Information for education providers and social work students
Information and advice
Last updated 27 March 2020 4.10pm
Advice on student placements
Social work students are recognised by the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care as key workers supporting the national response to COVID-19. Student wellbeing, safety and the need for adequate support and supervision should always be the primary concern when considering whether placements should continue. As of today, placements may continue if they are appropriate to do so, be suspended, interrupted or deferred. We encourage education providers to make local arrangements for the assessment of each student’s practice learning, in conjunction with practice educators, and how any gaps in learning can be filled.
As detailed in our previous advice, in these exceptional circumstances, education providers can consider a reduction in the number of placement days. Due to the variety of local arrangements across England in the provision of placements, we are not going to set a minimum number.
However, education providers must ensure that students meet our standards at the point they wish to apply to join the register, and so any consideration of adjustments should ensure that the standards can still be met. Education providers will also be able to vary the requirements for types of evidence, such as the number of observations and feedback, as long as standards are met.
As society responds to COVID-19, there has been an increase in opportunities to volunteer both in community-based settings and in wider frontline and NHS support.
In these circumstances, our guidance on this in relation to placement settings will need to change. Where a student is engaged in a related employed or volunteering capacity it is important to be clear this is not a practice placement. Therefore, education providers and practice educators will be unable to offer support in the manner ordinarily expected whilst in a placement setting. Learning from volunteering opportunities could be used retrospectively in the consideration of placement days if there is a clear link to placement learning outcomes or relevance to social work models.
We recognise that students have many questions and would like to thank you for bearing with us whilst we work with partners across the country to address them.
Our education and training standards
We currently assess course providers against our 2019 education and training standards. These standards outline our expectations of any social work education or training course, including placements and learning outcomes, so that upon completion students are prepared to register against our professional standards.
As a response to the impact of COVID-19, providers may want to consider the following:
- As per the standards, practice-based learning is integral to courses of social work, however the 2019 standards do not prescribe a specific number of practice days required. A higher education institute could consider a reduction in the number of days for students who have completed a significant proportion of the placement and met all the learning outcomes to the required standard.
- We expect that providers will want to consider the viability of placements. Standard 5.3 and our guidance requires providers to ‘respond to any concerns, difficulties or incidents that could prevent a learner’s success when providing practice-based learning’. Education providers may consider the temporary suspension of placements with the days completed ‘banked’ to support an alternative placement at a later date.
- This is a difficult time for students about to start placements, we recommend that higher education institutes consider postponing any placements due to begin in April.
We are working with our partners and a range of different agencies and networks to understand the adjustments that some providers have made and that higher education institutes may wish to consider for their own circumstances. In those conversations, we are encouraging those who have made adaptations to placements to share their plans and to work collaboratively.
Our quality assurance work
Many providers will have concerns about how their response to these unique circumstances is considered during an inspection of their course.
We are not setting out how providers should respond to the impact of COVID-19 or stipulating what measures they should adopt regarding student placements. These responses are best designed and delivered within the local context in which placements are provided. We do ask that providers consider the flexibility of our requirements and standards to adapt placements and student experiences to meet the learning outcomes in different ways, and to document those changes thoroughly.
Our approach to placements and our work with providers is in line with our commitment to minimise the regulatory burden on the profession at this difficult time. We want to support higher education institutes to consider the needs of both the social work student and the health and wellbeing of people supported by social work services. We would also expect providers to consider those providing support to the student while on placement and make sure that any responses seek to minimise disruption to the delivery social work services wherever possible at this important time.
This should provide the flexibility for providers to implement necessary adjustments that prioritise the health and wellbeing of students, as well as the safety of the student’s practice on placement while continuing to meet the required learning outcomes to meet our standards. This flexibility is crucial to allow for a needs-based response to placements and to best support to the continuation of placements and contribution of social work students wherever right to do so.