PROBLEM: Graduate social workers entering practice without the necessary skills, experience and confidence to carry out the job.
RECOMMENDATIONS: All graduates must complete a probationary year in which they will receive extra support. Those who successfully complete an end-of-year assessment are given a licence to practise. Entry standards for social work courses should become more rigorous and the curriculum overhauled to ensure greater consistency and address gaps in teaching. There should be sufficient, high-quality practice placements.
There are longstanding concerns that initial social work training is leaving many graduates unprepared to start practice. A Children’s Workforce Development Council survey of newly qualified social workers last year found that just one-third felt their social work course had prepared them for their current role fully or quite a lot.
The taskforce’s interim report, published in July, said six out of 10 respondents to its call for evidence said they agreed with the statement that “new social workers are often not properly prepared for the demands of the job”.
On the back of Lord Laming’s child protection review, published in March, the government announced this would be rolled out to all NQSWs in children’s services from this year, while an equivalent programme was established for adult practitioners this year.
However, in April, the Association of Professors of Social Work, which represents academics in the sector, called for the government to go further and introduce a probationary year that graduates would have to pass before registration.
This was backed by the children, schools and families select committee in its report into social work training in July. It said universities should be involved in the assessment of the year, which should build on students’ university work and practice placements.
However, the committee also warned that councils – faced by high caseloads – would struggle to employ NQSWs on this basis and suggested the government may need to subsidise them. Local authorities will examine with interest what funding – if any – the government will provide for the probationary year.
The taskforce report also called for reform of social work training itself. This will need to address concerns that courses are, on average, too easy to both get on to and pass, and, crucially, the under-supply of practice placements, particularly in the statutory sector.
The changes to training were greeted by the ADASS and ADCS. “We welcome steps to tackle poorly prepared students and ensure that all existing staff have the skills required to meet the demands of the role.”
The General Social Care Council has called for a tighter monitoring regime and a common curriculum for social work degree courses to boost quality.