Less than half of social work placements take place in local authorities

A lack of national monitoring of placements means there are no figures on the number of placements required to meet the needs of trainee social workers

steve mccabe
Steve McCabe MP Photo: REX

Less than half of social work student placements take place in local authorities a question asked in parliament by shadow children’s minister Steve McCabe has revealed.

Data from the NHS Business Services Authority, responsible for administering bursaries to social work students, shows 637 out of  a total of 13,422 placements took place in local authorities in the academic year 2012-13. This is based on figures given to the NHS BSA by universities.

The minister also asked for an estimate of “the number of professional social work placements required to meet the needs of social workers in training.” The same figures as above were given.

The lack of a national monitoring system of social care workforce needs has long been a key concern for social work educators said Jane McLenachan, Social Work Education Committee vice-chair for teaching and learning.

“There hasn’t been any mechanism for gathering evidence around what is needed in terms of how many social work students we should be recruiting, the number of newly qualified social workers needed to be going into the workforce and on-going workforce planning over a number of years.

“There’s no correlation even at a local level between what the workforce needs might be and how universities are setting their student target numbers,” she added.

While there is no requirement from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) for social work degrees to provide local authority placements,  McLenachan said universities are getting feedback that their students are being “disadvantaged in the local authority job market when they haven’t had a local authority placement.

“We are getting information that a number of local authorities were not even shortlisting applicants who had not had a local authority placement.”.

In order to get endorsement from the College of Social Work, a measure of quality for social work courses, universities are required to give their students a statutory placement.

Local authority cuts over the past few years have meant  services are under pressure with “constrained resources, including staff,” said McLenachan, and the delivery of the service to service users is a priority. This means managers often feel they can’t “release staff to devote the time needed for student placements,” she said.

“Of course those are decisions about the here and now- not decisions about the long term future of the service- if we’re not giving good quality placements to students now, we’re not regenerating the future workforce,” said McLenachan.

Hilary Tompsett, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, described the problems with workforce and placement planning as a “data dilemma”: the regular data collection on placements carried out by the General Social Care Council (GSCC) was stopped when the council disbanded in 2010.

She said: “It has always been a high priority to say students need statutory experience…it matters hugely that placements are not available in local authorities.”

However, she stressed that statutory services take place in a number of settings, and not just in local authorities.

There should be a refocus on “roles, tasks and values and not the setting where social work takes place,” she said.

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3 Responses to Less than half of social work placements take place in local authorities

  1. Anna October 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    I completed a statutory children’s placement in June , officially qualifying a month ago. I have applied for a number of NQSW roles in children’s social care including academy places. I have not so much as secured an interview for any. I have a first class honours degree , I am a competent mature experienced individual , however feedback available indicates I do not have enough experience. I worked With adult offenders with complex needs for a number of years. No value is placed on this experience or my final year placement in a locality team. You are left wondering what the point is. Academy places are simply scratching the surface compared to the number of nqsw looking for work in children’s social care. My final year placement whilst relevant was not able to provide me with sufficient experience to secure an interview. This doesn’t happen to student nurses, doctors or teachers. It’s demoralising.

  2. Moon October 28, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

    I have had a positive experience from not having a statutory placement. I used the experience it provided to convince recruiters that I am employable in a child protection team, despite not having experience of the processes or systems, it’s the base line learning that counts. Been here six months now, learnt a lot but nothing my previous experience didnt prepare me for.

    Although I expect I am the exception not the rule when it comes to NQSWs, which is a sad state of affairs. All students should be able to learn in a local authority.

  3. Pat Curran November 4, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

    Add to this growing problem that off site practice educators who support students in statutory services have not had a pay rise for 7 years and this academic year have had to take a huge cut in fees at around 30%. it is no wonder they are moving onto other work in the profession which is better paid and the students and service users suffer.