GSCC demands higher standards for social work courses

The General Social Care Council publishes reports on institutions offering the social work degree and reveals that two are at risk of not meeting requirements – Thames Valley University (pictured, Rex Features) and Brunel University

General Social Care Council publishes reports on institutions offering the social work degree

Three-quarters of universities and colleges in England have been told to make improvements to their social work degree courses by the General Social Care Council.

For the first time, the regulator has published annual monitoring reports for the 83 universities and colleges that provide the degree.

Only 14 institutions fully met national requirements set out by the GSCC and Department of Health for all their social work courses, according to the reports.

Sixty-one met the requirements but were asked to make some improvements, with the most common problem areas being quality checks of practice placements, appointments of practice assessors and student feedback processes.

Two universities were found to be at risk of not meeting GSCC requirements – Thames Valley and Brunel. Both are subject to further investigation, while Havering College in London is under an improvement plan following a GSCC inspection.

The findings follow the conclusion of the Social Work Task Force, that initial social work training in England was “not yet reliable enough” in meeting its primary objective of preparing students for frontline practice.

As well as recommending an overhaul of courses, the taskforce called for more transparent and effective regulation of social work education “to give greater assurance of consistency and quality”.

Penny Thompson, chief executive of the GSCC, said the transparent approach to inspection would enable students to make more informed choices about where to study.

“We hope that the publication of these reports will help drive up standards, by compelling failing institutions to act and encouraging others to learn from best practice,” said Thompson.

“Where degree courses are not up to the mark, we will take decisive action to improve them without penalising or interfering with the vast majority that provide a high quality social work course for students.”

The reports, which cover the 2008-9 academic year, identified a total of 184 areas for improvement and 108 areas of good practice across the institutions.

Jane Mclenachan, of the Joint University Council social work education committee, said it was important for students and applicants to be told about the extent to which social work degree programmes met regulatory requirements.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: “We applaud the efforts of organisations like the GSCC to ensure that students have as much information as possible about how universities are doing so they can make an informed choice about what course is right for them.”

A spokesperson for Thames Valley University said social work students had recently met with the GSCC, and that feedback showed they were “very happy with teaching, felt prepared for the workplace, found the course very informative and were properly supported,” but noted “concerns over placements”.

The university intends to recruit a new placement co-ordinator and six placement support practitioners to ensure the few remaining students without a placement find something within the next three weeks.

Susan Buckingham, director of social work at Brunel University (pictured), said: “We have every confidence that our provision will meet GSCC requirements.

“We believe there has been some misinterpretation of our answers to the self-assessment questionnaire and, as the report refers to 2008-9, it does not take into account changes we have made during and since that period.”

Havering College was inspected in December 2009 following concerns that vacant posts had not been filled. A spokesperson said this was issue was “swiftly rectified” after the college developed a formal agreement with a large statutory employer.

“In February 2010 the GSCC recognised that strategies had been put in place that demonstrated that the course was meeting the requirements,” the spokesperson added.

“Additionally they reported that there was sufficient and appropriate staffing to resource the delivery of the programme, that strategies were now in place to stabilise student numbers and that improvements had been made.”

Practice Placements hold back training

The annual monitoring reports confirmed that widespread problems remain in the practice placement system for social work students in England.

Thirty-two institutions, failed to meet the Quality Assurance Agency’s code of practice on placement learning and the Department of Health’s requirements for social work training in 2008-9.

“It’s increasingly difficult to find and arrange good quality practice placements as the cuts begin to hit local authorities,” said Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University. “More time and energy is taken up finding placements.”

“And within higher education institutions, the attention given to and resources made available for practice placements varies greatly,” he added.

Jones suggested universities and colleges currently viewed practice learning as one area where they could minimise spending.

On a more positive note, most institutions described the supply of statutory placements as adequate or more than sufficient and, out of the 14,000 placements delivered, only 115 were reported as not meeting quality standards.

The GSCC said there was still work to be done and asked universities to hold early meetings with employers to match placements with intake numbers.

The top five requirements universities are struggling to meet:

1. Audit practice learning opportunities (32 institutions)

2. Offer structured opportunities for student feedback (20)

3. Appoint academic staff and practice assessors (13)

4. Provide opportunities for practice placements (11)

5. Provide information to the GSCC (11)

Top social work courses

Universities not required to make any improvements to their social work courses by the GSCC:

Bournemouth University, University of Brighton, University of Derby, University of Gloucestershire, University of Greenwich, University of Leeds, Middlesex University, University of Reading, University of Sheffield, Southampton Solent University, University of West of England, University of Winchester, University of Worcester, University of Northampton

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Thames Valley Uni offers to host Reading social work degree

External resources

Annual monitoring reports, 2008-09

The Department of Health’s requirements for social work training

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