A new approach to social work education and training
Chief executive Colum Conway discusses education and training as we consult on readiness for professional practice
A new approach to social work education and training
6/29/2022 9:00:00 AM
There are many reasons why people choose to train as a social worker. Some are inspired by personal experience. Some are motivated to support and empower others. Some want to defend human rights, tackle inequality and challenge social injustice. All are united by one ultimate mission, which is to help people to lead the very best life they can.
It’s this assignment that must guide every social worker’s journey, from student to senior manager and beyond. We are lucky to have several excellent routes to choose on this journey. People can qualify from undergraduate courses including apprenticeships, postgraduate courses and fast-track routes.
My own route to social work was through a master's degree programme at Queen’s University Belfast, one of the early cohorts for this new programme that included a diploma in social work (DipSW). I had placements in both children and families and older people’s services, both of which I worked in during my career.
Exploring a new way forward for education
In our reapproval of courses across the country we have spoken to students, course leaders, placement providers, practice educators, employers, and people with lived experience. They have highlighted some remarkable achievements, especially during the challenges of COVID-19.
However, the pandemic has not been the only challenge for social work education, and we want to outline our plans to explore other issues. You can read these in our approach to social work education and training.
A chance to make things simpler for everyone
Our engagement has shown that consistency amongst courses is complicated by a confusing landscape where providers face different demands. 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.
Long-term recommendations for change
This ambition is part of our next phrase of regulation as we plan our 2023-26 corporate strategy. It’s a long-term vision with recommendations in seven significant areas. Initial discussions about our ideas with key stakeholders have been very positive. We recognise the challenges that education and training providers and students are dealing with and commit to full consultation on each proposal. We will engage with everyone with an interest in social work education and training, be mindful of the academic cycle and aim to minimise disruption.
Give your views on our first consultation
Our primary objective as the regulator is public protection, and it’s essential that the public have confidence in social workers, whether they’ve been practising for 2 months or 20 years.
Therefore, our immediate focus is on ‘readiness for professional practice’. We have launched a consultation on our new guidance, which intends to help education and training providers to design course content that equips students to meet the professional standards. This sets out our expectations of what a social worker should be able to demonstrate on completing their initial education and training and will ultimately form part of our quality assurance of courses.
Opportunities for everyone
Another key area of focus is making sure that everybody with the motivation and talent to become a social worker gets the opportunity and encouragement to join our profession. There is work to be done to ensure that students from all backgrounds can access the right course, successfully complete it and qualify ready to practise. Our new approach aims to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in social work education and training.
Placing more value on practice educators
Guidance and standards teach social work students the right skills, knowledge and behaviours. Experience, on the other hand, can’t be taught and must be acquired on the job with excellent support and supervision. We want to strengthen our relationship with practice educators because effective practice placements are essential to the success of social work students.
Practice educators teach and assess students on their placements and oversee their safe practice. They act as role models for the values which underpin the whole profession. We are also keen to work alongside government and the sector to consider the best approach to collectively support newly qualified social workers and ensure they practise safely in a supported environment.
Improvement has no destination, just an onward journey building on new learning and experience, new knowledge and skills. I have very pleasant memories of my time at university and the people who shaped and influenced the foundations of my 30 year professional career in social work. Social Work England has a central role in social work education and training, in ensuring it is an ongoing journey of improvement. We look forward to hearing your views on our initial approach to this task.