Master’s degree in social work practice piloted in 2011

All social workers in England will be able to take a master’s degree in social work practice, ministers have promised.

The qualification will be piloted from September 2011, and will be rolled out nationally after 2014.

It will be “practice-based, practice-driven and accessible to all social workers” and form a “core plank” of a national framework for continuing professional development (CPD), according to the government’s implementation plan. This follows a pledge from children’s secretary Ed Balls last March that social work should become a “master’s-level profession”.

The British Association of Social Workers said the introduction of the master’s would be a “really positive move”.

Fran McDonnell, chair of BASW’s learning and development committee, said the framework would improve the status of social work and develop its image as a highly skilled profession.

But she added: “The question is how will [the new master’s] be accessible – who will pay for it?”

Figures from the General Social Care Council’s annual report on social work education for 2008-9 found only 8% of social workers had enrolled on post-qualifying courses in the past three years.

McDonnell blamed the low take-up on the existing post-qualifying training framework. She said it was complex and poorly understood, and many employers failed to support take up of the courses provided.

The Social Work Task Force called for “a more coherent and effective national framework” for CPD to “encourage a shift in culture [and raise] expectations of an entitlement to ongoing learning and development”.

McDonnell said the master’s would help the government achieve its aim of supporting more experienced workers to develop their skills and remain on the front line.

“In the past people have felt that they have to leave practice and go into management in order to work their way up the career ladder,” she said.

Consultation on the new CPD framework will begin this summer, coinciding with the launch of pilots for a new advanced social worker position in children’s services.

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