The management of practice placements for social work students is “highly deregulated” with wide variations across local authorities, a report has found.
A study of 18 authorities commissioned by the Social Work Development Partnership – comprising Skills for Care and the Children’s Workforce Development Council – found significant differences in the roles performed and the qualifications and experience required of practitioners who supported students.
Job title confusion
The situation appeared “even more complex” due to different job titles employed by councils for similar roles, notably ‘practice teachers’ and the newer term, ‘practice assessors’.
The report said the former term described the role more completely while ‘practice assessor’ had traditionally been used to describe those who assessed people training to become practice teachers.
Despite the small sample, researchers from Sheffield Hallam University said the results should present a “reasonably representative picture” of English councils in general.
No dedicated staff in third of councils
A third of respondents did not employ dedicated staff to deliver practice learning, and less than half provided practice assessors or teachers with relief from their regular workload.
The report also raised concerns about the impact on practice learning of the split between children’s and adults’ services initiated by the Children Act 2004.
In 78% of councils surveyed, practice learning was integrated across the two departments, however the report found the disruption of reorganisation had “had a damaging effect on practice learning”.
The findings come amid widespread concerns over the quality and availability of statutory placements for social work students in councils:-
- A Community Care survey last month found 45% of universities polled did not provide a statutory placement for all students who graduated last year.
- In March, Social Work Task Force chair Moira Gibb warned that councils lacked capacity to support efforts to improve social work, including by providing practice placements.
- In his government-commissioned review on child protection, published in March, Lord Laming said few placements were available in children’s services, particularly in child protection, and it was possible for a graduate to start work in child protection without direct experience at the frontline.
- Social work consultant Bill McKitterick warned, also in March, that some newly qualified social workers were struggling to find jobs because they had not had a statutory placement.
- In its annual report on social work education, published in February, the General Social Care Council identified “growing concerns” about the quality and availability of practice placements. The regulator called on universities and employers to strengthen their joint working to resolve the issue.