The practice-based masters degree proposed in the taskforce will need dedicated time and money from local authorities if it is to materialise, a member of the Social Work Task Force has warned.
Sue White, professor of social work at Lancaster University, chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work, and member of the taskforce, said the proposal had a lot of resource implications “and if there aren’t any resources then it won’t be able to move forward”.
The government has so far refused to announce extra funding for any of the taskforce recommendations but children’s and adults’ directors’ associations have demanded that extra responsibilities must be matched with extra money.
However, White said the masters was a long-term proposal. “Like a lot of the taskforce’s recommendations, you need a number of years before they can really bed in. With regard to how the practice-based masters would be developed, for instance, there will need to be partnerships developed between employers and higher education institutions.”
The taskforce report announced the inclusion of a practice-based masters for social workers as a way for experienced professionals to achieve advanced or specialist status which would be linked to extra pay. This will hopefully keep experienced workers in the frontline. It is a central plank of a proposed national career framework which will in turn link to a national framework for continuing professional development and to possible future requirements for social workers to renew their licence to practise every three to five years.
However, frontline social workers say that without a substantial committment from employers, many will be put off from attempting a masters degree.
Bryan Rackham, a social worker in children’s services in Camden, said: “It would take a huge amount of time and you’d really have to reduce your caseload to accommodate it.”
A colleague at the same authority, Phil Ferguson, agreed. He qualified through the Grow Your Own Social Worker programme and said the dual requirement of studying while working was extremely challenging.
“I found it really difficult because I’d often have deadlines on both sides,” he said. “I imagine it would be even more difficult with a masters.
“It’s one thing when you’re a student, pre-qualified for social work. In that case you’re somewhat protected because you’re limited – for instance you can’t do child protection. But with a masters, employers would have to make some allowance for study leave and decrease your caseload. Otherwise, you’ll have to work even longer hours and get even more stressed. We have enough talk about social workers burning out as it is.”