Thursday, 25 June 2015

Death of a college

The passing of the College of Social Work gives me no pleasure.

Sadly I fear that the college was doomed by the bizarre way in which local authority directors, ex-directors and other senior managers, dominated its board. For an organisation that was supposed to represent practitioners it looked far from convincing. And matters were not helped by the generally patronising approach characterised by claiming to be a membership organisation but not being able to allow its members to take control. No wonder not enough front-line social workers were attracted to join. The organisation just didn’t seem to be set-up to meet their needs.

The other sad thing was the way in which the college seemed to diversify into a bewildering range of activities and initiatives, producing all sorts of paperwork and committees but not focusing on the key benefits that would have ensured its legitimacy. To my way of thinking it was producer-focused (“let’s do the things that interest us”) rather than consumer-focused (“let’s deliver the benefits to those whom we are here to serve”).

David Brindle in The Guardian makes some good points about how the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) could now take on some of the functions of the College of Social Work.

I believe that that BASW is not simply a good candidate to raise the phoenix from the ashes; it is the only candidate. It has its own membership and organisation and is a true membership organisation. If it could be persuaded to inherit some, but by no means all, of the functions of the defunct college it would provide a means of saving something from the wreckage.

The crucial thing would be to define carefully the core functions for which a college of social work is required. What is its role in education and training to be? What are the key aspects of professional development that the college should address? How should it fulfill its policy function without becoming simply a sounding board for small groups of insiders?

A ‘college-light’ (without expensive and unnecessary activities) nested within BASW, at least for its fledgling years, could develop and grow by demonstrating its value to practitioners and winning their trust. Then the necessary cash for more elaborate activities might begin to flow. At some point in the future it could become independent, but only once its prospects were assured.