Temporary measures brought in for regulating students

The Health Professions Council will continue to regulate social work students for up to three years until all education providers have gone through an approval process.

The Health Professions Council (HPC) will introduce a new “suitability scheme” for student social workers in England to address concerns arising from its decision not to maintain the current register.

It is hoped the temporary scheme will smooth the transition to the HPC’s preferred system, which will place the onus on education providers to deal with concerns about a student’s conduct.

The suitability scheme will ensure students continue to be regulated at a national level while the HPC makes sure every approved education provider is ready and able to take on that responsibility. This could take up to three years.

The HPC controversially decided on 10 May to phase out the General Social Care Council’s (GSCC) voluntary register for social work students in England after the latter closes its doors on 31 July. Many social workers and employers were concerned that this would put the public at greater risk, given social work students are often required to work closely with service users.

However, the incoming regulator stood firm behind its decision, arguing that universities and colleges are better placed to monitor students. All education providers in England will therefore be expected to demonstrate that they meet the HPC’s standards of education and training, which come into effect on 1 August. The standards require education providers to deal with concerns about the fitness to practise of students.

In August, the HPC will begin a process of visiting every education provider in England to check they meet the standards. In the meantime, there is a risk that some programmes may not meet the HPC’s standards, but will not be immediately assessed, which is why the HPC’s council yesterday approved the suitability scheme as a way to manage the transition.

Under the proposals:

  • The HPC will maintain a record of students who are prevented from participating in a social work programme in England.
  • Education providers will be able to seek the HPC’s opinion on whether an applicant should be admitted to a social work programme.
  • The HPC will investigate if thinks an education provider has failed to deal with a credible complaint about a social work student.
  • The HPC can review an education provider’s decision to prevent a student from being admitted to or participating in a social work programme.

The scheme will come into effect on 1 August and, under current plans, will remain in effect until 31 July 2015. The HPC’s council has agreed to keep this under regular review.

“The transitional scheme will be an effective and proportionate way of managing the perceived risks in this area and provide time for education providers to adjust to the HPC’s rigorous standards of education and training,” said Marc Seale, chief executive of the HPC. 

Penny Thompson, GSCC chief executive, said: “We welcome the decision made by the HPC to introduce a suitability scheme to deal with concerns about social work students in England. We are pleased that the HPC has recognised concerns expressed by the GSCC and the social work sector more generally.

 “We note that the scheme is being introduced on a temporary basis. The only way of ensuring that unsuitable students are prevented from re-entering a social work degree course after having been removed, is to maintain the list of prohibited students permanently.”

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