Social work training bosses in England have welcomed new measures to improve the quality of support for student placements, but said the accompanying funding does not go far enough.
The Social Work Development Partnership (SWDP), which comprises the Children’s Workforce Development Council, Skills for Care and General Social Care Council, published a draft framework for the development of practice educators this week.
New assessment requirements
This sets out requirements for practice educators to be assessed by senior colleagues against a set of “learning outcomes” for the first time, along with minimum standards for supervision, teaching and assessment.
The partnership has provided £130,000 to fund training bursaries for 180 practice educators across England, which is being distributed by Learn to Care, a national body representing workforce development managers in social care.
Learn to Care: question marks over funding
Whilst welcoming the guidance, Learn to Care said the funding would not cover the demand for practice education training.
Keith Brown, Learn to Care committee member and director of the Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University, said: “Practice educators will now have to demonstrate their competence in supporting undergraduate students.
“This will hopefully start to ensure high-quality placements by following national standards.”
But he added: “Although Learn to Care welcomes the money, we need at least double the amount to meet the demand for this type of training. We have around 5,000 students at any one time, which means there will be 5-10,000 placements – that’s a lot of practice education taking place.”
Backlog of social workers
Brown added that a “backlog” of experienced social workers requiring training for practice education had built up following the withdrawal of a post-qualifying programme for practice teachers in 2007, when the GSCC’s revised PQ training framework came into effect.
Confusion over titles
The framework follows a report by the Social Work Development Partnership in May, which found the management of practice placements for social work students was “highly deregulated” with wide variations across local authorities.
It noted the different job titles employed by councils for similar roles, such as “practice teachers” and “practice assessors”.
However, the draft guidelines issued this week use “practice educators” throughout the document.
A further £50,000 is available for independent practice educators who can apply for training bursaries of up to £750 per person, while universities and employers are invited to bid for ten “demonstration project” sites, which will test new ways of improving standards in practice education.
Practitioners can comment on the national standards in a consultation which closes on 3 November.
The guidance comes amid widespread concerns about the quality and availability of practice placements for students in England raised by a number of experts and reports this year.
A study commissioned by Skills for Care London and the Children’s Workforce Development Council, published in July, found the system of provision involving universities and councils in London was in disarray, and demand for statutory placements was outstripping supply.
Later that month, improving practice learning emerged as one of the key issues for reform in the interim report from the Social Work Task Force.