The number of social work students achieving first or upper second-class degrees is increasing, research from Skills for Care has shown.
It also found the number of graduates obtaining social worker jobs within six months of completing their course has improved.
The report ‘Social Work Education in England’ covers the period from 2009/10 to 2013/14, which precedes the introduction of Frontline, a fast track, skills based route into social work which began in July 2014.
Reflection of Social Work Reform Board recommendations
Instead the results are likely to reflect the impact of reforms to social work education recommended in the Munro Report and by the Social Work Reform Board.
The research, commissioned by the Department for Health, found the number of undergraduates obtaining a first-class degree increased from 11.5% in 2009/10 to 16% of the total in 2013/14. Those attaining a 2:1 increased from 45% to 47% over the same period.
Although there had been some improvement in undergraduate grades in the preceding five years the report shows the greatest uplift was seen in 2013/14.
This compares with one third of the first Frontline cohort who possessed first-class degrees, according to a recent government memorandum. However, the report did not collect statistics on the class of degree possessed by those embarking on a social work master’s degree.
The report authors stated that further research was now needed to see if quality of service delivery was linked to improved qualification outcomes.
The report also shows the conversion rate of graduates to social workers has risen from 56% in 2011/12 to 65% in 2013/14 meaning two in every three graduates will be employed as a social worker six months after leaving their course.
Those on master’s degrees were more likely to find employment as social workers (73% compared to 61% of undergraduate qualifiers) with those from the courses based in the East Midlands the most likely to find employment.
Greater life experience
This means the conversion rate for post-graduate, master’s courses compares more favourably with fast-track routes into social work education than previously thought.
The Department for Education recently told the parliamentary education committee that only 61% of post-graduates obtained employment as social workers compared with 80% of Step Up cohorts, whose funding includes a £19,000 salary and education fees paid by the government.
The report states the higher success rate of post-graduate courses “may be due to these graduates having greater work and life experience”.
“Additional research is required to further understand this finding. Again there is some overlap in findings relating to course level and age and as such it is not clear whether one of the factors ‘drives’ the other.”
Other findings from the report include:
- The number of enrolments on social work education courses has dropped since 2009/10 from 5,620 to 4,590 in 2013/14. This has largely impacted on undergraduate courses.
- The number of students on post-graduate, master’s courses has increased from 29% in 20090/10 to one third of total enrolments in 2013/14.
- Black and minority ethnic students make up 30% of all social work students
- The vast majority of those who dropped out of their social work course were under 24 years of age (85% completion rate compared with 95% of those aged over 24), on an under-graduate degree and did so in the first year
The statistics were collected as part of a broader report on social workers to be published later this year by Skills for Care. The data was collected from 72 of the 79 higher education institutions providing social work courses.