Practical skills no panacea for social worker training
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Martin Narey's review of initial social work training leaves no doubt that fundamental change is needed in how we prepare children's social workers for the reality of frontline practice.
The problem, it seems, starts with the standard of the students on courses. Too many universities are offering places on social work degrees to students with just a single A-level to their name.
One particularly revealing anecdote in Narey's report is from an undergraduate who told of "weeks and weeks looking at Plato, Socrates and Aristotle" as part of the ethics and values module, instead of "equipping us with relevant social work skills".
While Narey's report is a useful assessment of where things stand, we shouldn't be too surprised by the findings. The social work degree is still less than a decade old and, like most "new" degree courses, it takes time to embed an academic culture to how the subject is taught.
As is the case with many vocational-based degrees, striking the right balance between academic and practical teaching is something that can be a struggle to get right - although weeks of studying Greek philosophers does sound a bit extreme. Simply turning the social work degree into three years of practical skills teaching is no panacea though. Learning how to carry out an assessment is a useful skill you'd expect any student social worker to have covered, but it is important to recognise that what this constitutes could vary depending on client, setting and the local policy landscape. Also, what is viewed as good practice now may not be seen as such in, say, 10 years' time.
As we all know, policy changes with alarming frequency, while practice is intrinsically linked to policy. Faced with such a scenario it is understandable that universities have tried to embed a theoretical backbone to social work learning that transcends the whims of what good practice is in vogue at the time. If the academic content of courses is now deemed surplus to requirements, you may well ask whether a social work degree offers the right sort of training for future generations of social workers.
Final push on SEN reforms can make a difference
It is said that government reforms to the special education needs system represent the biggest overhaul of support for children with an SEN for a generation. For that, the government should be commended – doing away with the much-maligned statementing system has been widely welcomed, but is no mean undertaking.
The new education, health and care plans replacing statements promise to take a far more holistic approach to assessing the needs of children with a SEN, and will hopefully be a more effective tool for ensuring support is forthcoming. With just six months to go before the new system goes live, issues about how the plans will work in practice still need to be resolved.
After coming so far, it will be a missed opportunity if these last few hurdles are not overcome and threaten to undermine the hard work already done.