Step Up to Social Work is proving successful at training high-calibre social workers, but recruits may be lacking in ethnic diversity, warns an evaluation of the government-funded programme.
The evaluation examined the first two intakes of students and found that trainees were of a “demonstrably high calibre” and that completion rates were high with just 2% failing the course and 8% leaving the programme. Roughly nine out of 10 trainees (88%) went on to gain a master’s in social work.
As well as producing social workers that local authorities regarded as being of high quality, the employers and universities involved said the programme had improved links between local authorities and academics.
There was also a belief that the programme had improved the management of practice placements and given employers more ability to contribute directly to social work education.
But the evaluation identified a lack of ethnic diversity among Step Up students, compared to other social work courses.
While 12% (154) of all white candidates were offered and accepted places on the programme, none of the 132 black British-African candidates proceeded beyond the assessment centre.
Of 63 black British-Caribbean applicants, two (3%) eventually accepted places and only one (2%) of the initial 55 Asian/British-Indian candidates was successful.
Only 20% of eligible black British-African candidates progressed at the point of screening, compared to 49% of white British candidates.
Similarly, only one out of nine Asian/British-Indians progressed from the assessment centre, compared to 47% of white British and 63% of white Irish candidates. None of the 12 black British-African candidates were successful at this point.
In comparison, people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are typically over-represented among graduates of the social work degree, according to data released by the General Social Care Council in 2011.
For example, black students accounted for 15% of social work degree graduates in England 2008-9, yet made up just 2% of the overall population. Asian people made up 6% of graduates and 5% of the overall population.
The Step Up evaluation said more research into the reasons behind this disparity was needed: “We cannot conclude that there is evidence of discrimination integral to the selection process, particularly because of the possibility of other intervening variables, but these patterns and their consistency suggest that further detailed investigation is required.”
The Department for Education (DfE) said Step Up to Social Work was advertised “as widely as possible” on various recruitment websites.
A spokesperson added: “Step Up to Social Work has been hugely popular - 168 participants qualified as social workers last year and over 80% work for the local authority that they trained with. Recruitment for the third cohort of students closed last month and the scheme continues to attract exceptional candidates who will make a real difference to vulnerable children’s lives.”
The report, which was carried out by De Montfort University and funded by the DfE, also noted that one university had reported that other social work students felt resentful towards Step Up trainees due to the extra support they received and that this disparity needs to be carefully managed in future.