What every social work student needs to know in 2012-13

Sarah Matthews, staff tutor in social work at the Open University, outlines the key issues students should know about in the coming academic year.

Changes in social work education, including funding arrangements

In its final report, Building a safe and confident future: Maintaining momentum, the Social Work Reform Board detailed how the College of Social Work would carry on some of its projects, including the newly-developed Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), the framework for continuing professional development and reforms to the way in which social work education is delivered.

Many higher education institutions in England have already met or are in the process of meeting most of the reform board’s recommendations, such as making sure all applicants to the degree complete a written test, upping the qualifications threshold for entry onto social work courses and involving employers, service users and carers in the selection process.

The 2012 academic year has also seen the introduction of a new fee structure for higher education in England. Eligible social work students, including those who are part time, can now apply for a government loan. The future of the social work bursary in England is less certain, but any changes will not come into effect until the 2013-14 academic year.

Continuing professional development

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) took over the regulation of social workers in England from the General Social Care Council (GSCC) on 1 August. As a result, the GSCC’s post-registration training and learning (PRTL) system was replaced by the HCPC’s continuing professional development (CPD) approach.

Under PRTL, social workers had to demonstrate they had done at least 90 hours of professional development in order to re-register every three years. The HCPC still wants social workers to record their learning activities, but it doesn’t require them to complete a fixed number of hours. Instead, the incoming regulator is more interested in how learning activities have improved social workers’ skills and helped service users. A fraction of social workers’ CPD profiles will be audited every two years from 2014, but newly qualified practitioners are exempt.

On top of this, the reform board developed the PCF, which is now owned by the College. The PCF is the framework against which social workers in England are asked to plan their careers. It applies to all social workers – including students – in all roles and settings.

In Wales, the report Sustainable Social Services for Wales: A Framework for Action (2011) includes a commitment to the development of clearer career pathways for social workers. In response to this, the Care Council for Wales (CCW) has developed the Continuing Professional Education and Learning Framework, outlining the minimum arrangements for professional development following initial qualification.

Assessed and Supported year in Employment (ASYE)

Most councils in England rolled out the ASYE in September. It replaces the programmes of support for newly qualified social workers and similarly aims to ensure graduates receive consistent support in their first year in employment. The Social Work Task Force originally intended to link the ASYE to registration, so that social workers would only be licensed to practise upon passing the programme. But there is to be no direct link between the ASYE and registration, and participation for employers is voluntary.


The GSCC’s code of practice for social workers has been replaced by the HCPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics. New entrants to the register in England – i.e. graduates – also have to meet standards of proficiency, which set out the minimum a social worker must know and be able to do in order to practise safely.

The HCPC also plans to introduce a new “suitability scheme” for student social workers in England and phase out the existing voluntary 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. Under the proposals, the HPC will maintain a record of students who are prevented from participating in a social work programme in England.

Social work with children

The government has stripped down its statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children following Eileen Munro’s review of child protection and the Family Justice Review. A consultation on the revisions closed in September 2012. The guidance sets out how organisations and individuals in England should work to promote the welfare of and to safeguard children and young people in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004.

In Scotland, the National Framework for Child Protection Learning and Development has been developed to support agencies working to protect children from harm. It establishes a set of competences and standards that everyone who works with children should have in order to deliver a consistently high standard of support.

The Department for Education published its Action Plan for Adoption; Tackling Delay in 2011 with the aim of reducing what they believed to be unnecessary bureaucracy and delay both in social work and judicial processes around adoption. Among proposals to tackle delays in the system, the action plan introduced controversial local authority adoption scorecards. Further proposals announced this year include a two-stage approval process for prospective adopters and fast-track procedure for approved foster carers and previous adopters.

In addition the coalition government intends to improve the care of children in foster care and in residential care. A review of the way in which authorities deal with possible child exploitation cases in residential care has been published. The review recommends that agencies, including social workers, should be better trained in this area.

Social work with adults

The government has published its White Paper on adult social care in England. Introduced as the most comprehensive overhaul of the care and support system since 1948, the Bill creates a single piece of law for adult care and support and the legal framework under which social workers will be practising with adults, possibly from 2015 onwards. In Wales a different approach is being proposed based on a single social care statute for both children and adults.

The guidance Fair Access to Care Services in England has now been replaced by the policy guidance Prioritising Need in the Context of Putting People First. Although the new guidance includes a change in emphasis to take into account personalisation, the basic eligibility framework remains the same.

The Welsh framework for action mentioned above sets out an ambitious direction of travel for all social services in the country, in which public services will play a crucial role, and service users and carers will have their voice heard, with more control over their services. There will be a greater emphasis on collaboration and integration of services and there will be changes to policy and legislation in order to make these changes possible.

Integrated health and social care

The structure of the NHS in England has been modified piecemeal in the last few decades, but is now set for more radical change as a result of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Strategic health authorities and primary care trusts will be abolished by April 2013. Instead, local clinical commissioning groups made up of GPs, hospital doctors and nurses and other specialists, will take charge of commissioning services. They will be held to account by an independent NHS Commissioning Board. It is hoped that these changes will promote integration between health and social care in England.

In Wales, Together for Health highlights objectives around improved care outcomes, patient safety, patient voice and access to local services, particularly in the area of primary health. A consultation regarding proposed integration of health and social care for adults (older people in particular) in Scotland is now closed.

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