National social care agencies should have greater workforce planning powers to ensure there are sufficient numbers of social workers in practice across England, the Children’s Workforce Development Council chief has said.
Giving evidence to the children, families and schools select committee, representatives from the CWDC and General Social Care Council said social work needed to follow medicine and teaching in providing more direction to universities and employers on workforce numbers.
CWDC chief executive Jane Haywood said the council was currently able to count the number of children’s social workers and give a view about social work supply but “did not have the powers or the levers to then really take a hold of that and make a whole workforce plan work”.
CWDC chief moots new role
She added: “We could be asked to do that. Equally, there are other partners around the table who could also be asked to do that, and it is probably for the government to decide who is best placed to do it for the system, ask someone to do it, and take a hold of it.”
Keith Brumfitt, CWDC’s director of strategy, said the training system was currently characterised by “a collection of individual organisations making separate decisions”, leading to a under-supply of degree places in some areas and an over-supply in others. This put “significant pressures” on employers in areas of over-supply in providing practice placements, he added.
GSCC chief executive Mike Wardle said there was currently little evidence on how many social workers were needed to serve particular areas and it was left to local authorities to decide how many practitioners they needed or could afford.
Calls to boost placement funding
The committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the training of children and families social workers, also heard calls for more funding for universities to boost the supply of practice placements from Lena Dominelli, professor of applied social sciences at Durham University.
Amid widespread concern about the under-supply of statutory placements, Association of Professors of Social Work chair Sue White told MPs that employers needed to forge better links with universities.
She said: “There is an endemic shortage of practice learning opportunities and a pressing need for employers and higher education institutions to work together.”
Degree entry stsandards
MPs also raised concerns with academics that the standard of entry for social work degree courses was too low, amid evidence that average requirements were lower than for teaching and other professional degrees.
Hilary Tompsett, chair of the Joint Universities Council Social Work Education Committee, said entry standards “varied enormously”, ranging from 128 UCAS points – equivalent to two Ds at A-level – to 371 (3 A grades), with most courses accepting between 200 (2Cs and a D) and 300 points (2As and a C).
Speaking in a personal capacity, rather than as chair of the APSW, White called for entry requirements to be raised, saying that while A-level grades were a “poor proxy” for students’ potential to become good practitioners, they were a guide.
She added: “That does not mean that universities with low minimum entrance requirements are not producing some extremely good social workers but I agree there is probably some sort of correlation.”