Social work placements system under ‘considerable strain’

England’s model for ensuring the supply of practice placements for social work students is under "considerable strain", according to research by the outgoing regulator. Photo: Image Source/Rex Features

England’s model for ensuring the supply of practice placements for social work students is under “considerable strain”, according to research by the outgoing regulator.

As part of a series of studies it intends to publish ahead of its closure in July, the General Social Care Council (GSCC) asked 466 social work employers in England for their views on practice placements.

The findings show employers have managed to keep the supply of placements stable between 2009 and 2012, despite the current economic climate. However, this is in the face of rising demand, with the last two academic years seeing the highest volume of enrolments to the social work degree since its introduction.

Some regions, such as the East and West Midlands and Yorkshire, were more likely to report a decline in the number of placements, the research found.

The proportion of statutory placements – defined as those that give experience of social work tasks involving legal intervention – in relation to the overall number of placements decreased from 59% in 2006-7 to 54% in 2009-10.

Roughly a third of employers who reported a decrease in the number of statutory placements blamed the decline on restructuring, funding and/or staffing issues.

“Research suggests that the current model for ensuring the supply of practice placements is under considerable strain,” said the GSCC. “Increased planning would appear to have a central role to play in strengthening this model.”

Most practice placements are currently organised on an ad hoc, demand driven basis, but the regulator has recommended that higher education institutions (HEIs) and employers work more closely together to jointly plan the demand and supply of placements, using guidance from the Social Work Reform Board.

Hilary Tompsett, vice-chair of the GSCC, praised many of the employers who took part in the study for showing continuing commitment to supporting social work students. But she warned: “The impact of current pressures on employers and HEIs cannot be underestimated.”

The GSCC’s regulatory functions will transfer to the Health Professions Council, to be renamed the Health and Care Professions Council, on 31 July.

Read the full report

Photo by Image Source/Rex Features

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