Who is studying PQSW? Implications of the PQSW student profile

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Recent changes in PQSW education mean that information regarding the programmes and their subsequent impact is becoming increasingly important. As yet, little work has been published on impact although early work by McCloskey (1) on evaluating PQSW programmes found they had a positive effect on personal, team and organisational development, with implications for social workers and organisational performance being particularly powerful. Other initial research, e.g. Doel et al (2), concludes that the key to successful PQSW education is the partnership between course providers, employers and social workers. To maximise this partnership, it is important to ensure that course providers and workforce development managers are aware of who their actual students are so that they can provide relevant and accessible programmes that engage with the workers and result in competent, reflective practitioners.

To help gain this understanding, we looked at details of 3,471 candidates who registered for PQSW programmes with Bournemouth University between 2001 and 2007 and compared these with national figuresa published by the GSCC (3). The sample is drawn from 53 local authorities (out of a total of 150) and 20 other major social work employers across the southern half of England, including London. The following is an account of the profiles of the candidates, by gender, age, past highest qualification, ethnicity and additional learning needs.


In relation to gender, we found that over three-quarters (78%) of candidates registering were women (Figure 1). GSCC national figures for 2005/063 show a similar percentage (80%) and this has remained fairly static over the last few years4. Given this high proportion of female candidates and that women are more likely than men to be in part-time work5 and/or have other caring responsibilities6, it is important that there is flexibility within both programme design and their workload so that all students are able to receive full benefit from the courses.

a Please note that the GSCC includes registration for the Advanced Award in Social Work while Bournemouth University does not. However, these only make up about 5% of the sample and so shouldn’t overly skew the figures.


A striking finding for age at registration is that 56% of candidates are over 40 years of age (Figure 2). This would suggest that they attended school before the widespread use of computers and when traditional methods of teaching were used. Although a number of these candidates will have qualified as social workers more recently, programmes need to provide support for candidates who have been away from academic learning for some time, so that they can develop the necessary IT and study skills to enable them to adopt active, self-directed learning and use the internet, E-Learning and other related resources.

Please note that we have not included GSCC (3) figures as they use different age ranges, but their general direction is similar.

Past Highest Qualification

For past highest qualification (Figure 3), we found 72% of candidates hold a DipHE or its equivalent, 17% a degree, and 6% a postgraduate degree (the 5% in ‘other’ includes vocational qualifications, such as nursing, and unknown). The GSCC does not report these figures so no comparison can be made. The recent change from the two year diploma to the three year degree means that programmes will need to support a combination of DipHE and degree holders for some time. Indeed, the GSCC reported that there were 90,000 social workers on the social care register in February 2007 and that their 2005/06 figures3 indicate that there were just over 5,500 students registering for a degree in that year – assuming that there are no large changes in the numbers joining and leaving the workforce, in very rough terms it will take eight years for half the workforce to have a degree.

Consideration also needs to be given to the level of post-qualifying award. Our experience suggests that some social workers who pass a Level H specialist qualification will struggle to pass at Level M, even though they are clearly good, competent practitioners. Thought needs to be given to the type of practitioner the post-qualifying programmes are intending to produce, before deciding on an appropriate level.


With regard to ethnicity, the figures in our sample do not reflect our society’s cultural mix. The data show that 79% of candidates are white, 9% black and 3% Asian (Figure 4) and are almost identical to the 2005/06 GSCC3 figures. It is interesting to see there has been little change in the number of black workers from the 2001/02 GSCC (4) figures. It is not so easy to monitor the change in Asian workers because the 2001/02 figures don’t categorise them separately; suffice it to say that numbers are low.

These figures emphasise that, for the programmes to mirror today’s society, employers and course providers need to improve their recruitment strategies and ensure that diverse views are incorporated into programme design by using up-to-date material, specialist speakers and directed reading.

                                                         *no separate figures for Asian

Additional Learning Needs

Our findings on additional learning needs (ALNs) show that about 8% of candidates report some type of ALN which underlines the need for programmes to offer extra support. This figure is in line with the GSCC’s3 2005/06 figure of 7%. Our higher recorded level of dyslexia among those with ALNs (50% as opposed to the GSCC’s3 of 35%, see Figure 5) may be due to the GSCC’s entries not being complete. In our sample, it is in the candidates’ interest to inform the course providers of their dyslexia because they will receive additional support such as assessment, extra time, and assignments identified so that lecturers and markers apply the dyslexia marking guidelines. Programmes should also offer other specialist support such as personal note-takers, course materials in large print or electronically, and easy access to venues.

Implications for Practice

To conclude, the profile of PQSW candidates raises questions about learning methods and styles which course providers and work development managers need to be aware of when planning programmes. Points to note are:

1. Over three-quarters of candidates are women so programmes need to be flexible to cater for students with dependents.

2. 56% of candidates are over 40 years of age when registering and may need additional support with developing learning skills, using IT and accessing resources when returning to study.

3. It will take roughly eight years for half the workforce to have a degree as their highest qualification, so programmes need to support DipHE holders for some time.

4. Consideration needs to be given to the level of the post-qualifying awards. Given that for some years the majority of candidates will have the DipHE as their past  highest qualification, is Level M an appropriate level of study?

5. It is important for diverse views to be incorporated into programmes and for employers and course providers to improve recruitment strategies to encourage a more representational ethnic mix of candidates.

6. About 8% of candidates have additional learning needs, of which half have dyslexia, requiring specialist additional support by the programme.


With recent changes in the revised framework for post-qualifying social work education, it is important that course providers and workforce development managers are aware of who their students are so that they can provide relevant, accessible programmes that result in competent, reflective practitioners. This article gives an account of the profiles of candidates who registered for PQSW programmes with Bournemouth University between 2001 and 2007 and looks at the implications of the findings.


1.    McCloskey, C. (2006). Evaluating the impact of post-qualifying social work programmes: Using the example of the vulnerable adults and community care practice programme at Bournemouth University. Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work, Bournemouth University.

2.    Doel, M., Flynn, E. and Nelson, P. (2006). Experiences of post-qualifying study in social work. Sheffield Hallam University. Commissioned by Skills for Care.

3.    GSCC (2006). Data Pack 2005-2006. Social work education and training statistics. General Social Care Council, London.

4.    GSCC (2001). Data Pack 2001-2002. Social work education and training statistics. General Social Care Council, London.

5.    Grant, L., Yeandle, S., Buckner, L. (2005). Working below potential: women and part-time work. Centre for Social Inclusion. Sheffield Hallam University. Working Paper Series No 40.

6.   Maher, J. and Green, H. (2002). Carers 2000. National Statistics. London: The Stationery Office.

Further Information

a.   More information on the Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work

b.   The revised post-qualifying framework for social work education and training can be found under Training and Learning           

c.   The report on Carol McCloskey’s evaluation of post-qualifying programmes (see references) can be requested from the Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work,     Bournemouth University.

d.   The report on experiences of post-qualifying study in social work by Doel et al. (2006) (see references)    

Author Notes

Keith Brown holds professional qualifications in nursing, social work and teaching, and academic qualifications in nursing, social work and management. He has worked in education and training for more than 20 years for universities and council social work departments, and is currently Director of the Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University. Tikki Immins and Dr Steve Keen also work at the Centre: Tikki as a research assistant and Steve as a senior lecturer in research.



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