Ten years later I moved across into social work education, which is where I spent the next quarter of a century. When TCSW was set up in 2012, I didn’t join that either. Like most other busy teachers, I rarely had time to lift my gaze to anything beyond a computer screen or a classroom of students, and TCSW seemed like yet another bothersome body whose hoops we might have to jump through.
I just didn’t get it, didn’t understand the need for a professional body, couldn’t see its relevance to me, or to anyone else.
But that changed in 2013, when I joined TCSW as their Education Advisor and began to mix in very different circles. As an employee, there was no pressure on me to become a TCSW member but soon enough that’s exactly what I did. And my reasons? Because it became supremely, abundantly clear to me that social work needed a body to champion its interests, to raise its profile, to give positive authoritative messages to the media, to question and critique government policies, and to support the profession in raising its standards. All this we tried to do, but in the end, as everyone knows, we failed. In June 2015 the Government announced it would no longer fund the College. Overnight, social work lost its fledgling professional body.
It has taken me another year to decide to join BASW. It has taken me that year to arrive at the increasingly optimistic conclusion that BASW is our best bet for a new professional body. And that’s because what I have seen in recent months is an organisation that has been both acting and talking like a professional body should:
- They have taken on some of the residual functions of TCSW, which includes hosting the rather side-lined Professional Capabilities Framework;
- They have appointed, in Ruth Allen, a new CEO who as one of the most active and senior members of TCSW, is perfectly placed to understand the culture and ways of a professional body;
- They are producing statements on government policy which juggle the need to be properly critical with the sense to be reasonable and balanced.
Added to that, BASW, unlike the College, is established, settled, seems able to live within its means, and is not subject to the graces and favours of government.
Of course, that is not to say that it is a foregone conclusion that BASW will become the next professional body for social work, or even if they do that they will inevitably make a success of it. They have a historical legacy that is not to everyone’s liking. And although their membership is numerically similar to that of TCSW, it needs to broaden and attract a much wider range of social workers who, if they join, will come with an equally wide range of political and other views. Whether this is possible remains to be seen. The report of the Education Select Committee published on 13/7/2016 captures this issue thus:
‘Some of our evidence pointed to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) as the natural replacement for TCSW. We heard that BASW already was a self-sustaining grassroots movement that represented 20,000 social workers, with the capacity to evolve into a wider role.’
‘However, support for BASW as a successor body was far from universal. We received some evidence that suggested a new body, separate from BASW, should be formed.’ 1
In my view, it would be a mistake to set up TCSW #2 and risk the outbreak of renewed hostilities between it and BASW: BASW has changed, is changing and will continue to evolve under the leadership of Ruth Allen, who I know, like and respect.
I am now confident that BASW has the potential to be an effective, unifying professional body for social work and social workers. Which is why, this morning, I (at long last) applied to become a member.
1. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmeduc/201/201.pdf pp31-32
14th July 2016