Social Work England issues proposed expectations of graduates to show readiness for practice

Understanding of anti-racist practice, trauma and self-care among proposed knowledge and skills graduates should possess, as regulator bids to tackle inconsistencies in course outcomes and 'confusing landscape' of education standards

Image of student at work
Photo: Solis Images/Fotolia

Social Work England has issued proposed statements of what students should know on graduation, to tackle inconsistencies in outcomes from training courses.

The 78 ‘readiness for professional practice’ statements – issued for consultation last week – cover knowledge, skills and behaviours that new graduates should be able to demonstrate to meet the regulator’s professional standards for registered social workers.

Once agreed this autumn, the regulator will establish an expert panel to develop readiness for professional practice guidance next year. This will then be used to inform its assessments of education providers from 2024 onwards, alongside revised education and training standards, which it also plans to consult on in due course.

Anti-racist practice and self-care among proposed skills

While the proposed statements – which are out for consultation until 21 September 2022 – are designed to demonstrate a graduate’s ability to meet the professional standards, they include a number of areas not explicitly covered by the standards.

These include applying the principles of anti-discriminatory, anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice, and understanding how multiple and intersecting oppressions affect people, the impact of social context in areas including food insecurity and migration, the effects of trauma and the concept of self-care for practitioners (see below).

The professional standards refer to “challenging the impact of disadvantage and discrimination, promoting social justice and helping to confront and resolve issues of inequality and inclusion”. However, in an article for Community Care in 2020, British Association of Social Workers professional officer Wayne Reid questioned why they did not reference anti-racist, anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice explicitly.

What ‘readiness for practice’ looks like

The proposed knowledge, skills and behaviours graduate social workers should be able to demonstrate include:

  • How multiple and intersecting oppressions and disadvantages impact people, families, and communities, and affect the demand for social work services.
  • The impact of the social context in which people live including: housing, deprivation, food insecurity, education, unemployment, poverty, homelessness, social justice, ecological and environmental issues, asylum, migration and ethnic segregation.
  • The impact of trauma and loss on human development across the lifespan, and factors contributing to vulnerability including societal factors and social justice.
  • How health and social care services operate in a diverse society including concepts such as social need, informed choice, personalised services, institutional and structural discrimination.
  • The concept of self-care and how to maintain, or seek support to maintain, your wellbeing through periods of uncertainty, change and stress.
  • The impact and implications of posting information online and how to use information and communication technology appropriately, demonstrating that you are able to apply the professional standards online and offline.
  • Applying the principles of anti-discriminatory, anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice in your work.
  • Managing your time and prioritising your workload, demonstrating specific skills in relation to caseload management and use of limited resources to ensure that people’s needs are met.
  • Demonstrating an awareness of your own biases and prejudices, including the potential of unconscious bias to impact on decision making.
  • Recognising when and how your health might impact your practice and taking steps to seek support, ensuring that you continue to practice safely and effectively.

Though its existing education standards are designed to ensure courses equip students to meet Social Work England’s professional standards, the regulator said it did not make explicit the “specific knowledge, skills and behaviours” that students should be able to demonstrate.

‘Inconsistent outcomes for students and graduates’

“As a result, we are seeing differing interpretations of how to translate the professional standards into course content,” said the regulator. “This is potentially contributing to inconsistent outcomes for students and graduates in their readiness for professional practice.”

In addition, its standards were part of a “crowded landscape” of frameworks that shaped social work course curricula or against which programmes were measured. These include:

‘A burden on providers and confusing for students’

Social Work England chief executive Colum Conway said: “Multiple frameworks, guidance and requirements from different organisations are posing an unnecessary burden on institutions and are confusing for students.

“This crowded picture has evolved over time, partly due to the absence of a specialist regulator. Now, as the holder of the standards for both social workers and initial education and training in England, we feel we are in a position to streamline the situation to make things simpler for everyone.”

The regulator said its readiness for practice guidance would be a first step towards simplifying and streamlining the landscape for providers and students, while increasing the focus on public protection in the oversight of social work education.

However, as it did not have ownership over the other frameworks, Social Work England said it would need to find ways to effectively integrate its standards with theirs.

