Less than half of social work student placements take place in local authorities a question asked in parliament by shadow children’s minister Steve McCabe has revealed.
Data from the NHS Business Services Authority, responsible for administering bursaries to social work students, shows 637 out of a total of 13,422 placements took place in local authorities in the academic year 2012-13. This is based on figures given to the NHS BSA by universities.
The minister also asked for an estimate of “the number of professional social work placements required to meet the needs of social workers in training.” The same figures as above were given.
The lack of a national monitoring system of social care workforce needs has long been a key concern for social work educators said Jane McLenachan, Social Work Education Committee vice-chair for teaching and learning.
“There hasn’t been any mechanism for gathering evidence around what is needed in terms of how many social work students we should be recruiting, the number of newly qualified social workers needed to be going into the workforce and on-going workforce planning over a number of years.
“There’s no correlation even at a local level between what the workforce needs might be and how universities are setting their student target numbers,” she added.
While there is no requirement from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) for social work degrees to provide local authority placements, McLenachan said universities are getting feedback that their students are being “disadvantaged in the local authority job market when they haven’t had a local authority placement.
“We are getting information that a number of local authorities were not even shortlisting applicants who had not had a local authority placement.”.
In order to get endorsement from the College of Social Work, a measure of quality for social work courses, universities are required to give their students a statutory placement.
Local authority cuts over the past few years have meant services are under pressure with “constrained resources, including staff,” said McLenachan, and the delivery of the service to service users is a priority. This means managers often feel they can’t “release staff to devote the time needed for student placements,” she said.
“Of course those are decisions about the here and now- not decisions about the long term future of the service- if we’re not giving good quality placements to students now, we’re not regenerating the future workforce,” said McLenachan.
Hilary Tompsett, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, described the problems with workforce and placement planning as a “data dilemma”: the regular data collection on placements carried out by the General Social Care Council (GSCC) was stopped when the council disbanded in 2010.
She said: “It has always been a high priority to say students need statutory experience…it matters hugely that placements are not available in local authorities.”
However, she stressed that statutory services take place in a number of settings, and not just in local authorities.
There should be a refocus on “roles, tasks and values and not the setting where social work takes place,” she said.