Story updated 9 November
Social work students in England may be asked to register with the regulator in future to help support their professional identity and transition into the workforce.
Social Work England said it was considering the move, which would require secondary legislation, on the back of discussions it had had with student groups.
The regulator is mulling the change as part of early thinking on the development of a “whole profession” approach to regulation, which it said it wanted to take forward through discussions with sector partners.
‘Whole profession approach’
Sarah Blackmore, the regulator’s executive director of strategy, policy and engagement, said: “While it is still very early days in our discussions with the sector, we are exploring a future ‘whole profession approach’ to social work regulation, looking at all types of social work and the social work career journey together, rather than as individual parts, to enable us to understand better the problems facing the profession and build on its strengths.
“This journey includes the potential for student registration, which has long been a subject of debate in the profession. From our engagement with student groups and education providers we are hearing that they would welcome student registration in the future, helping students to develop their professional identity and giving a clearer link through to social work employment and professional standards once qualified. This registration would also help make more robust the support given to those making the transition from education into practice – this has long been a challenge but even more so in the current conditions.”
History of student registration
Students must register in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Students were registered in England from 2005-12 under the General Social Care Council (GSCC), when it was not a legal requirement but a condition of courses receiving funding for practice placements. As a result, 95% of students were registered when the GSCC handed over responsibility for social work regulation to the Health and Care Professions Council.
At the time of the handover, in 2012, the GSCC argued that student registration was necessary, particularly for public protection in relation to practice placements.
However, the HCPC did not continue with it, saying its approval and quality assurance processes for higher education institutions (HEIs) were sufficient to ensure standards and public protection were maintained on qualifying programmes. It ran a social work student suitability scheme from 2012-15 to address concerns about people applying to and studying on qualifying programmes, and to support HEIs to transition from the GSCC’s student register, but this received very few cases.
In relation to Social Work England’s wider approach, Blackmore added: “As we develop our whole profession, whole career approach, we are committed to further conversations with the sector and our key partners, with whom we want to consider in much more detail how a whole profession approach might work. To support this, we are commissioning research and gathering data. We will also soon be publishing our first interim ‘Social Work in England’ report, as we start to paint a rich picture of the profession.”
- Social Work England is looking for social workers and others with an interest in the profession to run virtual workshops, performances and wellbeing activities at its first Social Work Week, from 8-12 March. Expressions of interest need to be sent by 15 November and more information is available on the Social Work England website.