Social work academic spells out radical degree changes

The current placements system for social work students should be scrapped and the degree restructured into two separate courses, one on academic theory and one on practice, a senior social work academic has claimed.

Mike Shapton, senior lecturer at Coventry University, said a new social work practice course should be created and taken after the academic course. Graduates would then compete for training contracts with employers, replacing the proposed assessed year in practice – similar to arrangements in the legal profession.

Shapton said the proposals in England’s Social Work Reform Programme, to reduce the length of placements and overhaul the content of the degree, did not go far enough.

The Social Work Task Force found some students experienced poor supervision and assessment and struggled to find jobs due to poor practice experience.

Shapton believes his proposal would meet all five principles in the reform programme relating to social work training – raising the calibre of entrants, overhauling the curriculum, improving placements, assessing the first year of practice, and more transparent regulation of social work education.

“Practice placements are regarded by many as the most valued part of social work education, but they are also the most fragile, and most resistant to successful reform,” he said. “This is not because of a lack of willingness and effort, but because of a range of difficulties well documented in recent publications and research.”

However, social services consultant Christine Walby defended the current system of practice placements.

“The integration of theory and practice learning at the same time is very important,” said Walby, former director of social services at Solihull and Staffordshire councils.

“Social work practice is not an academic process. The opportunity to implement theory in a supervised environment can be a very good learning process.”

Keith Brown, director of postgraduate social work at Bournemouth University, said placements gave students the opportunity to decide whether they wished to continue in the job, and for employers to assess whether they were suited to it.

Read Mike Shapton’s opinion column in Community Care’s Big Picture blog

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