Social work degree courses could be axed by institutions keen to protect their reputations after the introduction of a tighter inspection regime.
The General Social Care Council will this summer start publishing annual monitoring reports for courses in England for the first time since the degree was introduced in 2003. The first reports will cover 2008-9.
The assessments are being made publicly available as part of a commitment to make the inspection regime more transparent, as recommended by the Social Work Task Force – but some universities fear the new system will be onerous and harsh.
A senior source in social work education warned that it could lead to a reduction in the number of universities and colleges offering the degree in England, now standing at 83.
“The universities aren’t ready [for the new system] yet,” the source said. “Some universities might say this is too much, it’s too big a risk to our reputation.”
Ann Tate, Universities UK’s representative on the Social Work Reform Board, warned against “burdensome systems that do not command the confidence of universities, students or employers”.
The Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee, which represents more than 60 universities providing social work education, welcomed the move to a “fair, robust and transparent system”.
But vice-chair Jonathan Parker said that higher education in the UK was already “regulated and scrutinised in many ways”, with demands coming from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, the National Student Survey, and a series of internal quality assurance requirements.
Bridget Robb, development manager at the British Association of Social Workers, said transparency was needed to highlight not only good practice but also problems in institutions.
A spokesperson for the GSCC said: “The majority of universities that are doing an excellent job have nothing to fear. Indeed, many higher education institutions welcome publication as a means of highlighting what is working well.”
According to the report, Raising Standards: Social Work Education in England 2008-9:
50% of courses were judged to be high-performing
47% of courses were judged satisfactory but with areas for improvement, needing close monitoring
2 courses were judged “not satisfactory”