Social workers defend training: Discord over race awareness studies

THE BRITISH Association of Social Workers yesterday defended the emphasis on gender and race awareness in the training of social workers. 'To do social work you have to understand oppression before you can be in a position to help,' Gwen Swire, assistant general secretary for BASW, said.

Her remarks were in response to an interview with Jeffrey Greenwood, the new chairman of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work, who said political correctness was 'nonsense' and should be 'rooted out'.

Ms Swire said: 'If there are any inadequacies in the training of social workers, it is not the fault of the diploma. It is the lack of money invested in training that is the problem - and central government is responsible.'

Mr Greenwood, who takes up his new post on 1 September, sparked controversy yesterday when he told the Independent that 'the cause of equal opportunities' was not helped by 'silly' or 'sinister' statements emphasising the importance of race awareness. He particularly objected to a paragraph in Paper 30, a document which lays down the curriculum universities and colleges must teach for a diploma in social work. It says: 'The CCETSW believes that racism is endemic in the values, attitudes and structures of British society, including those of social services and social work education.'

Ms Swires said there were more pertinent issues: 'I would like to know how Mr Greenwood plans to fund the three-year course he has advocated when there are barely enough teachers to supervise the two-year course.'

The shake-up of the curriculum is part of a move, headed by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, to change the image of social workers. Ministers argue that outdated attitudes are alienating the public and deterring higher-calibre recruits from entering the profession.

Terry Philpot, editor of Community Care, the weekly social services magazine, said if he could be sure the Government was not trying to marginalise issues by disregarding political correctness, he would support an attempt to 'right the balance' and ensure race awareness was not studied to the exclusion of other issues. He added that studying race issues was unavoidable: 'In the Children Act, the law states quite clearly that same-race adoptions are encouraged. Social workers need to be sensitive to race issues in order to follow such laws.'

At present, no more than 15 hours' teaching within a two-year course is dedicated to race-awareness training.

Peter Smallridge, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services and director of Kent social services, said that while an understanding of discrimination was important, it should only be 'a part' of what social workers were trained to do. 'To suggest that the function of social workers is to root out institutional racism is inappropriate,' he said.