Social work students could face a shortage of practice placements of sufficient quality in future, the General Social Care Council has warned in its final report on social work education.
It raised particular concerns about access to statutory placements, which fell from 59% to 54% of all placements undertaken from 2004-5 to 2009-10. While the supply of such placements has remained steady, demand had increased as more and more students have enrolled on the degree.
“Ensuring that a sufficient number of relevant practice placements that are of the required quality is an ongoing challenge,” it warned in the report, Regulating Social Work Education (2001-12).
While nationally the supply of placements matched demand, there were regional variations. For instance in the Midlands and Yorkshire, employers were more likely to report a decline in their provision of practice placements.
The report is one of a series of studies the GSCC is publishing before it closes next month and hands responsibility for the regulation of social work and social work education to the Health Professions Council.
The GSCC stressed that the relationship between universities and employers was crucial to “ensuring a sufficient supply of relevant placements of acceptable quality”, given the regulator’s lack of powers to compel employers such as councils to provide them.
Among other significant trends highlighted by the GSCC is a shift from undergraduate to postgraduate provision. For instance, between 2003 and 2012 the proportion of social work courses at postgraduate level rose from 7% to 42%, while 95% of courses that have closed have been at undergraduate level.