‘Essence of existing frameworks must be retained’ – BASW

The British Association of Social Workers cautiously welcomed the proposed readiness for practice guidance. However, it raised concerns about the potential impact on the PCF, QAA subject benchmark statement, QAPL and the practice educator professional standards (PEPS). Like the PCF and QAPL, the PEPS are hosted by BASW.

Professional officer Wayne Reid said the association hoped this was an opportunity “to underline the importance” of these frameworks, which he said were “created by the profession, for the profession”.

“Social workers and educators were intrinsically involved in putting these together and updating them,” Reid added. “Therefore, as part of any integration or modernisation process, it is vital the core terminology and essence of these frameworks is maintained in accordance with the input of key stakeholders.”

Risk of added complexity

Academics’ body the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC) said it welcomed moves to streamline the multiple frameworks surrounding social work education, but was concerned the readiness for practice guidance may add further complexity.

Vice-chair Amanda Fitchett said: “Although we can see the need for social work programmes to have a shared understanding of what readiness for professional practice might look like, we would not want to see too many additional frameworks clouding the pre-qualifying landscape. JUCSWEC would welcome the opportunity to join the advisory panel look at developments in this area to ensure the higher education institution sector is represented in discussions.”

This was echoed by the National Organisation for Practice Teaching, who warned that the proposed guidance “could add confusion unless it complemented the PCF”, which already has readiness for practice standards.

You can respond to the consultation on the readiness for practice statements by filling in this form or emailing by 5pm on 21 September 2022.

Potential further education reforms

Alongside the readiness for practice consultation, Social Work England set out a broader approach to social work education and training that will inform further reforms over the coming years. This includes:

  1. Exploring how the regulator could have greater oversight of social workers at the start of their careers, to both improve support for them and public protection. This is in the context of variability in the uptake and quality of assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programmes and disproportionate failure rates among black and ethnic minority social workers.
  2. Considering the case for registration of students – as happens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and was previously the case in England – balancing the potential to improve public protection against the costs and potential burdens on trainees. The regulator first mooted the idea in late 2020.
  3. Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in social work education, including in relation to admissions, achievement and course content.
  4. Having greater oversight of practice educators – including assuring their training, supporting their practice and ensuring their ongoing suitability – as recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. Social Work England will commission research into the role later this year before consulting on any proposals.
  5. Looking at requirements regarding the registration of social work academics in the light of the children’s social care review’s proposal – vigorously opposed by JUCSWEC – that all registered social workers do 100 hours of direct practice each year. 


19 Responses to Social Work England issues proposed expectations of graduates to show readiness for practice

  1. S. Brakeman July 5, 2022 at 7:38 am #

    This looks like a noteworthy victory for anti-racism! Finally Social Work England have taken notice. Wayne Reid must be pleased and so he should be.

  2. Frankie July 5, 2022 at 5:13 pm #

    Social workers need to understand racism, discrimination, trauma, deprivation, impact of health and social care systems and the rest of critical thinking I was taught at
    ‘A’ Level Sociology to prove their competence? What have they been deluded about before this? I am astonished that our ‘leaders’ think we should applaud the regurgitation of the obvious. Those who “cautiously welcome” this should take a step back and consider what “impact and implication of posting information online… appropriately” actually means.

    • Cindy July 6, 2022 at 10:21 am #

      Why should “those who cautiously welcome the proposals step back and consider what “impact and implication of posting information online… appropriately” actually means” Frankie? Personally, I don’t see the connection.

      • Frankie July 7, 2022 at 5:38 pm #

        Well that depends on who gets to define what is “appropriate”.

    • Cynthia July 6, 2022 at 1:20 pm #

      I work as an AMHP in an integrated team alongside health collagues. I showed this proposal to the psychiatrist and she just laughed. So I say to all of the educators and PSWs, why are you so complicit in making social work and us social workers a source of bemused mirth? Are we really going to hear from the likes of BASW that this is a recalibration of standards and knowledge which will make us better and more professional? Please stop this nonsense. Spouting words without meaning is just noise but the consequences are demoralising. As for this being a noteworthy victory for anti-racism, let’s wait to see if SWE tackles its own processes. I fear Wayne will be waiting an awful long time to celebrate SWE no longer merrily sanctioning a disproportionate number of black, brown and minority ethnic social workers.

    • Tara Howley July 6, 2022 at 7:53 pm #

      I don’t know what your last sentence means Frankie.

