Social Work Education… What needs to change? and where to from here?

goveIn the last twelve months social work has seen some very significant and wide reaching changes ranging from  the closure of General Social Care Council (GSCC) and transfer of social work regulation to Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), to Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) and the new career structure, CPD and professional development of social workers.

These reforms, combined with the proposal for a new fast track social work training scheme (Frontline), and the recent Policy Exchange report on “Reforming Social Work – Improving social worker recruitment, training and retention” as well as the suggestion awarding of “Teaching Organisation” status (similar to teaching hospitals model) to local authorities suggest further changes and continued ferment in social workers’ preparation for practice, qualifying education, and continuous professional development.

The Policy Exchange report suggests:

  • Establishing “teaching organisation” status in local authorities and other bodies to take on more students
  • Embracing fast-tracked social work education, to recruit the most able individuals
  • Establishing more diverse career routes for social workers and create “practice educator posts to supervise training/professional development
  • Boosting the value of voluntary sector placements and greater focus on the benefits of multi-disciplinary models and prevention
  • Making local authorities that fail to provide high quality placements partner with other LAs that are awarded “teaching organisation” status
  • Easing local authority concerns over financing placements by paying placement fees up-front rather than at the end of placements
  • Councils should establish “student units” offering practice placements

These raise a number of questions relating to the future of social work education and qualifying pathwarys:

  1. Is the long-term outlook for social work as bleak as depicted by Policy Exchange report?
  2. Should social workers preparation and qualification focus on training or education?
  3. Is social work theory still relevant? and are social workers to contribute to research, knowledge generation, and good practice? or are social workers expected to be the technicians of our society?
  4. The large number of unemployed graduates across different disciplines are attributed to the difficult market conditions and economic climate. Considering the substantial reduction of local authority budgets and the closure of many voluntary and third sector organisations, why is the 27% NQSW attributed to social workers inadequate preparation?
  5. Most local authorities require 2 years post qualifying experience. How are social workers expected to develop such a post qualifying experience without having the opportunity to work?
  6. Is there a general failure of social work qualifying programmes? If yes, then how can we explain that many of today’s excellent practitioners came from those very qualifying programmes?
  7. Is there something wrong with social work and social work education? or is social work the politicians’ whipping boy of convenience?

Social work operates at the sharp edge of society where government policies and continued emphasis on economic productivity often fail to meet the needs of users of services. Is this the failure of Newly Qualified Social Work graduates and/or social work education? or is this due to persisting inequalities in our society, and a distortion of real supply and demand as a consequence of existing social and economic policies?

Join and share your views on Social Work and Social Work education @SWSCmedia debate today 8:00 PM BST / 3:00 PM EDT.

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