Re- visioning Social Work Education

31 Mar

The other review of Social Work education was commissioned by the Department of Health but I think this was from the perspective of adult Social Work. Again, I am not comfortable with this split; especially since Social Work is a holistic professional with a base of core skills needed to undertake Social Work in any environment. However, what’s done is done. There is no reason to dwell on what should have happened.

The review was undertaken by Professor David Croisdale-Appleby. As with the other review I don’t disagree with the need for revising Social Work education. Personally, I think there needs to be two years of solid Social Work education that incorporates teaching those core skills that are needed to undertake Social Work with a variety of client groups. I think teaching a Social Work degree as a generalist degree, exponentially expands the candidates choices for employment. They don’t have to choose adults or children’s unless that is what they want, not because of the pressure of not being able to secure a position if they do not.

I will now tackle the recommendations of this review as I did the other.

1. We are educating and qualifying too many social workers for the social worker roles available. So we need to devise a new strategic workforce planning system which takes account of major strategic drivers in the system of social work…

I would need to do some research on workforce supply and demand; however, if this is true then this recommendation makes absolute sense. Workforce planning is undertaken in many other professions to the benefit of the profession.

2. The selection of students for qualifying courses needs to be more consistent nationally, using methodologies similar to the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) used in selecting entry to Business Schools,which measure attributes such as analytic ability, critical reasoning and quantitative skills.

In the US there are some Masters level programs that require an entry exam. It is called the GRE – Graduate Record Examinations. The exam aims to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and that are not related to any specific field of study. All of which are necessary in Social Work. Making this a national criteria will improve the academic calibre of students entering Social Work (which is another shared recommendation among the reviews); however, it doesn’t measure interpersonal skills which is critical in Social Work. Excelling academically would work well if graduates were interesting in going into research, or if this was even an option, but maybe this needs to be coupled with an interview to assess their “people” skills.

3. Individual HEI’s entry selection processes need to be more rigorous and based on assessing candidates’ qualities in relation to a new framework of the social worker as a practitioner, the social worker as a professional, and the social worker as a social scientist, and to the domains in the PCF.

I agree with this but it needs to be a multifaceted approach. There needs to be some indication of the courses they have undertaken prior to entry (and I argue this education needs to include both social and behavioral sciences) and completing these to a high degree. There needs to be some indication of their verbal reasoning, critical thinking, analytical writing and judgement skills. There needs to be some indication that they can interact, to a high degree, with the public. The latter can be done through requiring a reference from a previous employer or volunteer supervisor.

4. Entry standards to the profession should be raised significantly. Minimum entry level at undergraduate level should be 300 UCAS points and at Masters level at least a 2:1 should be mandatory.

This one is difficult to assess for me as I was not trained here. I know as an undergraduate we had to fulfill pre-requisites prior to entering the Social Work Program and had to keep our grades at a certain level, not just for entry onto the Social Work program, but in order to keep our funding/scholarships. I believe standards are critical, at all times.

5. Student numbers should be rebalanced towards postgraduate entry, in line with the evidence from international comparisons as well as in recognition of the challenging nature of both qualification and practice.

I think this recommendation would depend on the need of market. If there is a need for more specialist Social Work, for instance in clinical settings that required more in depth study, then yes this would be appropriate. However, Social Work here is primarily from a Casework based model. With a solid and holistic base of Social Work skills, I believe Social Workers can be prepared at the undergraduate level to undertake the duties to which they will be assigned. However, should the scope of Social Work practice change and there is more of a need for extensive skill development beyond foundation then this would be appropriate. As I have mentioned, i believe there is scope to have the third year of Social Work education be a specialisation year.

Comparing what is happening internationally to what happens in England is irrelevant especially if there is no need for that level of skill, practically. That is, there is no reason to teach things that would make someone over qualified to practice in the area in which they live and would like to work.

6. Practice placements settings should be with a wide range of user groups including where there are integrated care pathways that draw on wider community services and resources.

I completely agree. I think Social Workers should be able to do placements in human rights agencies, community development organisations, international organisations, wherever their skills are needed. In an age where practice educators can be contracted there is no reason they cannot be. Even students in statutory placements have to be creative in how they meet every aspect of the professional capabilities framework. I think students in varied placements will be able to do good work.

7. Stakeholders…should be encouraged to play a greater part in the selection of students and the design and delivery of education, and I recommend an increase in funding to HEIs to achieve this engagement.

