Keen to progress but short on cash

The government says it is committed to making social work a
graduate profession, so why is it made so hard for some students to
complete the degree course?

Students who have just finished the two-year diploma in social work
are not entitled to a bursary or payment of their tuition fees if
they choose to stay on at university for an extra year to top up
their qualification to degree level. This is because they have
reached the required level to practise and are seen as choosing to
do additional study. Without this financial help it is impossible
for some people to carry on studying, even when they would prefer
to gain the higher qualification.

And this is a big shame. A study of ex-students finds that those
who stay on for the degree feel “more confident and more competent”
after the third year of study. In their final year they have the
chance to learn about multi-disciplinary practice and research
methodologies, both of which the government has said are essential
requirements for practitioners in the future. Also, students can
broaden their knowledge into other areas such as international
social work, protection of vulnerable adults, criminology, abnormal
psychology and sociology.

Why isn’t social work valued by the government as much as teaching
and nursing? Students in the latter disciplines qualify for
bursaries of up to £6,000 per year while they are training.
Social work students can only dream of such benefits. And this
discrimination continues into practice. Senior practitioners in
social work are specialists in their fields, just like maths and
language teachers. Yet while the government is proposing to pay
specialist teachers up to £60,000 per year, experienced senior
practitioners in social work can expect only half this
amount.

In social work, significant amounts are spent on stopgap measures
such as enlisting agency staff. This seems ludicrous. We need
proper investment in human resources and a financial recognition
that mirrors other professions. Why not invest more at university
level via bursaries? Why not pay competitive salaries and provide
support structures to encourage people to grow within
organisations? These measures would surely increase retention and
provide continuity for service users.

Rosalind Scate is a newly qualified social worker and a
continuing social work degree student.

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