Dan Morton, social work student, reports on two recent events, SWAN’s Radical Social Work conference in Liverpool, and the Neo-liberalism versus Social Justice student social work conference in London.
What a revelation for a discouraged student in 2010; the heart of what I thought social work was about uncovered, and still pumping at the SWAN Radical Social Work conference! Only now have I realised how comfortable I had become with being a social worker; secure in the frameworks and processes of modern practice, rather than better understanding the dismal realities of the situations and society within which social work takes place.
I had sketchy awareness of radical social work prior to this conference. I had read Bailey and Brake, and Iain Ferguson’s Reclaiming Social Work, but this conference helped me flesh out this style of thinking and practising. As an undergraduate organising a conference at my own university to spark debate and campaigns across the student body, this was a step into a spirit I knew must have existed at the start of my course, though somehow had forgotten to seek
There is not space to pick out all I was inspired by on the day, but I found it hard to stop grinning at the Case Con handout and the bloody-minded belief behind it!
At short notice I was asked to make a contribution about our student conference. I felt something of a charlatan in daring to address peers, academics and practitioners on how radical social work could be relevant to students today. But it was pleasing to think that by trying to initiate a collective debate and support network, students at our university were taking a small step towards a more radical practice.
Terry Murphy spoke about teaching a radical skill set, sorely needed on social work programmes. Vitally the practical steps he suggested are skills we can all implement. Now is the time to make alliances with service user movements, to learn to act collectively in representing ourselves, and to expose and challenge any inadequacies in our curriculum and resources. By the end of the session we had collected enough email addresses to start a student group within SWAN.
Jeremy Weinstein put it well when he said that radical social work (and social work at large) should be awkward and a pain in the neck. That’s the spirit. We sorely need it.
Student conference puts ‘passion and action’ on social work agenda
As well as attending SWAN’s Radical Social Work event, I was involved in conceiving and organising a student social work conference, Neo-liberalism versus Social Justice, at my university in February 2010. This free conference ‘by students, for students’ aimed to create a space to think beyond the curriculum and into a socially just future social work. There was an emphasis on gathering student experiences and developing these into plans for a student campaigning organisation. Around 120 student delegates attended from universities across London and further afield including Stirling, Edinburgh and Bath. We think this was the first student-led conference in recent years.
It was an independent event as we wanted an open platform to establish a student voice. Representative and campaigning organisations were invited to contribute and canvass for membership, however, so alongside Unison and BASW, there was a busy SWAN stall. Amongst those involved were leading SWAN members such as June Sadd, Gurnam Singh, and Peter Beresford who made thoughtful and ardent appeals for students to keep their values and critical thinking at the heart of their practice.
I think we succeeded in keeping a focus on passion and action during the day. The mixture of speakers, from service user, practitioner, academic and student backgrounds helped provide a sense of good will and collective mission.
To take the event forward we have prepared a report of the discussion from workshops and developed these into recommendations for a student campaigning group. These include building and maintaining alliances with other organisations and communities, campaigning on behalf of disadvantaged groups and arguing for more focus on the political context of social work in University curricula. I also promoted the idea of linking up with the student arm of SWAN.in