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Tackling racial discrimination in social work education

Practice educator Dan Taylor says an action plan is urgently needed

Photo of article author Dan Taylor
Dan Taylor

Professional Social Work magazine 11 June 2020

As a practice educator working with social work students and newly qualified social workers, I am very conscious of the imperative for all those involved in social work education to back the cause of Black Lives Matter. Anti-racism has been a central part of social work education for thirty years, but there is still a need for it to be comprehensively translated into practice. 

Research demonstrates that BAME students are more likely to fail to complete social work courses. I can also attest to the greater likelihood of Black ASYEs either failing or being deferred in some local authorities. BAME social workers are under represented both as tutors and as practice educators.

I am fortunate to have benefited from white privelige, which enabled me to establish myself as an independent practice educator. However, a black colleague was not so fortunate and had to give up the role after two years as it did not provide her with financial security. An example of how racial inequality limits opportunities for professional development in social work. 

As well as supporting the removal of statues and other symbols of glorification to slave traders and imperialists, we need BASW and Social Work England to formulate an urgent action plan to tackle racial disadvantage and discrimination within social work education. This should include the following immediate steps:

1) Mentoring to be offered to all BAME students and local authorities in addition to existing support in order to identify and overcome psychological and cultural barriers to success. This would recognise the reality that, due to racism and discrimination in the education system, some BAME students and ASYEs experience feelings of low self esteem in relation to both academic and professional competence. 

2) Universities should be encouraged/required to have tutor groups that reflect ethnic composition of the social work students. I know of universities that have over 50% BAME students but not a single BAME tutor. Perhaps the universities could establish specific posts teaching race and cultural issues as a way of demonstrating their commitment to racial equality. As with BAME students and ASYEs, new BAME tutors should be offered mentoring to prevent isolation and build confidence. 

3) Anti racist practice should resume its central place in the social work curriculum. This should cover issues such as the legacy of slavery and colonialism for both white and black people, how to identify and challenge racism in society including Islamophobia, and the need for white students to recognise racist attitudes in themselves inculcated through education and the media. 

4) Social Work England should undertake a survey of BAME tutors and practice educators to ascertain their support needs. The results should be disseminated to universities and local authorities as this would assist in both retention and recruitment of BAME social workers into these roles. This in turn would be of great benefit to BAME students and ASYEs as well as the profession as a whole. 

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers.