Challenging accepted ‘givens’

Last week, I (Jonathan Parker, Professor of Social Work & Social Policy, Deputy Dean for Research and Knowledge Exchange and Director of the Centre for Social Work, Sociology and Social Policy in HSC) presented a keynote lecture at University Campus Suffolk’s annual conference on social work education and practice last week.

In the lecture, I questioned the increased reliance on practice learning in professional education, reminding delegates – academics and social work practitioners from East Anglia, Essex, Norfolk, Nottingham and Suffolk – that there has been almost uncritical acceptance of this pedagogic methodology demonstrating compliance rather than research-based reflection. I drew on many years of research critically questioning the concept of practice learning to paint alternative pictures of it to the ones promoted by those advocating reform.

I sought to ‘trouble’ the recent reforms of social work education and challenged professional bodies and Government to work together and let recent reforms ‘bed-in’ before attempting further revision. I questioned the anecdotal evidence used to initiate reform as representing political ideology and a means of deflecting attention from other social policy failures rather than indicating a pressing need for change. Using models from organisational sociology and the pursuit of legitimacy through standardisation, consistency and compliance, I called for a continuing questioning and discomforting of ‘givens’, and commitment to searching for best evidence whilst questioning the meanings professionals make of ‘evidence’ and the power relations it constructs. The appeal for intellectually robust resistance to poorly evidenced and politically-motivated calls for reform was well received.