This chapter looks at the ‘generalist versus specialist’ debate in social work education, primarily in
relation to England, in order to highlight major changes taking place. However, some of the
difficulties identified, and the reforms proposed, are relevant to situations encountered in
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and also countries outside the United Kingdom. The
chapter begins with a conundrum that surrounds this debate and the lack of clarity that is evident in
relation to how different terms are used and conceptualised, particularly the terms generic1 ,
specialist and generalist. It then looks at what is meant by the terms generalist and specialist
knowledge and skills and how they relate to one another as ‘two ends of a rainbow of learning’
(Coulshed 1988: 159).
I started in social work in 1976 and over the years have had a variety of roles – as a residential worker, field social worker, family centre manager and academic. I’m currently retired but regularly present at conferences and lecture in the UK, Europe and Australia on themes covered in my writing or that trouble social workers.
I enjoy writing and am the author of the best-selling 3rd edition text Social Work Skills and Knowledge: A Practice Handbook (2012). In this book, and in other articles I’ve written, I highlight – and attempt to rectify – the superficial coverage given to social work skills in some areas of UK teaching and practice