Draft Social Work England education standards prioritise employer input

Document out for consultation makes requirement for at least one placement in statutory setting as part of training, and foregrounds involvement of people with lived experience of services

Students studying
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Social work education providers must involve employers and people with lived experience of services throughout the student journey to ensure practitioners qualify equipped for the job, draft guidelines published by Social Work England have proposed.

The new qualifying education and training standards stipulate that social work employers and people who have been in receipt of services “are central to the design and delivery of social work training”, and involved in admissions processes.

The proposals form part of a consultation, which also covers professional standards and fitness to practice processes, by the regulator ahead of its takeover from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). It is open until 1 May.

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The standards include a requirement for students to have at least one placement within a statutory setting, as part of an emphasis on training within academic and practice environments being given equal importance.

They also require that programmes include a lead social worker role to hold overall professional responsibility.

Two-phase process

Social Work England’s plans for education and training are staggered in two phases in recognition that immediate wholesale change to frameworks would be likely to cause disruption.

From handover, originally planned to take place this spring but now likely to be later in 2019, standards will make only minimal changes to the HCPC’s. The more extensive revisions, grouped around six new standards – including learning environment, course governance, management and quality, and support for students – are slated to come into force from autumn 2020.

The fifth standard, curriculum and assessment, sets out that social work courses should be shaped by the needs and insights of employers, practitioners and people with lived experience of social work.

“This is to ensure a continually evolving curriculum which matches the contemporary demands of the whole sector, is delivered by appropriately qualified and experienced professionals, and produces informed, capable, prepared and motivated graduates who deliver safe and effective services,” the draft standard says.

To help facilitate its plans, Social Work England says it plans to appoint practising social workers as regional engagement leads. It is envisioned that they will work with education and training providers, local authorities and other parties to uphold the new standards.

‘Important councils are involved’

Ray Jones, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University, described Social Work England’s proposals as sensible ones that bode well for the new regulator’s future and said engagement with employers was a positive step.

“Although responsibility [for engagement] lies largely with education providers, there is a strong requirement on employers themselves to engage appropriately, step up to the mark and be fully involved in education and and training,” Jones said. “It will be particularly important for statutory agencies to be involved because of the important and appropriate requirement that all trainees have one statutory placement.”

He added that the requirement that all courses have a lead social worker was also an interesting move that made an “important statement”, but would need some fleshing out by Social Work England.

“They will now need to paint a picture in terms of what that role should be, and how they want to see it achieved – it needs some more clarity.”

‘Positive developments’

Lee Pardy-McLaughlin, the principal children’s social worker at Coventry council and chair of the West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership, said he welcomed the opportunity Social Work England’s consultation offered to shape the regulatory framework for professional standards and social work education.

Pardy-McLaughlin said he looked forward to Social Work England’s proposals leading to a new approach to regulation and standard-setting for the profession, adding that there was already “excellent work” under way in the higher education sector through social work teaching partnerships and employer alliances.

“The announcement of the professional lead for social work in universities that provide social work education and research is a positive development and will build on the professional leadership and scholarly approach,” Pardy-McLaughlin said. “The [compulsory] statutory placement will lay down a clear mandate for universities and social work employers to continue to work together to increase the range and supply of practice education learning opportunities for students across adults and children’s services.”

Social Work England is inviting all interested parties to respond to the consultation – you can do so here.

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3 Responses to Draft Social Work England education standards prioritise employer input

  1. Ian February 27, 2019 at 10:49 am #

    Things might have changed in recent years, but I thought the reason not all students have a statutory placement was often that the nearby Councils could only arrange so many – in terms of staff time to supervise the student. If this is made into a hard requirement for the HEIs, won’t it mean they can only offer as many social work degrees as Councils give them statutory placements? And with fewer students will all their courses still be financially viable?

    • Helen February 27, 2019 at 9:27 pm #

      What Ian says. It was a College if SW requirement to have at least one statutory placement and this was achievable when just HEIs we’re providing SW qualifying training. With employers committed to increasing student provision through Step Up/ Front line/ Think ahead and the forthcoming apprenticeships capacity to accommodate all SW student placements is going to compromised. As an HEI placement lead in an area with all of these, even being in a teaching partnership employers are already warning of less availability of placements in the next few years.

  2. Ruth Cartwright February 28, 2019 at 1:06 pm #

    It has been hard to find suitable statutory placements for many years – potential practice teachers often very willing but employers not supportive in terms of offering facilities and allowing practitioners time to undertake this work, even though their recruitment would benefit as students often end up working in the agency where they have a good placement. It was interesting to see how many employers seemed to have a change of heart when Frontline arrived. I share the pessimism of previous commenters that there will not be sufficient statutory placements.