Training, Universities and the CWDC

Community Care have an article on their website today about CWDC (Children’s Workforce Development Council) and their submission to the Social Work Taskforce which is considering the future of the Social Work profession following an interview published in the magazine, with the Chair of the CWDC, Mike Leadbetter. In the article, Leadbetter called for more rigour in the selection process for degree courses, claiming it was currently “patchy”

Apart from the fact that I’d be marginally offended if I were a current student, I think there is something in what he says. It is clear that the universities are ploughing their own merry furrows. Self-directed learning has the potential to be useful in conjunction with other types of learning and teaching but packing more students than can realistically be offered quality placements is bad.  As is offering students places who are not expected to last the course or, a few years down the line, make quality practitioners.

There is, of course, some crystal-ball gazing and of course, past experience is not always an indication of future potential but the fact that some courses do not even interview applicants is a minor worry.

My own experiences are a little mixed on this. I know I was lucky to get my place on the MA course I attended. I know because after having been accepted and settling down to study, I had this exact conversation with the tutor who had interviewed me – who told me I had secured one of the last available places on the basis of a reasonably good interview when they had been very reluctant to offer me an interview.

It was easy to for us to know the ‘borderline’ candidates on that course – we were the ones who had been interviewed – the ‘definites’ had been offered places without interviews!


Back to Leadbetter who

.. suggested that candidates should be tested for their “emotional intelligence and resilience” by doing compulsory role-plays

One this is for sure and that is it would probably attract a different type of student for the course. It’s an interesting point though.

I went to have a look at the Submission that the CWDC made to the Taskforce. It makes some more substantial points – and it actually an interesting read because it not only sets up the problems currently within the system but relays some answers.

Just looking at the part relating to ‘Training and Qualifications’ there are a number of excellently made points which I hope will be addressed.

· differential levels of quality in respect of the three year degree;

· the quality and variability of the teaching on the degree course and the low level of current practice knowledge of many teachers of social work;

·· lack of clarity about what should be taught, how it is taught, the balance between self-directed learning and other more formal methods of learning;

· graduates are leaving social work training courses with an insufficient knowledge of basic principles and experience of e.g. attachment, human growth and development, psychoanalytic and psychological theories of behaviour, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, scenario and role-play enactments which give a greater understanding of real life situations;

· insufficient quality and quantity of statutory placements.

I expect one of the matters which will be addressed will be the variety of experiences on the Social Work degree course. It’s one of the reasons I think that someone being registered to practice immediately after finishing university is proving to be a disservice both to the incoming students and the profession as a whole.

The universities are eager to suck up any funding they can muster and have no incentives to reduce their intake if they do not receive high quality applicants but rather they are encouraged to fill places for funding purposes.

This is dangerous when the degree course in itself is seen as enough to prepare for practice. It also puts an extraordinary amount of pressure onto Practice Teachers in the workplace who are responsible for deciding then if a particular student is fit to practice or not and is, perhaps, doing some of the teaching which should be taking place in the university.

I also wonder how more current practice can be built into university courses – I am a little detached now except through some of the post qualification training I have experienced. I know on the ASW course, for example,  that the course leader taught while continuing to practice (part-time, occasional EDT work) and that was enormously helpful but also reassuring as she was aware and interested in current practice as well as having a firm personal pride in training a group of practitioners who were competent.

‘Self-directed’ learning is all very good but sometimes it seems like a cop-out for the university and a ‘cheaper’ option. Has this system of training produced a generation of social workers who are over-assessed but under-trained? Judging by the first year students I have come across, the fervour and desire is still there.

Lastly, another point I picked up from the CDWC submission saddened me enormously.

..  in the 1970s and early 1980s there was hope, vision and an intellectual enthusiasm about the task that is largely missing today. Highly publicised tragedies seem to have drawn the profession into a cycle of despair, defensiveness, fear and lack of confidence.

I’ll have to claim that being born in the 70s, I don’t retain much knowledge of what was happening in the 70s and 80s beyond cheesy pop music and different varieties of penny sweets but we were taught through the history of social policy and the radicalism of the 70s at least, that it may be possible to work in a climate where there is ‘hope, vision and intellectual enthusiasm’.

How much more exciting the work is when there is a passion to work towards empowerment and a vision of social justice – rather than the tedium of another set of performance indicators to input before 1st April. Of course a working life has to mix between the two but the balance seems to have shifted too far away from the broader aims and visions of social work practice.

