The system for providing statutory learning placements in London is in crisis, with demand outstripping supply and a lack of co-ordination between higher education institutions (HEIs) and councils, according to experts.
A Skills for Care and the Children’s Workforce Development Council-commissioned study said practice learning was “marginalised” in councils and universities, practice assessors lacked the time to effectively assess students and students faced a “lottery” in finding good assessors.
The report, by the Centre for Social Work Research at the University of East London and the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, said demand for practice placements had risen sharply due to the introduction of the social work degree in 2003. This increased practice learning requirements from 130 days under the diploma to 200 days.
However, it said there were also “massive oscillations” in demand because HEIs’ targets for student numbers were “driven by financial need”, without reference to councils’ ability to supply placements.
The study, based on findings from more than half of London’s councils and HEIs, said there was also a lack of priority given to managing placements in councils. Practice assessors lacked training and some senior managers were unaware of the existence of the former performance indicator on the number of practice learning days provided, or the fact that it was dropped last year.
Co-author Stephen Briggs, professor of social work at the Centre for Social Work Research, said views were polarised. “Councils say universities are not giving them people who can do the job, but universities say councils are not giving students good training and professional identity,” he said. “The two sides need to be brought together.”
Hilary Tompsett, head of social work at Kingston University and chair of the national Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee, favoured reintroducing the performance indicator, saying: “I have no doubt it gave practice assessors muscle in the workplace.”
Improving practice learning has emerged as one of the key issues for the Social Work Task Force, which will produce its conclusions on the future of the profession in October.