Community Care carries details from the GSCC (General Social Care Council) annual report on social work education in England and it shows a fall in the amount of social work placements provided by local authorities. This came as absolutely no surprise to me.
According to the article, two thirds of social work education providers were asked to improve the quality of the placements that they offer to students. The absolute figures show a fall in the amount of local authority placements provided from 6,546 in 2007-8 to 5,986 in 2008-9. This has, within the sector, long been seen as a problem as universities have increasingly found it hard to find placements.
There are two issues that though related are not entirely equivalent. One is about the fall in the availability of social work placements provided by local authorities and the second is the more general fall in the quality of placements provided.
The relation is that local authority placements are often sought as the ‘better’ placements. I’m not sure that’s entirely true for the record but the Social Work Taskforce suggested that all social work students should ideally have at least one ‘statutory’ placement (a statutory placement does not have to take place within a local authority).
Having, since qualification, worked solely within local authorities, I would say that it doesn’t automatically follow that local authority placement equals good placement. It may on paper but the quality of the placement depends on the individual practice assessor/workplace supervisor and what they are able to give and bring to the teaching process.
Saying that, there are reports of some wholly inappropriate placements knocking around.
Personally, I could have taken a student this year. I was asked to. I refused. I loved doing the practice assessing. I will again but honestly, I have no idea what my service will look like in four months time as we have another big reconfiguration coming up. I didn’t think that it would be fair to have a student with all the uncertainty about where our jobs will lie. I expect this is fairly common within adult services at least.
I asked our borough’s placement co-ordinator if I could be a ‘long arm’ or off-site Practice Assessor and she said that would be a possibility but the only workplace supervisors available came from Childrens’ Services. With the upheavals in the very near future, an massive workload due to a very very short staffed team, it seemed like too much of a jump for me.
I just didn’t feel that comfortable taking a student who was working day to day in Childrens’ Services. So I declined. I hope to be able to offer a placement later in the year when we know some of the longer term impact of the local authority settlement and to put it brutally, which services will still be around.
I doubt my consideration is unique.
I read through the GSCC report and there are a number of other interesting tidbits contained therein.
The amount of social work students has risen to 6115 (2009/10) which, they say, is the second highest since the degree was introduced. Hmm. Perhaps I see a link with the lack of placements. There was also a decrease in the amount of workplace sponsored students. Again, another indication of a potential problem with finding an absolute number of placements as sometimes workplaces which sponsor students will provide equivalent placements.
There were some interesting points about PQ (post-qualification) courses that the GSCC monitor as well.
I am a little ambivalent about the new PQ framework. I have a full PQ (1 – 6 to those who remember it!) qualification on the previous model. That combined my PQ1 with my ASW training.
My Practice Assessor module took place under the ‘new’ system and I am glad I was able to take the ‘longer course’. I have accessed more training than most though and I’m aware of that.
The figures that 11% have enrolled on a PQ course wouldn’t worry me overly just because it won’t count all those members of the workforce who have completed PQ training under previous guises.
I wasn’t surprised either that 55% of registration for PQ training was in Children and Families (they get more funding for training than adults services in our borough at least and have been rolling out with the NQSW programme for longer) nor that those training in the ‘Mental Health’ pathway fell to 16% (from 22%).
I can think of one obvious reason for the decline. With the change in Mental Health Legislation meaning the Approved Social Worker as was, now an Approved Mental Health Professional – can come from different professions, it may be that fewer Social Workers are getting the opportunity to train through the Mental Health PQ route (which basically is the AMHP training).
A friend of mine in another borough told me that health professionals (nurses and OTs) were being actively encouraged to apply for the AMHP training in preference to social workers. This is hearsay evidence of course (although naturally I trust her implicitly) but I do wonder if Mental Health Trust prefer paying for the training of their own employees rather than social workers who are often seconded by local authorities.
The other interesting figure was the high proportion of deferments that took place on PQ courses. I would venture a guess that this is due to workload pressure.
In fact, the lack of placements, lack of enrolment for PQ courses and high deferment are all due to workload pressures in the field.
Our local authority isn’t going to be funding PQ courses for adults, including the Practice Assessor Course and the Enabling Others Courses which require that social workers training take students on placement. That’s a few more down locally. Hopefully, it is just a temporary measure through the ‘tough times’ ahead.
I have to say that I do wonder if one of the solutions is for the universities to admit fewer students. A poor quality placement is no answer and can set students up to fail in the workplace. It wastes time all round. I think that there needs to be some thought about the presentation of local authority placements as a kind of ‘gold standard’ as well. They don’t have to be. Placement is about learning the social work more globally than just a particular training for a particular job. I believe more social work will take place in the private and voluntary sector in the future. The social work degree is the end of the beginning in the training and learning process. There is no end.
I feel frustrated when students ask me about employment prospects if they have a statutory placement – really, it shouldn’t make a difference because any local authority worth their salt should be able to train a qualified social worker without depending on particular placement experience. A part of the problem is that more students come into social work without any pre-qualification experience and rely wholly on placements as ‘work experience’.
Anyway, perhaps that’s another story for another day. In the meantime, the GSCC throws some interesting figures into the state of social work education.