Career clinic: Are students at a disadvantage if they can’t get a statutory placement?

Q: Does completing a statutory placement in your final year give you an advantage once you have qualified and are looking for a job? What does that mean for those of us who can’t find statutory placements?Jo Burgess, student

A: Jo’s concerns are shared by a number of students undertaking qualifying social work training. The reality is that, nationally, there are insufficient traditional statutory social work placements for the students who need them. There are local variations where statutory placements are easier to identify and provide. However, in several places, London being a good example, these placements are more difficult to come by.

Every social work student is required to undertake a practice learning opportunity that provides statutory-type activity. However, these may not necessarily be in the traditional statutory agencies, such as local authority children’s and families departments or adult and community departments.

University and college social work education programmes have long used agencies such as private fostering and large voluntary organisations such as Barnardo’s, which provide students with opportunities to work closely with local authority departments. In this way, students still develop a working knowledge of the law, policies and practices that will be crucial when employed as a qualified practitioner in a statutory agency.

My belief is that, while a student may not be undertaking a final year placement in a statutory social work department, their learning experience is not disadvantaged. Students are developing the skills, methods, knowledge and competences that are welcomed and needed by all agencies and organisations that need qualified social workers. Social work education is based on providing students with the skills, methods and knowledge that are transferable between agencies and departments.

What is important is that, after these students have qualified, all agencies, including the statutory sector, need to offer them focused, regular and consistent supervision. All agencies should provide a workload that is appropriate to their newly qualified status that is monitored and closely supervised. Some newly qualified social workers have disclosed to me that they are often required to carry a workload that is inappropriate, receive minimal supervision and are not offered proper training. They soon move to where their skills and knowledge will be better served.

So, while Jo and other final year students may feel that they are disadvantaged by non-statutory placements when it comes to applying for employment in a traditional statutory social work department, this is not necessarily the case.

Having said that, there is an urgent need to address the problem of the shortfall in practice learning opportunities in the statutory sector nationally – an issue I raised with the government more than 18 months ago.

Keith Popple, professor of social work at London South Bank University


“I resigned from my last social work post a few years ago following a period of stress-related sick leave. While off, I was visited by the police because there was an allegation that I had “misplaced” money belonging to one of my service users. The team clerk later confirmed all monies were accounted for. However, this chat now shows up on my CRB check. I want to return to social work but am not sure if anyone would have me. What is my best course of action?”

We will answer this question in the 7 May issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice too – please send it to by 30 April.

Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comment or questions to

This article is published in the 23 April issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Are students at a disadvantage if they can’t get a statutory placement?

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