying programmes, following “serious concerns” she had received from students that this was not the case.

Students groups have raised similar concerns directly with the regulator in relation to the amount of content on areas including anti-racist practice and anti-oppressive practice in relation to people from LGTBQI+ groups.

In addition, Frontline has faced criticism from participants, including in relation to the level of content on anti-racism on its curriculum, something it has vowed to address through an action plan, while fellow fast-track provider Think Ahead has recognised the need to address its low representation of Black and ethnic minority trainees compared to other courses.

Covid impact

The three-month research study, due to start in January 2021, will also examine the impact of Covid-19 – and the adjustments to courses it entailed – on student learning and poverty, and whether  experiences of the pandemic differ for students and new graduates based on deprivation levels and protected characteristics.

The introduction of the lockdown in England had a significant impact on courses and students, as teaching moved online and some placements had to cease before their scheduled end, requiring universities to decide how they should be assessed.

Social Work England said that final-year students graduated in broadly expected numbers this year. However, those who did have to extend their studies into the 2020-21 because their placements were halted faced a long wait for the government to confirm that it would fund extended bursaries for them, which was only confirmed last month.

The research will also ask students and education providers for their views on the possibility of Social Work England introducing a social work student register.

Sarah Blackmore, the regulator’s executive director of strategy, policy and engagement, told Community Care last week that engagement with student groups and education providers found support for the idea, on the grounds that it would help students develop their professional identity and provide a clearer link to the professional standards trainees would be required to follow once qualified.

The Student Social Work Hub, a group of social work students in England, said there were mixed views on a register among students it had spoken to, with one saying that it would provide a level of professionalism and accountability, and another suggesting it may put more pressure on students.

Academics’ backing for student registration 

Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUC-SWEC) chair Janet Melville-Wiseman said it supported the idea, adding: “We welcome the opportunity for students to join the register as a student registrant in line with the regulatory approach in the other countries of the UK, this would encourage students to develop their emerging professional identity alongside already qualified colleagues.”

In relation to the pandemic’s impact, she said understanding the effect of Covid-19 on social work students and educators could not be fully captured within such a survey but that JUC-SWEC welcomed Social Work England’s wish to begin to understand these experiences. 

Philip Hallam, Social Work England’s executive director of registration, quality assurance, and legal said the research was designed to understand the challenges and opportunities the sector faces in training the next generation of social workers, including the impact of Covid-19, how Social Work England has been received as the new regulator and the experiences, attitudes, perceptions and barriers of students in social work education. 

“Social Work England is committed to gathering intelligence, stories and data about social work and the profession through quality conversations and sound research, sharing what we’re learning with the sector,” Hallam said. 

The regulator said it was looking for “experts in delivering research studies and who can demonstrate high levels of service/experience within the health and social care sector” to carry out the project.

The deadline for applications for the tender is 4 December.

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15 Responses to Social Work England to quiz students on anti-discriminatory practice teaching

  1. Andy Reece November 17, 2020 at 11:09 pm #

    Ironic that an article about ‘cultural sensitivity and representation’ is headed by a picture in which all the clearly visible people are white

    • Mithran Samuel November 18, 2020 at 9:51 am #

      Sorry about that and thanks for the feedback. We’ve changed the photo now.

      • Ian Mackay November 21, 2020 at 10:14 am #

        Point taken about the photo but we have to move beyond cultural sensitivity is more than images presenting a ‘certain type’ of person or ‘culture’.

        • Blair December 14, 2020 at 11:20 am #

          Yes but representation is always important and erasure is still very much a subject matter/

  2. Jacenta November 18, 2020 at 11:24 am #

    Astonished to read that in their 2021 standards SWE dont even require educators to incorporate this into their core training. Perhaps they should address this first.

  3. James Appledore November 20, 2020 at 10:06 am #

    Yes Philip Hallam do gather stories so you can understand.

    In the real world all the data, all the intelligence, all the quality conversations and sound research exists if only the bureaucracy of SWE allowed it to be seen. What do you think this new academisation of real peoples real experinces will reveal that 40 years of research into race, culture and class has failed to do? As for how SWE has been recived as the new regulator? No need for research, just count the numbers of social workers who are yet to register and upload their CPD, 10 days from the deadline. The story and the lesson is painful no doubt, but at least it should save SWE wasting our money commissioning pointless ‘research’

  4. Colin Campbell November 20, 2020 at 8:54 pm #

    SWE, how about you read Professor Stuart Hall and save months of angst.