      • Frankie July 7, 2022 at 5:43 pm #

        I think the female social workers who have been sanctioned by male SWE ‘investigators’
        for “inappropriate” tweets unerstand though.

  3. krishna Pd lamsal July 5, 2022 at 10:46 pm #


  4. Jim Greer July 6, 2022 at 12:06 pm #

    There are some very good statements in these standards but also significant problems. The first being the sheer number of standards-78. This is partly due to repetition. If you are going to list working according to the values and ethics of social work as a behaviour then is there really any need to also have corresponding standards under values and skills. You cannot practice social work values unless you know what they are so this is unnecessary repetition. And if there is to be a knowledge statement for values then why not say something about having a critical understanding different ethical and decision making models and how applying different ethical models might affect important decisions.
    About a third of the Knowledge statements are not really about knowledge at all and those that are are incredibly unambitious. Most start with the words “[understand} the impact of……’ At present, Universities expect students to have a basic understanding of the impact of deprivation and discrimination at the point of entry to Social Work training, in accordance with the first level of the PCF. What they learn on their programme is theories and ways of understanding about how these problems are caused and exacerbated within society and models for engaging and working with people, agencies and communities to help with these problems.
    For example one of the standards is: “The impact of domestic abuse, and problematic drug and alcohol use.” Putting aside the issue of whether relationship based abuse should be paired with problematic substance use this would not be not be sufficient knowledge for a social affairs journalist never mind someone who has to work with people affected by these issues. A social worker in the substance misuse area should understand motivational interviewing, the cycle of change model, causes of relapse and strategies for relapse prevention etc. For relationship based abuse social workers should understand feminist theory, the psychological basis of abusive behaviour, ways of helping victims who fear leaving an abusive partner etc, They should understand sociological and psychological theories about these and other issues and a clear understanding of models for intervention.
    When the College of Social Work was created there was a deliberate decision not to define what knowledge a social worker needs as this was consider ‘over-prescriptive’. This opened the door to courses such as Frontline which do not cover the breadth of knowledge we would expect from a generic social work training. I am concerned we will make the same mistake again.

    • Sue July 8, 2022 at 3:09 pm #

      Thank you Jim. I agree with your points here.

  5. Terry Murphy July 6, 2022 at 2:49 pm #

    And yet again the most obvious and needed reform that of having a statutory and appropriate lower staff student ratio in the largely higher education based courses that deliver social work education is ignored . The valid curriculum points that you have to address structural issues are completely ignored when it comes down to properly funding adequate staff student ratios in all the institutions delivering social work education. An opertunity for reform and adequate educational staffing becomes just another set of quality assurance statements for overworked and demoralised staff in social work education. Compare this with the high staffing levels BPS insist on for clinical education .

  6. Cedric July 6, 2022 at 8:43 pm #

    It’s clear to me that anti-racism etc wouldn’t have even been a consideration for SWE if Wayne Reid hadn’t campaigned so strongly.

  7. Flo Torres July 6, 2022 at 9:44 pm #

    In an ideal world Wayne Reid would be on the SWE Advisory panel.

    • Abigail July 9, 2022 at 7:12 pm #

      In an ideal world BASW wouldn’t use Wayne as a shield to hide being hand in glove with SWE but there you are.

      • Viv M July 10, 2022 at 7:47 pm #

        I agree Abigail. BASW will always defer to SWE. Wayne’s work on anti-racism is all the more impressive DESPITE BASW, not BECAUSE of BASW…

  8. Matthew July 6, 2022 at 10:31 pm #

    I think CC included a link to the wrong article. This one will have had SWE hyperventilating:

  9. Deborah Davies July 6, 2022 at 10:33 pm #

    Good Evening I am a extra mature student social worker 51 yrs, within the PCF capabilities we cover these concepts. The proposals put forward would be more specific and are welcomed to help us with our practice.

  10. Mr. Mr. July 19, 2022 at 7:01 pm #

    Anti-racist practice? If a social worker of all people has to be told not to be racist they are in the wrong career. Social work education is an absolute mess and this does not give me any confidence when self-care is one of the key tenets. It’s a bit hard to self-care when you’re sat in the office with a child at 8pm waiting for an emergency foster placement to be found due to national shortages.


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