A group of local authorities in England is to apply to the government to approve the first social worker integrated degree apprenticeship scheme, which could offer a route into the profession for experienced care staff who don’t have an academic background.
Supported by Skills for Care, the group is consulting on an apprenticeship standard for social workers, which outlines the practice knowledge and skills required of those qualifying through the route.
The group hopes to submit a final version to the Institute for Apprenticeships by 28 June, and get a decision from government on whether it can go ahead with the scheme by December.
Development is in its early stages, but the draft standards say the integrated degree apprenticeship would be expected to last 36 months.
The trainee social workers would be paid from day one, and undergo a mixture of on- and off-the-job training. At least 20% of an apprenticeship should be off-the-job training, but what this is and how it is completed would be decided by the local authority and its learning provider.
Learning providers would likely be universities, and can work with local authorities on apprenticeships as long as they have a degree signed off by the HCPC and are on both the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers and Register of Apprentice Assessment Organisations.
After an assessment at the end of the apprenticeship, trainees would gain a university degree and attain the same professional status as social workers who qualify through other routes.
The placements would be funded by the new apprenticeship levy, which is set at 0.5% of the pay bill of organisations with a total pay bill of more than £3m, to fund apprenticeship placements. For every £1 of levy paid, the government will top up by 10p. Most local authorities are expected to pay a levy contribution.
Employers would decide the rate apprentices would be paid, but they would be required by government to pay at least the minimum wage rate.
Peter Barron, project manager for standards learning qualifications and apprenticeships at Skills for Care, who is supporting the development of the apprenticeship scheme, said local authorities involved in developing the standard were “estimating four or five starts each per year, but this is very much a rough estimate”.
Barron said the group developing the scheme consists of “volunteers from all over the country”. Mostly employed by local authorities, they are from a mixture of children’s and adults’ services backgrounds, and include principal social workers and learning and development managers.
“Local authorities are massively excited about this as they see it as an efficient way of using their levy payments and a way of moving forward the careers of internal staff working in care who have the right values and experience to be a social worker but not necessarily the academic background,” Barron said.
Entry requirements, and how apprentices meet the 20% ‘off-the-job’ learning requirement, would be agreed by employers and learning providers individually, but would need to comply with the generic principles of all apprenticeships, Barron said.
“Compared to placements, an apprentice is a paid employee from day one with no student loan and gaining practical experience every day,” Barron said.
The consultation closes on 2 June.