Social workers should be educated to masters degree level and undergraduate courses in the sector scrapped, the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s director of strategy has said.
Keith Brumfitt told a Local Government Association conference last week that he believed this would result in higher-calibre candidates entering the profession.
Speaking on a panel discussion, he said: “I’d be in favour of scrapping undergraduate courses all together.”
Concerns over undergraduate quality
Brumfitt’s comments follow significant concerns over whether entry standards for undergraduate social work courses are too low, courses are too easy to pass and graduates are sufficiently prepared to start practice.
Other panel members, including Owen Davies, head of research and policy at the General Social Care Council, acknowledged that entry requirements for social work degrees tended to be lower than those for other vocational subjects, such as teaching, nursing, medicine and law.
This is despite the widely-acknowledged intellectual demands of social work, such as routinely reading and analysing complex material and writing comprehensive, detailed reports.
While individual universities may have their own requirements, according to the Department of Health’s social work careers website, most universities will ask for 5 GCSE subjects at grades A – C, including English and maths and a minimum of 2 A levels.
One delegate, who had worked as an external examiner for undergraduate social work courses, said standards had been lowered in recent years. She said her experience of marking exam scripts showed many students were “as good as functionally illiterate”.
On certain undergraduate courses, she continued, the pass mark on modules throughout the year is just 35%.
Davies said there was a need to regulate university education in social work. He said with the rapid level of change in the sector, many courses were quickly outdated.
“The system we’re running at the moment is one that looks very sensible for 2001 or 2002, when it was set up, but the world has changed a lot since then,” he said. “We need a stronger system for inspecting universities. We need a stronger system of regulation.”
The panel agreed, however, that academic ability was just one part of the job.
Davies said: “There is no research about what makes the best social workers. No one knows whether having high A-level grades will make a good social worker – it’s more complicated than that.
“Part of the challenge is that social workers need to make decisions based on incomplete information and what they need to make those judgements is human empathy and experience.”
The government has announced a number of measures to attract people into the profession at postgraduate level. A fast-track, on the job training scheme for high-flyers from other professions is due to start in 2011, while the CWDC is providing up to £15,000 a year for 200 students on masters courses starting this year.
CWDC unveils training fund to tempt high-flyers into social work