I think it is vital to have a range of professionals on the boards that select Social Work candidates. However, I don’t think they should be heavily reliant on employers as they have a particular agenda. I completely disagree with Social Work education training Social Workers for a particular track of Social Work. I believe undergraduate degrees should be generalist to provide a basic set of skills. However, there is validity in having a varied stakeholders contribute to the development of curricula, the selection process, placement evaluation and even the regulation of Social Work programs.

8. Knowledge about the capabilities and perspectives of other, related professions should be introduced into both curricula as a clear signal of this direction of travel of the profession in utilising the skills of other professions in social work and contributing social work skills to working in inter-professional partnerships.

I agree and again, I believe that the entry requirements for Social Work should include social and behavioral sciences. Having this background has been invaluable to me. It has allowed me to begin conversations with other professionals from a place of confidence. It has allowed me to ask the right questions in order to get the resources I need for my clients. It has aided in my ability to advocate for my clients.

9. All educational routes to qualification must demonstrate authentic pedagogical evidence that they will provide an in-depth knowledge of the fundamental conceptual frameworks for social work, to ensure that they equip students with the basis for a career in social work with all service user groups and in whatever settings they choose to work.

This has been my argument from the outset. There needs to be a clear set of core skills taught in universities that equip students to become Social Work Professionals.

10. All qualifying education should equip newly qualified social workers with the capability to engage in research throughout their career, inculcating an understanding that the ability to carry out research is an essential component in their future professional capability in practice.

Absolutely! I stated this in response to the previous review. Both my undergraduate and graduate (post graduate) education incorporated Social Research. As an undergraduate I had to complete a social research project from conceptualization to implementation and through to analysis. This was yet another invaluable experience. It allowed me to challenge information and my own hypothesis. I believe this was definitely part of the development of my professional judgment.

11. The current Practice Educator Professional Standards (PEPS) should be strengthened, and all practice educators and practice supervisors should have formal qualifications as educators, and in the case of practice educators as formal assessors: the formal training for which should be cited in the proposed new comprehensive continuing professional development (CPD) framework.

I don’t think practice educators need to be qualified as educators. I believe the course I undertook at Kingston University prepared me, to a degree, for contributing to the education and development of student Social Workers. I do believe that practice educators need to have a background in Social Work I think they should definitely go the on-site supervisor/work based supervisor route before undertaking the practice educator course, but they should definitely have a stable background in Social Work. Practice educators should also have some experience of managing Social Workers. I do not believe a background in education is needed explicitly.

12. Bringing together the standards of the HCPC and the endorsement criteria of TCSW into a new, single regulatory regime in which both the rigour of the regulatory process and the stringency of the levels assessed in regulation must be substantially strengthened. HCPC should continue to regulate social work education to these new standards.

The previous review recommended that The College of Social Work should be the regulatory body for the profession and I vehemently disagreed with this assertion. I believe regulation of any profession should be undertaken by an independent body with sufficient input from the professions members. I proposed in the above post that there should be representation from Social Work students, newly qualified Social Workers, a senior Social Work professional or manager, and a representative of a body that employs Social Workers.

13. Encouragement should be given to provide innovative routes to social work qualification, such as the fast track routes, and high expectations should be set so that they will enhance the overall quality of students at the point of qualification. Any such initiatives should be subject to a rigorous evaluation process in which action standards are set before such alternative routes are given approval and funding. As an underlying principle, social work education requires a thorough understanding of all stages in the life course, so this should be mandatory for all courses without exception. It is imperative that the opportunity that innovative course structures and content can provide are not invalidated by providing, and being seen to provide, a stripped-down form of social work education – a sort of “social work lite”, but seek to achieve higher learning outcomes than other routes. Their focus should be as a quality-enhancer, not a faster-provider.

I have been vocal in my disagreement with programs like Frontline Social Work because the reigning view was that the current standard of Social Work education was inadequate. I mean. how can you fast track someone through an education that is failing? However, if it goes as stated above then my concerns will be addressed. The above recommendations, if put into practice, would alleviate my fears of the types of professionals we would be bringing into the profession as well as the fears that their experience wouldn’t prepare them for the reality of Social Work. In addition there was the concern that the education they were provided wouldn’t equip them with the appropriate skills. However, I believe Professor Appleby is correcting in asserting that these types of programs need to ensure they are NOT “providing, and being seen to provide, a stripped-down form of social work education – a sort of “social work lite”, but seek to achieve higher learning outcomes than other routes.”

