8 things social workers want to see in their dream degree programme

The Scottish Social Services Council has been asking social workers for their thoughts on the future of social work degrees

graduating
Lou was encouraged to aim high. Photo: OJO/Rex (posed by models)

As part of its ongoing review of social work education, the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) recently finished a consultation gathering the profession’s views on the future of social work qualifications.

The findings of the consultation, which saw 147 social workers give their views, will feed into the SSSC’s review of the purpose and function of social work degrees that will end in March next year.

Community Care has compiled the key messages from the consultation to see what Scotland’s social workers believe should be the attributes of social work education in the 21st century.

1. Provide consistent placements

Several social workers identified inconsistency in the provision of placements – a crucial learning opportunity for students.

What they said:

“Placements in my experience are very hit and miss in quality and opportunity for students.”

“Whilst universities try to ensure that all students are provided with high-quality placements and learning experiences, we are dependent upon a range of social work organisations to make this happen.”

2. Get political

The Scottish Association of Social Workers felt social work education should reflect the political role of the social workers in respect to human rights, social justice and responses to poverty.

What they said:

“There should be an element in all courses that enables understanding of communities to give a good base for early intervention and recognising and valuing people resources.”

“Increase the teaching of the evidence base that illustrates how poverty and inequality determine life chances for many who require social work services.”

“Of all the offensive things Michael Gove uttered in his period as education secretary, ‘social work training involves idealistic students being told that the individuals with whom they will work have been disempowered by society’, was one of his more riling.”

3. Practice education is paramount

Lots of social workers felt that the provision of practice education was done by a “good will” model, which needs formally embedding. Some felt practice teachers should be registered and regulated to ensure consistently high standards of teaching.

What they said:
“We need to move towards a model more similar to the approach in medicine where there is an expectation that services and teams support students on a frequent basis.”

“There appears to be a great inconsistency in the approach, ideas, expectations, support and supervision from practice teachers.”

4. Correct the grammar

One respondent picked up on embarrassing grammatical errors finding their way into professional documents read by sheriffs and judges.

What they said:

“Court and parole reports should have good grammar, not ‘Scotticisms’ like: he had went upstairs.”

“When social workers are hammered with too many cases and not enough time in the day to complete them all of the necessary tasks it is inevitable that errors will creep in.”

5. It’s not just about child protection

An increased focus on adult social work was flagged up as something that needs looking at.

What they said:

“There seems to be a continued focus during teaching of the degree on social work with children. I continue to practice teach students who come to our adult setting surprised and not well enough prepared for the variety and challenges of our adult provision.”

6. Articulating theory

Whilst most respondents agreed that the majority of social workers are competent and able to practice in a way that reflects their theoretical knowledge, their ability to articulate it doesn’t always match up.

What they said:

“In a variety of settings – formal meetings, dealing with families, in court – social workers are unable to verbally explain their assessment and practice in terms of its theoretical base. This leads to a lack of professional credibility and confidence in the role.”

7. Be money savvy

Social workers have to carry out needs assessments, and in the consultation they raised the need to be aware of budgets and money, and not think this is someone else’s job.

What they said:

“I don’t feel we need to undertake an accountancy course to be a social worker but to understand money and money issues would be of benefit.”

8. Stop silos

Respondents to the consultation felt that better inter-agency understanding at degree level would help prevent barriers between education, social care and health professions in the future.

What they said:

“Provide initial training throughout the first year of courses which is delivered to students following social work, teaching, health and other programmes – in this way barriers between professions and services don’t have to be knocked down as they are not created in the first place.”

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