The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has instructed 96% of qualifying social work programmes in England to make changes to comply with its standards over the course of its time as a regulator, a report has revealed.
Fast track programmes like Step Up and Frontline had to make more changes than traditional programmes in higher education institutions in order to satisfy generic social work standards, the regulator said in a review of its work on approving social work education routes.
While some programmes faced bigger challenges than others in meeting the standards, the report said there was no particular educational model that was incompatible with the regulator’s standards.
But both Step Up and Frontline had to make fundamental changes to their programmes, making them more generic to gain the approval of the HCPC because they were too tailored to entry into children’s social work.
A lack of clear policies and procedures was the most common reason education providers had to make changes in order to meet the standards set out by the HCPC, which will cease acting as the regulator for social workers in due course.
Some providers had unfinished policies or written policies that had never been implemented, while some had policies which did not clearly define who was responsible for their undertaking.
Some had specific issues flagged: for example, one provider was not effectively preparing students for placement.
Lack of information
Poor documentation was the second most common reason the HCPC set conditions for education providers to meet before programmes could be approved.
The HCPC found a lack for information for applicants around issues including financial costs, bursary changes and timings of placements, as well as progression and achievement, academic and pastoral support, in a quarter of education providers.
The regulator considered 250 social work programmes over three years between August 2012 and August 2015. Of 134 undergraduate courses, 98 were approved. However, some of these had closed during that time for unrelated reasons.
Fall in course numbers
The HCPC looked at 116 postgraduate courses, as well as all new courses that opened during the review period. Ultimately 123, including newly opened programmes, were approved.
Overall the number of approved social work programmes fell by 11% over the review period.
There was also a shift in the split between undergraduate and postgraduate programmes during that time, with the proportion of social workers qualifying through postgraduate courses rising from 46% to 56%.
Overall the HCPC issued 1,329 conditions to education providers over three years. The majority of these regarded programme management rather than curriculum standards.