In defence of a university social work education

Publication Date18 September 2017
Date18 September 2017
AuthorJune Thoburn
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Children's services,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Children/youth,Parents,Education,Early childhood education,Home culture,Social/physical development
In defence of a university social
work education
June Thoburn
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to identify the particular characteristics and strengths of mainstream
undergraduate and postgraduate university education for social workers.
Design/methodology/approach A brief summary of the establishment of the honours degree or M-level
qualification as the requirement for registration as a social worker in England is followed by a summary of the
main aspects of mainstreamsocial work courses. The values underpinning a studentrather than a
traineeroute into social work are explored and some limited comparisons made with recently introduced
fast-track specialist programmes. Where relevant, the student experience is contrasted with that of fast-track
specialist trainees.
Findings The paper concludes with a discussion of thepotential impact on the social work profession and
on agencies providing social work services of the cuts over the pastfew years in the numbers of students on
generalistmainstream social work programmes.
Research limitations/implications This is a conceptual paper. It recognises that more information is
available on long-established university programmes than on the more recently available fast-track routes into
social work and cites relevant research.
Practical implications The paper points to the changing balance between numbers entering social
work in England via mainstream and fast-track specialist programmes and argues for a fuller debate
amongst all stakeholders as to whether this change is in the interest of the profession and those who need
social work services.
Social implications The author argues that the unequal level of funding between the different entry routes
into social work is distorting choice (for students and future employers) between fast-track specialist and
mainstream social work education. It is hypothesised that differences between the curricula and learning
experiences of the two routes may have an impact on the social work service available to vulnerable people
across age and needs groups. It also points to a potentially negative impact on social work education and the
knowledge base of the reduction in numbers of academics with both social work practice experiences and
research qualifications.
Originality/value This is an original paper that draws on the authors experience and the published
research and grey literature cited.
Keywords Research training, Fast-track training, Knowledge and process curriculum,
Social work education, Specialist training, Student funding
Paper type Conceptual paper
The word defenceis used advisably, since there is good reason to believe that a university
education for social workers in England (not Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or most
of the developedworld) is under attack ( Thoburn et al., 2016). And as some one who watched
helplessly as probation was downgraded from requiring a highly regarded graduate education
to a two-year narro w specialist train ing, I know risk when I see it. So here is why I, along with
the majority of socia l work educators in the UK and elsewhere in Europe (Associa tion of
Professors of Social Work, 2013; Association of Professors of Social Work and JUC-SWC,
2014; Association of Professors of Social Work, 2016; Ferguson, 2016), opposed
from the start the government move towards an expanded place for fast-trackspecialist
on-the-job training. In the light of experience, and some (limited) research and data on the
Received 28 March 2017
Revised 6 May 2017
Accepted 16 June 2017
June Thoburn is an Emeritus
Professor of Social Work at the
Department of Social Work,
University of East Anglia,
Norwich, UK.
DOI 10.1108/JCS-03-2017-0006 VOL. 12 NO. 2/3 2017, pp. 97-106, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1746-6660
PAG E 97

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