The ‘quality’ of social work students in England: a genealogy of discourse 2002–18

Hanley, Joe (2019). The ‘quality’ of social work students in England: a genealogy of discourse 2002–18. Critical and Radical Social Work, 9(2) pp. 253–268.



Students entering university-based social work qualifying education are increasingly constructed in policy as lacking in quality. This article presents a genealogy of discourse examining major reports and policy documents in England from 2002 to 2018 in order to understand how the dominant discourse around these students has changed since the introduction of the social work degree as the minimum qualification for practice. Key findings from the genealogy are that the quality of students has increasingly been described in negative terms, and this is linked in the discourse to a lack of employer involvement and the poor public perception of the profession. Fast-track social work qualifying programmes are presented as the self-evident answer to these issues within this discursive formation. However, it is ultimately shown that the current discursive direction may actually be leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy that deters students from joining the social work profession through any qualifying route.

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