Responding to the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove’s speech to the NSPCC on social work training today, Bridget Robb, Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said:
“Michael Gove is right to say that there are many ‘superb social workers’ and that it is a ‘noble and demanding’ profession. He is also right that it is a profession that must continue to grow and to embed its professionalism at every level.
“What social workers would appreciate, however, is a better understanding of their daily practice and that far from being complicit in the ‘victim’ status of the people who use their services, they are the professionals who go furthest to challenge and push people to make very difficult changes in their lives.
“Social work isn't a cosy little job performed by warm and cuddly people who just want to placate recalcitrant parents and children, it's a career in which many people work long days in stressful situations trying against the odds to bring about real changes in people's lives – often making huge demands on reluctant people and not accepting it when the necessary.
“The Secretary of State has today challenged social work to show that it is a mature profession by taking on board criticism and recognising that change is needed.
“In this light BASW is open to his call for new models of practice, where social workers are freed from bureaucratic constraints to work more closely with people who need their services. We have long been broadly supportive of social work practices and know that many of our members are already doing effective work in small, independent and mutually led organisations, bringing social work closer to our communities.
“BASW can also broadly endorse Mr Gove’s description of Martin Narey’s initial findings of his review of higher education training, which suggest many excellent social workers are leaving our universities but that there is room for more consistency of provision.
“Equally, BASW recognises the potential of the Frontline social work training programme, aimed at attracting 'high-flying'graduates into the profession, and welcomes the enthusiastic response from potential candidates which has seen over 4,000 express strong interest in the scheme.
“While clear on the potential benefits of Frontline, BASW has held useful discussions with its developers about our continued concerns with the model and expects to maintain engagement over the coming weeks and months.
“BASW, and social workers generally, don’t automatically reject criticism but do expect a two-way dialogue about the changes that are needed.
“Just as social work can go further in driving up standards and entrenching professionalism, so too ministers must recognise the importance of enabling social workers to do real ‘social work’ and not merely assess people for services that fewer and fewer people are able to access as eligibility criteria rises inexorably upwards.
“And just as social workers need to consider new models of working and new training approaches so too it is important for ministers to acknowledge that social workers have found out over years of doing the job that understanding people's pasts is a key part of finding out how to help people to change their lives for the better – this is not the same as perceiving people to be 'victims'.
“BASW will work with any politician who genuinely wants to bring positive changes to the lives of people who need social work services and would welcome the chance to sit down with Mr Gove to discuss all sides of these important issues in more detail.”