Work and study must go together

Helen Keville looks at how the new social work
degree will affect part-time employment-based routes to

Much is still unknown about the content and
structure of the new three-year social work degree, even though the
government expects the first courses to be in place by 2003. In
order to begin work on the detail, the Department of Health and
General Social Care Council recently launched a series of regional
discussions with universities and employers, as part of a critical
period of planning and consultation.

The new degree holds the promise of higher
standards, better recognition and increased practice experience.
But what are the implications of the changes for the growing number
of part-time employment-based routes to a diploma in social work?
Since 1998, my local authority has supported between 16 and 25
employees per year on three-year courses specially developed for us
by our partner colleges. This experience has convinced me that an
understanding of employment-based learning should be an important
influence on future thinking.

With college fees, placement costs and staff
cover to be funded, the employment-based DipSW is not a cheap
option. It places considerable stress on students as they balance
study with working in a demanding job, and can stretch teams to
breaking point as they cope with the regular absences of staff
attending college.

Even so, a recent evaluation of our scheme
showed that students were unanimous that both their placements and
ongoing work experiences enhanced the quality of their learning.
They reported feeling more confident and aware of good practice,
better informed and more able to communicate with other

In a climate where departments are being asked
to rapidly increase the levels of qualifications in the present
social care workforce, the needs of employed and experienced staff,
currently being met by employment-based DipSW programmes, should
become a significant factor in shaping the new social work

A national framework of entry requirements is
needed to recognise the existing skills and knowledge of employees,
and to help organisations prepare their staff for social work

As the pool of qualified social workers
continues to shrink, a three-year degree funded by higher education
could offer an attractive career to young people. One of the
strengths of social work is its ability to recruit a broad range of
people through a variety of access routes. If the profession is to
expand, a clear aim of the planning and consultation process must
be to make it easier for employed and experienced staff to
undertake training.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.