Even When No One is Looking: Students' Perceptions of Social Work Professions. A Case Study in a Northern Ireland University

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Public perceptions, increased scrutiny and successive governments’ reshaping and attempting to define what is and what is not social work has eroded the progressive and radical force
of the profession. This article explores how students’ perceive the profession and presents evidence
from a small-scale study conducted in a Northern Ireland University with 37 undergraduate social
work students and 25 postgraduate student social workers (training-as-practice educators) on their
perceptions of the characteristics of a professional social worker. A quantitative research design was
used, consisting of a face-to-face survey distributed to respondents following an input on the Place
Model, (Clarke, 2016). Respondents also shared their perceptions in relation to Freidson’s (2001) three
logics: professionalism, bureaucracy and the free market, with Ternary graphs and word clouds used
as a novel way to present this data. Several themes emerged as important characteristics of social
work professionals including reliability, accountability, ethics and appearance. At the other end of the
scale, respondents identified unprofessional, de-personalised and cynical as the least aspirational qualities of the profession.
Original languageEnglish
Article number233
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sep 2019



  • social work education; students’ perceptions; professional identity; higher education; Northern Ireland

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