Delays in student placements for social work degrees in Scotland have been put down to a shortage of practice teachers, the national regulator has said.
Universities and employers acknowledged they need to work harder at providing placements after a report showed 73 out of 1,471 practice learning opportunities, or 5%, had been delayed in 2007-08, some by as much as seven weeks.
The findings came in the Scottish Social Services Council’s annual review of trends in social work training, published this week.
The most common reasons for the delays were opportunities and practice teachers not being available on time, followed by student delays such as illness.
Responding to the report, Michelle Miller, president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said: “[Delays of this length] are obviously unacceptable and will have an impact on those students.
“Key to developing successful, capable social workers for the future is the practice learning component of their studies: nothing can replace hands on experience.”
John Stevenson, president of the Edinburgh branch of Unison, said the delays were “probably entirely down to workload pressures and the inability to free up practice teacher time in practice teams”.
The report showed a slight decrease in 2007-08 on the number of practice learning days undertaken in local authority settings, but an increase in those in voluntary and private settings.
Tim Kelly, chair of the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee in Scotland, said: “We have been trying to increase the number of placements in the voluntary sector, but it’s difficult to find qualified practice teachers.
“In a care home, for example, there might not be a qualified social worker who can supervise a student on placement.”
Kelly said universities in Scotland were trying to be more proactive and work together with the SSSC, employers and ADSW to reduce the number of delays.
A spokesperson for the SSSC said the provision of placements was being closely monitored and early indications showed “that more practice learning opportunities are starting on time”.