Council placements for students falling, GSCC finds

The proportion of placements for social work students being delivered in council settings in England is falling, a report by the General Social Care Council has found.

The regulator’s annual report on social work education for 2009-10, published this week, shows local authorities delivered 44% of practice placements in 2008-9, down from 47% in 2007-8 and 48% in 2006-7.

This is despite a clear recommendation from the Social Work Reform Board that all students should benefit from at least one placement in a local authority, mental health trust or national organisation undertaking statutory work. Other placements are delivered in the voluntary or private sectors.

The GSCC was forced to rewrite parts of its report and the accompanying press release after Community Care uncovered statistical errors in its work.

The figures originally supplied suggested the proportion of local authority placements had decreased by 17% between 2008-9 and 2009-10, but the figures were then revised by the GSCC, omitting 2009-10. The decline in the proportion of placements undertaken at councils of 10% between 2007-08 and 2008-09 was revised to become a fall of 6%.

Upon request, the GSCC revealed that councils had slashed the total number of placements from 6,546 in 2007-8 to 5,986 in 2008-9.

Two-thirds of the 83 higher education institutions in England providing the social work degree were asked to improve the quality of placements on offer to students. From this year, all HEIs will be required to comply with new standards for practice placements.

More than half of institutions (57%) had rejected placements because they were unsuitable. Twelve reported using “inappropriate” placements because of shortages.

Hilary Tompsett, chair of the Joint University Council’s social work education committee, said finding high quality placements was one of the biggest challenges facing universities.

She said: “It’s a worrying situation; social workers are finding they can’t get a job because they don’t have the relevant experience, but how can we give them that experience?”

GSCC chief executive Penny Thompson said the regulator was working with the Social Work Reform Board to encourage partnerships between institutions and employers.

Thompson said: “The GSCC has believed for some time that the most sustainable way for HEIs to provide high-quality placements is by forging robust partnerships with local employers.

“Of course it is not a one-way process, and it is imperative that employers work just as hard to ensure that partnerships are established and developed.”

Read the full report

Social work education in England

● In total, 13,800 placements were available in 2009-10, at a total cost of £25.5m

● More students enrolled on the degree in 2009-10 (6,000) than in 2008-9 (5,800).

● The proportion of students withdrawing from the degree course dropped to 10% in 2010, down from an average of 17% between 2003 and 2009.

● Since the new post qualifying framework was introduced, approximately 11% of the workforce has enrolled on a PQ course.

Source: A Report on Social Work Education in England 2009-10, GSCC


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