A senior lecturer and admissions tutor for social work
at Anglia Polytechnic University, Clare Seymour’s teaching
interests include communication and interviewing skills and the
legal context of social work. Before joining Anglia she had
experience of local authority social work, most recently in child
Until recently few attempts have been made to market social work
as a career. The government claims to have had some success in
increasing the number of applicants for social work training by
adopting a new approach to advertising and introducing the bursary
scheme. But evidence from a survey of current social work students
suggests these measures alone may not provide a quick fix.
Last December, three months into their social work degree, 112
full-time and part-time students at Anglia Polytechnic University
Four-fifths had been thinking about social work as a career for
more than a year before applying for the course, while more than a
third had been considering it for more than four years, suggesting
a need for more medium to long-term marketing strategies.
The main factor in deciding to apply for social work training was
previous work experience, followed by a desire to make a difference
to disadvantaged people or to take up a rewarding and challenging
The remaining 37 per cent of students gave a wide variety of
reasons, including having a disabled child, a family tragedy, being
impressed by social workers in action and being brought up within a
dysfunctional family. Not a single student felt that advertising
had influenced their decision to apply.
Most students were prompted to apply when they reached a particular
stage in their personal circumstances, such as having children in
full-time education or completing an access course. The bursary was
mentioned only once, although an employer’s offer of sponsorship
had encouraged 8 per cent of students.
Having decided to apply for the course, 90 per cent of students
found it easy to obtain the necessary information. For nearly half,
Anglia Polytechnic University was the main source of that
information. Practising social workers, employers and college
tutors were the nextmost important founts of information.
Practising social workers who present a positive view of the
profession are clearly a valuable marketing tool, as are colleagues
in further education colleges. The Social Work Admissions System,
Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and careers advisers
were used by about 20 per cent of the students, but the General
Social Care Council was mentioned by only six students.
Ironically, less than a third of respondents were aware of the
government’s national recruitment campaign, which raises questions
about the value for money it represents.
Those who knew of the campaign rated it most effective in providing
information about what social workers do and how to access
training. They judged it least effective in improving the public
image of social workers and providing information about pay and
conditions – the two factors seen as crucial in encouraging more
people to take up a career in social work.
The single biggest factors that encouraged students to apply for a
course were personal determination (21 per cent) and a desire to
become qualified (9 per cent). Again, the bursary hardly featured –
it was mentioned by only two students. What discouraged people from
applying were the admissions interview, the paperwork involved in
the application and financial pressures, including child care
Nearly 40 per cent of students had seriously considered giving up
their aim of qualifying in social work. The most common reasons
given were the demands of the programme and financial pressures. A
minority of students also expressed apprehension about the demands
of social work as a career, including bureaucracy and personal
Those who were more likely to have considered giving up were the 42
per cent who started their course feeling they had no realistic
knowledge of the nature of social work. Nearly 80 per cent liked
the idea of short planning or taster courses to give information
about what social workers do and the training requirements.
The Guardian was the most popular daily newspaper, read by
50 per cent of students, followed by the Daily Mail, read
by more than a fifth. Least popular were the Independent,
Daily Express, Sun, The Times and
Daily Telegraph, each read by 6 per cent or fewer. A
quarter did not read a daily newspaper at all.
Finally, students were asked how more people might be encouraged to
consider social work as a career. Unsurprisingly, more than half
thought higher pay would make the most difference, followed closely
by better media coverage and public image.
Other suggestions included more funding for training, effective
support and supervision in the workplace and better working
conditions. There was also support for more careers information in
schools and more public awareness of what social workers do.
Key study findings
- 40 per cent of social work students were motivated by prior
- More than a third had spent more than four years considering
doing a course.
- Advertising had not influenced any student to apply.
- Only 3 per cent of students mentioned the bursary as an
- More than two-thirds of students were unaware of the
government’s recruitment campaign.
- Government advertising was considered ineffective in improving
the public image of social workers.
- Nearly 40 per cent of students had seriously considered giving
- More than 40 per cent felt that at the start of the course they
had not understood what social workers do.
- A quarter did not read a daily newspaper.
- The Guardian was the most popular newspaper among
social work students, followed by the Daily Mail.
- Higher pay and a better media/public image would encourage
people to consider social work as a career.
A survey of students following social work qualifying courses at
Anglia Polytechnic University shows that advertising and the new
bursary scheme have had little effect on students’ desire to train
for social work. Previous work experience was the biggest
motivator, while the most common reasons for dropping out were the
demands of the programme and financial pressures.
The full survey report can be obtained from Clare Seymour,
senior lecturer in social work, Anglia Polytechnic University,
Bishop Hall Lane, Chelmsford CM1 1UH. Phone: 01245 493131 ext 4755.