14. A key condition of the regulation of all courses leading to the professional qualification as a social worker is that all social workers should have the capability to work with all individuals, families, groups and communities and to do so in all settings and situations likely to be encountered, so that generic capability is not sacrificed on the altar of early specialism.

Yes! Yes! Yes! I said it before and I shall say it again. A Social Worker who is trained with generalist (or generic skills)) to work with a range of populations, can be a Social Worker anywhere. I am a product of such training and education. It has made me more confident. It has given me more options and it has given me a holistic view of my clients and their lived experiences. This is by far the most poignant recommendation and one which I stand by wholeheartedly. It is crucial not only for Social Work professionals but for the Social Work profession. There is nothing wrong with offering a specialisation if someone has figured out this is what they would like to do but specialisation should not be a mandatory part of Social Work education. It should be a choice.

15. The first year of post-qualifying work should form a probationary year, at the end of which a Licence to Practise will be awarded to those who pass as a result of a process of independent scrutiny and formal assessment of their capability to practise in the workplace.

I can’t say I agree with this one but then the initial years of my Social Work training incorporated more than is required here to enter a Social Work program. I stand by the education I received with 2 years of pre-requisites including behavioural and social sciences, algebra, statistics, and elective; however, I realize that this is not the way the education is structured here and there may be a need for this. I don’t think it is. Especially when practice teachers are required to do so much by way of proof for them to pass. And, if we’re saying they are not doing enough they they need to be assessed themselves. Personally I believe it is up tot he student to prove they are capable and this should be assessed by contributions, placement related papers/assignments etc. I think we should work on improving what is already in place. Having a year of probation is unnecessary. Licensure may by a good idea but I think the terms around which you need a license would need further exploration. What does it serve? What would distinguish licensed from unlicensed?

16. The current ASYE programme should be extended in scope to include all NQSWs entering practice. The requirements asked of employers engaged in the ASYE programme should be subject to a much more exacting and auditable process than is presently the case.

I say scrap the program altogether. If we are looking at doing things differently, the last things we need are more processes. Throwing policies and procedures at everything is not the way to ensure you’re getting quality. They have their education, they have their placements, they have job specific probation. Why would you add another process? Especially along side another program where they are shortening an already struggling education to get more bodies in seat better known as Frontline Social Work! ASYE does not need to exist. What needs to exist is a curriculum which is designed to assessed the skills, knowledge and abilities of Social Work students. What needs to exist are assignments that reflect the work being undertaken on placement so professors have an inclination as to the types od professionals that are developing. What needs to exist is a continuity of assessment in terms of those assessing learning on placements. There should be an advisor that is with the student throughout their education. Someone who can speak to the growth that is or isn’t happening which would feed into a final assessment. I don’t agree with the Assessed and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE) and I don’t agree with Frontline Social Work. I think they are irrelevant processes that complicate matters that already need attention.

17. The overall quality of the educational experience in practice placements must be improved, through the imposition of a much more rigorous audit as a requirement of eligibility for receipt of future ESG payment.

What exactly would constitute a more rigorous audit? I agree that there needs to be more investment from the organizations who are taking on students. I think they need to be more accountable for what the students are learning on this placement and I believe part of this learning should come from a central source (a dedicated Practice Educator or team of Practice Educators whose only job is to manage, supervise and support placements and students within the organization). I think organizations need to see students as students and this can be difficult when Practice Educators are also balancing an over extended work load. As far as the quality of placements determining payment, I don’t think it is a bad idea. Maybe it will serve to motivate, or maybe people will just become better liars. OR maybe I’m being a bit cynical. Hmm?

18. The quality assurance processes of the HEIs should be more consistent, and where different sources of information are utilised, a systematic methodology of triangulation of evidence should be pursued in order to have reliable Quality Assurance processes throughout social work education.

I am not in a position to comment on this because I don’t know what the internal processes of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) is, but I think they need to rethink the way they assess student ability.

19. Priority should be given to increase significantly the ESG funding support to employers to ensure the provision of high quality placements. This funding should include support for the 30 day Developing Skills for Practice module; the involvement of service users and carers in all aspects of educational provision; and the training of practice educators and practice supervisors. As a condition of this financial support, inspection of placements must be much more comprehensive and rigorous than at present, including inspection visits to placements, as well as inspection of the quality assurance processes.

