Nearly one in seven social work students in England failed to complete their course in 2008-9, according to the General Social Care Council inspection reports.
Universities and colleges were asked to record the number of social work degree students for all year groups and how many of those did not pass or progress at the end of the academic year.
Analysis of the GSCC reports by Community Care shows that. of 14,550 students, 2,170 did not progress at the end of 2008-9 – 15% of the total.
Experts suggested this was not solely due to academic failure but was linked to factors such as delayed practice placements.
Jill Manthorpe, professor of social work and director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, said that as well as problems with placements, some students may also defer their course for reasons such as illness or maternity leave.
“Our work has shown the non-completion rate is a complex interaction between institutional and student factors,” she said.
“It is also possible that the institutions with low completion rates have a broader range of academic achievements in their student cohorts.”
A spokesperson for the General Social Care Council, which regulates social work degree courses in England, said: “Social work training is demanding, and students have to balance academic pressures with the challenges that arise from being on placement.
“However, social work is no different from other professions, which see, year-on-year, an average 18% withdrawal rate.”
Kingston University’s undergraduate degree had among the highest non-completion rate. Hilary Tompsett, head of Kingston’s school of social work, said it was important to remember that student come from “diverse backgrounds” and sometimes needed time to adjust to higher education study.
“Personal reasons, such as pregnancy or family crises, occasionally mean that second- and third-year students are delayed in completing placements,” she said. “Depending on circumstances, students are sometimes allowed extensions to complete placements and final dissertations.
“By graduation time, most of our students complete with flying colours.”
Students on Liverpool Community College’s four-year part-time course progressed at a later stage than their full-time equivalents. Nigel Kelleher, programme manager for social work at the college, said this accounted for the high non-completion rate of 39%.
Only one institution, Edge Hill University in North West England, reported that all its students completed the year. However, it had 25 social work students in 2008-9 while larger universities have several hundred at any one time.
The reports, which also asked universities for data on how many students deferred or were referred or withdrawn from their course, found only 2% of students on average were removed because of academic failure.
● Applications for social work and social care degrees in the UK have continued to rise steeply since February, according to universities admissions body Ucas. A further 8,000 people have applied to enter the full time undergraduate courses in 2010-11 since the beginning of the year, taking the total to 60,000 compared with 37,000 in 2009-10.
In 2008-9, the universities with the highest non-completion rates were:
● Liverpool Community College 39%
● Havering College 37%
● Wiltshire College 34%
● Birmingham City University 33%
● Kingston University, undergraduate course 33%
● Additional reporting by Kim Davis
Are unsuitable social work students allowed to pass?