Are we taught too much about procedures in a system that has to pump us out of university ‘ready to practice’? I think so, personally. We are trained to practice as statutory social workers in a very closely defined model. Statutory placements are seen as being superior to all others as they provide ‘experience’ when really it should make no difference and work experience post-qualification should be able to provide that same ‘experience’.

If Universities are expected to create ‘ready to work’ social workers immediately on graduation, the needs to be a lot more partnership working as there are few incentives for practitioners to take students on.

The sadness is that it is often the newly qualified social workers that go straight into the child protection teams – that has been the case consistently – certainly since I qualified.  What those teams need perhaps more than any others are the more confident and experienced workers.

Universities can provide a great inspirational role and are key to providing the quality practitioners of the future as they are the ones with the ability to select the finest students.

I wonder if the universities need to take more responsibility for training and if they ever will without the funding.

I wonder if the agencies that employ social workers need to stop hiding behind the universities and demand a better trained workforce and what role the GSCC is taking in this process. I expect we will see when the Taskforce reports back.

And I’m still more than a little tetchy that Balls had the temerity to place a newspaper agony aunt on the committee that decides the future of the profession.

9 thoughts on “Training, Universities and the CWDC

  1. Do you think there’s scope for more sandwich type courses? I’m not sure if they do things like that much at the moment.

    • You have three placements as a part of the course so it’s kind of a bit sandwichy! But it’s still only a three year course – personally, I think they should either make it a four year course so the academic side isn’t lost or actually detach the academic qualification from the professional qualification and demand more traineeships after graduating – thereby only achieving qualified status after a period of supervision in the workplace

  2. A lot of what you just said is comparable to the criticisms of the nurse training I have.

    What are your views on the joint degree courses in nursing and social work? I can see how the two complement each other, but it concerns me that you can get a job as either after effectively having done half the training…

    • I don’t know too much about the course, CD. I think it is an awful lot to pack into three years though (I’m assuming it is still a three year degree). The people I’ve met who have done it seem to have jumped one way or the other so I’m not sure how helpful the dual qualification is…

  3. My university seems to tick every one of the boxes you have mentioned as concerns, cb! We have students on our course who do not have the academic ability and are constantly failing assignments. We have others who panic every time someone is slightly uncomplimentary or critical of them- I wonder sometimes how these students will cope when faced with an abusive or uncooperative service user- especially as they always seem to prefer child protection work. We have others who appear to be unable to empathise or see any shades of grey in situations. There are others with no experience at all, and a few who tick all of these boxes. But the university does nothing, although some seem to be obviously set up to fail. Retaining the funding sadly seems to be the primary motivator, not producing good social workers.
    Our course uses almost entirely self-directed learning, which is fine for some academically-able students. For some who are not however, it risks them teaching themselves incorrectly understood or irrelevant information. Certain tutors have no recent practice experience, so their teaching is all theoretical, and therefore less useful.
    I feel completely unprepared for my placement, as we have had no role-play work, few applications of theory to practice or any ‘how to do it’ teaching; that responsibility seems to be left to us to acquire ourselves, or to our practice teachers.
    I cannot imagine that in another year, I will be prepared to practise as a fully-registered social worker. The thought is quite scary. I have said a few times, and certainly think that there should be sort of probationary/ traineeship posts for one year for all NQSWs, paid but with smaller caseloads, regular assessment and supervision, before full registration is granted.

  4. Having been born in the 60’s and qualifying in the early 80’s and now a social work manager I have to say that social work has really changed but the reasons for why we become social workers really has not to a large degree I.E to make a difference. My main work in the last 10 years has been to offer workers support which is enabling in a really stressful job, he social issues still remain the same as! I would say that our job is unique and we need a holistic approach to our ongoing training and support needs, we can not rely on the universities to meet the emotional needs of workers neither can we really on the agencies to meet the training needs. We all need to get together to assess and apply flexible training and development, not a one fits all strategy. As professionals we Social Workers need to lead on this and not leave it up to the Governement or Academics to again change social work, and I have to say I do not remember agreeing to some of the changes that have taken place in the last few decades, did we have a vote? A more multi- disciplined approach is required and can work.
    Love your blog

    • Thanks for the kind words, Gradle. I certainly agree about having to look to ourselves to affect change – after all, that’s what we study about! The government and academia have completely different agendas – note the closing of the Reading Social Work Dept.

      I can certainly attest to the need to look after ourselves better. I have to say, I’m very intrigued by your site and look forward to reading more!

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