I am not sure if this is a priority but I do think the funding provided to employers should cover the training of practice educators and practice supervisors. I think this education needs to cover completely the expectations of the university in terms of the evidence needed to pass as well as all the policies and procedures for students who may not be on target to pass. I think this should also fund the ability of practice educators to support students on placement including support groups and dedicated skills workshops. Inspection of placements is imperative to ensure that students are able to get and are getting the experiences they need to fulfill the requirements of their degrees. I believe a checklist of organizational characteristics should be drawn up and every organization applying to take on students should have everything or access to learning resources to ensure that students can get a full experience. There should be regular reviews of placements to ensure that practices continue to be such that students are able to have a fulfilling experience that equips them with the opportunities to develop as professionals.

20. There is a pressing need for a new comprehensive continuing professional development, CPD, framework for the profession. CPD should be based on the social worker as a practitioner, the social worker as a professional, and the social worker as a social scientist, and related to the domains in the PCF.

Personally, I believe that continuing professional development is the responsibility of the practitioner. My approach to CPD is filling the gaps and refreshing my knowledge base. There is always new research on domestic violence, substance misuse, mental health etc. Not to mention the fact that these issues become more and more complicated. Furthermore, the population trends change so rapidly that as professionals we need to know what skills we should possess to address what is going on in the community. Now, this could be in the way of training provided directly by an organization or the organization forming partnerships with those who specialize in various types of work to educate its workforce. In order for this to be effective however, Social Workers needs manageable caseloads so there is no guilt in attending development activities or training. Managers also need to be willing to step in where a Social Worker is out to ensure they have that dedicated time to learn and assimilate what they have learned so it can become embedded in their practice.

21. Once the recommended Licence to Practise has been introduced, then there should be a process of revalidation by which licensed social workers are required to demonstrate that they are fit to practise. Revalidation aims to give confidence to service users that their social worker is being regularly checked by their employer and the professional organisation responsible for awarding the license. Licensed social workers should have to revalidate at least every five years, by having comprehensive formal appraisals that are based on the social worker as a practitioner, the social worker as a professional, and the social worker as a social scientist, and the PCF as the core guidance for social workers.

If I had to do this I would never have become a Social Worker. Is he proposing that on top of your yearly performance appraisal we have another appraisal to keep licensure? In other words, yet another process? I don’t think licensure is warranted here if I am honest. However, if these recommendations are taken on board then why not just develop a tool which focuses on the practice of the Social Worker? They have to be appraised in any organization in which they work, why introduce something new? Employers are certainly going to have to make changes if this becomes practice just make sure they are trained to use and are using the appraisal developed by whichever board is going to be looking into this piece of work? Then, when it is time for revalidation, the employer sends in the most recent appraisal with a development plan. They need to stop with all the processes. It’s too much.

22. Investment should be increased in Strategic Workforce Development, the Education Support Grant, the ASYE programme (to prepare for instigating a Licence to Practise), and in Continuing Professional Development. The Student Bursary funding for postgraduates should be maintained but made subject to a means test, and undergraduate bursaries should be reduced in numbers and amount, or gradually phased out.

I agree with his initial statement. Strategic workforce development is a must. We need to stop throwing Social Workers into the economy where they are not needed and hold those who are practicing accountable for the work they are doing. They need to be taken to task for the shortcomings in their practice. Where they are not they need to be moved on. Managers need to take responsibility for documenting efforts to assist and where plans are not being adhered to or met with resistance then disciplinary procedures need to be followed and the individual needs to be asked to leave. The Education Support Grant (ESG) I talked about early. The ASYE program I talked about early as well as CPD. I don’t believe undergraduate bursaries should be phased out. I think there needs to more market analysis and the number of bursaries given should be equivalent to what is needed by employers so there are no more Social Workers than is needed. There needs to be regular market analysis and workforce planning happening in Social Work. Of all the professions from which we borrow, business needs to be one of them to avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve seen in recent years.

Overall, I saw this as a more comprehensive review of Social Work education as well as an unbiased review. There is work to be done and one can only hope that Sir Narey and Professor Appleby are able to come together and jointly work with all applicable stakeholders to develop a coherent plan as to how to go forward.

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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in The Social World


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