Are Social Work Lecturers out of touch?

This is a question which was raised by the Social Work Taskforce report and challenged by said lecturers in a Community Care article after the report suggested that there is an element of being ‘out of touch with current practice’.

When I was studying, and I’m going back roughly 10 years, there was a feeling that some – and by no means all – of the lecturers were trying to take a side-step away from direct practide as a concerted effort to free themselves from some of the day to day practide.

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Some unrealistic models were employed and the way we were taught certain issues did not relate to what we were learning from our placements.

It seems that this is still the case to a certain extent. Perhaps it is a feeling, from the ‘front-line’ that it is a ‘easy way out’ to revert to reams of research about issues that barely relate to some of the day to day practicalities and situations that are dealt with.

I know that my ex-university has made a step of taking on part-time lecturers who work in direct practice in the ‘other part’ of their jobs. I know because I’ve come across a few with their ‘social work practitioner’ hats on and we have chatted about their lecturing roles. It seems like a good way to inject some verve into the university teaching structures. From what I hear too, other universities are picking this model up which seems a little of the ‘best of both worlds’.

Sometimes from the front-line, it can seem as if some people are just too keen to get away from direct client experience as soon as they can – whether this is by taking a managerial post or by hiding behind the robes of academia.

I have always worked along the principle that I would not ask someone to do something that I am not willing to do for myself. It’s one of those lessons I picked up by doing the hands-on care work in a residential care home. I had more respect for those lecturers who have been through the mill and ‘served their time’ in social work teams for more than a couple of years, regardless of their current practice.

I don’t think direct and relevant practice experience is necessary in all modules or study areas. There are some parts of social work that don’t change and some that require a more academic base but I think a better course would have input from practitioners, even if it is on a visiting basis.

Social work as an academic discipline is very different from history, politics or philosophy. The motivation to study and to affect change in society is a key influencer in the development of the profession as a whole. I wonder if sometimes desk-based research can be seen as divorced from practice and that is why there is this divide.

Perhaps more integration of research into practice would be a way for front-line practitioners to see the benefits of engaging with university Social Work departments. For all I see it, and this is with a desire to engage as much as possible, any conferences, papers and research is delivered within and among the academic communities with little thought to how it might be disseminated outwards to the local authority offices and departments staffed with overworked, stressed workers who barely have a chance to read directly relevant proposals (New Horizons – which I have been carrying around in  my bag for a few days in an attempt to find some time to read!) let alone to take measure of the ‘research’ that takes place in these institutions.

That is why the lecturers can seem have a stymied view of practice.. it can seem a little like looking up into an ivory tower where knowledge shifts around from institution to institution in an attempt to inflate their egos and research budgets but if nothing filters down to direct practice, what is the worth in a discipline like Social Work.

2 thoughts on “Are Social Work Lecturers out of touch?

  1. I’m a part-time social work educator in the States, and I think about this A LOT. Unfortunately, many universities pay part-time lecturers very little, which can mean that the practitioners who do take this on have little time and energy to dedicate to their students…in the ideal case, I think it is the best of both worlds, but the institutional support has to be there, too. I have been out of full-time practice (teaching, consulting, and taking care of my kids) for almost 3 years now, and I feel like I’ve got about 3 more years before I’ll need to step away from the classroom again, so that I can be sharing something really relevant with students. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  2. Hi Melinda – thanks for that. It’s not dissimilar here in that the pay in practice is more than that within the universities for the most part and perhaps that is one of the reasons that people are reluctant to make the move back to teaching after practice and might be more inclined to move up the management ladder.

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