Social Work England finds broad support for proposed expectations of new graduates

Regulator to assess social work course providers from 2024 on students' readiness for professional practice on graduation, while pledging action to tackle 'crowded' education standards landscape

Black student in university library
Photo: Samuel B/Adobe Stock

Social Work England has found broad support from the profession for its proposed expectations of students’ knowledge and skills on graduation.

Following a consultation, the regulator will now move ahead with plans to assess social work course providers against a set of statements of their students’ readiness for professional practice, from 2024.

The statements of expected knowledge, skills and behaviours are designed to tackle inconsistencies in the way course providers translate Social Work England’s professional standards – which all registered practitioners must meet – into course content.

In response to the consultation, the regulator pledged to address specific concerns about the content and structure of the proposed 78 statements, as well as the “crowded landscape” of social work education standards to which the statements would be added.

Proposed expectations of graduates

The proposed knowledge, skills and behaviours that Social Work England consulted on included:

  • 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.

Broad backing for statements

Social Work England received 63 responses to its consultation, 28 of which were from organisations, with respondents asked to rate the content, structure and categorisation of the statements on a scale of 1 (strong disagreement) to 5 (strong agreement).

The content received an average score of 3.75, with positive comments including that they were clear, applicable across most areas of practice and outcomes focused. However, others described the statements as too vague or lacking in detail, compared with existing standards frameworks.

Respondents suggested they could be improved by adding content on mental health, international social work, domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and exploitation, and resilience, as well as greater emphasis on peer learning, reflective practice, critical thinking, legal literacy, anti-racist practice and multi-agency working.

The structure of the statements had an average rating of 3.53, with respondents who were positive describing them as clearly worded and accessible. Others felt there were too many statements or that there was unhelpful overlap between them, and that they could benefit from being streamlined, for example, through the use of sub-headings.

The categorisation of the statements was rated as 3.78, with respondents generally backing the inclusion of ‘knowledge’ and ‘skills’, but some questioning the inclusion of ‘behaviours’ on the grounds that it sounded punitive, with support for the inclusion of ‘values’ instead.

‘Crowded landscape’

The regulator also received concerns about the ‘crowded landscape’ of frameworks and standards that informed the content of social work courses, a point it had itself raised when launching the consultation.

“We found that the most respondents generally agreed with the statements, but were concerned about duplication and confusion with existing frameworks which pre-date the professional standards,” it said.

It said this was raised by the British Association of Social Workers and Association of Directors of Children’s Services, including in relation to overlaps with the professional capabilities framework (PCF) and government’s post-qualifying standards (PQS).

In line with feedback from the majority of respondents, it said it would seek to streamline the requirements concerning social work training in line with its professional standards.

It said the readiness for professional practice statements would be mapped to the professional standards, while it would “work with key stakeholders to map the final version of the statements against parallel regulatory frameworks”, such as the apprenticeship standard for social work. However, it also stressed that there was a distinction between the requirements of a regulator and those of optional standards frameworks.

Existing social work standards and frameworks

Regulator to redraft statements

Social Work England said it would redraft and restructure the statements on the back of the feedback and wider sector developments, such as the government’s response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, due imminently.

This would include adding sub-headings, while balancing the desire of respondents to include additional content against the need to keep the statements digestible for students and educators.

It plans to produce finalised guidance on the statements this autumn, in order to implement them next year, at the end of its current cycle of assessments of social work course providers.

Research into practice educator role

Meanwhile, Social Work England has issued a tender for research into the role of practice educators and the wider supervision and assessment of practice learning. This is designed to explore:

  • the experiences, including attitudes, perceptions and barriers, of social workers supervising and assessing practice learning;
  • what motivates social workers to qualify, or continue, as practice educators (PEs), and the barriers to recruiting and retaining PEs;
  • perceptions of existing PE standards and training requirements;
  • lessons from existing models of, and research into, supervision and assessment of practice learning;
  • how it can develop its approach to regulating social workers who assess and supervise practice learning.

When launching the consultation last July, Social Work England said it intended to improve its relationship with, and oversight of, practice educators, including assuring their training, supporting their practice and ensuring their ongoing suitability – as recommended by the care review.

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