  5. Sandra November 22, 2020 at 10:31 am #

    SWE don’t want solutions and real change, that would give the game away wouldn’t it? Their self interest will always override our interests.
    Look as if you want to understand, act as if you want to challenge and rectify but in reality bury any possibility of addressing the issue by grand sounding, but never neutral, ‘research’. Dancing on embers doesn’t a fire make. So James, they will befuddle us with ever more ‘concerns’ and squander our fees on commissioning their mates to give them the answers they want.

  6. Henry November 23, 2020 at 9:33 am #

    Strange profession that thinks the core signifier of “professional identity” is being on a register. Not quality of training, not poor placement experiences, not exploitation of trainees but payment of fees. And we wonder why we have such low standing outside of our imagined importance.

  7. Marginalised but still Proud November 23, 2020 at 9:45 am #

    I can guarantee that like all other unpalatable truthssocial work turns away from, this research will not identify let alone address the abuse LGBTQI+ trainees are subjected to on courses and on placements by religious bigots who openly and without challenge call for our expulsion and demean us an “aberration”.

    • Jeannie November 23, 2020 at 2:41 pm #

      Well said. If SWE was committed to tackling oppressive behaviours, it would have sanctioned educational institutions which have failed to support bullied LGBTQI+ staff. I know of 3 students who suffered without any action by SWE or colleges. If you justify bigotry as religious belief you can’t be sanction for being a vile bully apparently. The sophistry and hiding behind the sanctity of “beleifs” mantra of tutors drove me to give up my training. Gutless leadership I can just about stomach but not their sanctimonious hypocracy to so called ‘commitment to anti-oppressive practice”

  8. Aminta November 24, 2020 at 10:39 am #

    My year group were surveyed in 2018 about our knowledge of discriminatory practice. When some of us asked why there was no exploration of our Experiences of discrimination, we were told it would be difficult to “countify and tabulate” individual ‘stories’. Like other collagues here I have no.confudence that this round of research will result in tangible change. SWE has it’s own pressures to be seen “doing something”. Who gets to tell the story controls the narrative and continue to be taught and employed by entities that have no real desire to challenge their own privileges.

  9. Abi November 24, 2020 at 8:17 pm #

    Offering prayers to someone is not the same as telling them they are an abberation. Beleiving in the sanctity of heterosexual marriages over any form of civil partnerships is not bigotry. Actually those of us who are religious and devout have a much harder time than atheists and sexual minorities in social work. Nobody should be made to feel awkward but we are obliged to own our religious beliefs and we suffer for it. As far as I know, no homosexuals have been kicked off social work courses, but many religious students have.

  10. Nihat November 26, 2020 at 9:07 am #

    Abi why do you need to pray for someone who has not asked you to? Why are you the arbiter of sanctity? You are right, more ‘religious’ students than LGBTQI+ students have been kicked off courses. The reason just might be because for you and your congregants religion and spreading religious dogma is more important than training to be a social worker. Holding and propagating discriminatory views isn’t what diversity is about actually. No “homosexual” has pitied me for being straight, no ‘homosexual’ has offered to make me understand how I am on the way to hell unless I renounced my sexuality. On my training we were accused of discrimination because we objected to each lecture starting with a prayer. We were expected to sit through rants about why religion and “man made morals” were corrupting our souls and why social work needed to get on the right “path”. If you are obliged to own your religious beliefs study and work in a religious organisation. Social work is not yours to prostelise in. You have belief in an imaginary deity, we have to work in the reality of an unequal society where vile harassment of minorities is a daily occurrence. Save your pity, we are allright without bigotry. Our morals are righteous and our consciences pure.

  11. Mary December 4, 2020 at 8:29 am #

    Expecting university students to go on placement for 170 days, with no remuneration, no breaks, no rights in the workplace, variable levels of support, no clear explanation of how the PCF’s can be met, leaving it to PE interpretation, is the definition of oppressive practice. Uni’s expecting multiple assignments whilst on placement where you’re trying to learn and work full time, isn’t exactly going to change the culture of the profession – that of managerialism and burnout.