2 Entry to the profession |
41. Social work demands a great deal of those
who practise it. Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of the Family Rights
Group, emphasised that a high standard should be expected from
entrants to the profession because "it is a job in which
you are investing the state's responsibility for protecting the
most vulnerable children and families".
Professor Lena Dominelli, giving evidence on behalf of Universities
UK, outlined the qualities needed to be a social worker:
For social workers, we have to aim at three different
levels of competences. First, their personal skills as individuals:
how do they relate to others and how do they understand how others
operate? Then there is what I call the emotional dimension: how
are they affected by really complicated and sometimes devastating
situations that people have to respond to? Finally, there are
the intellectual, knowledge and practical skills. I think that
those things have to be co-ordinated to produce a good social
worker. If you handle only one of themeither the intellectual
or emotional, for examplewithout the practical and without
bringing them all together, you are not going to make it as a
Several witnesses were keen to stress the intellectual
dimension of the social work task, and the analytical, cognitive
and writing skills that it requires.
Moira Gibb, Chair of the Social Work Task Force, concluded that
"you need both academic and emotional intelligence".
42. There is considerable concern that the intellectual
aspect of the social work task is not consistently reflected in
the level of qualifications held by those embarking on social
work degrees. All
applicants must have achieved at least Key Skills Level 2 in English
and mathematics and have undergone a Criminal Records Bureau check,
but beyond this, higher education institutions set their own academic
Almost half of students entering social work undergraduate degree
programmes in 2006-7 had fewer than 240 UCAS points (3 grade Cs
or equivalent at A level), compared to fewer than a quarter of
entrants to teaching and nursing degrees.
Source: Ev 126
43. The range of UCAS points held by applicants
appears to be significantly greater in social work than in nursing,
medicine or teaching, and while courses and universities with
good reputations can have their pick of students boasting A and
B grades at A level, we heard that others admit students with
E grades. The Joint
Universities Council reported complaints from some employers about
the standards of literacy amongst graduates from social work courses.
It is important to note, however, that a substantial proportion
of the total number of students embarking on social work qualifying
coursesprincipally those studying for Master's degreesalready
hold a first degree. In 2007-08, this group made up 24% of the
44. Heather Wakefield, National Secretary of
Unison's Local Government Services Group, argued that A-level
scores are less important than ensuring that the social work workforce
reflects the composition of the population.
However, Professor Sue White drew attention to what she called
the "contradictory imperatives" of widening access to
the profession, and ensuring that entry and assessment is robust
enough to keep the standard of the workforce high.
The General Social Care Council identify this tension as an aspect
of the Government's drive to widen participation in higher education
in general, to which social work courses have contributed.
The Children's Workforce Development Council advocated "a
more rigorous recruitment and selection process, with high expectations".
45. The British Association of Social Workers
(BASW) has proposed that a "national benchmark" for
A-level entry onto undergraduate social work courses be adopted.
Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz drew a comparison
with the teaching profession, where, after some years of crisis,
there is now healthy competition to get onto teacher training
courses and thereafter into teaching posts: "That is not
about lowering the benchmark. [
] if the standards are high,
the standing of the profession goes up, and that becomes a virtuous
circle. We need to get out of the vicious cycle that we are in
46. Two main objections were made in our evidence
to the idea of a national benchmark imposing higher academic entry
requirements. The first is that A-levels are not necessarily a
good, nor the only, indicator of future success on the social
work course or in employment.
The second is that capable candidates with the right personal
qualities, particularly mature candidates, could be discouraged
or excluded from social work training by a rigid emphasis on A-level
Wakefield argued that life experience is as important as academic
qualifications: "there are very many people with relevant
experience who could, and arguably should, be trained as social
workersthey don't have A-levels at all, but would make
excellent social workers."
The Association of Professors of Social Work pointed out that
some universities have developed a range of selection procedures
in order to assess potential and capability in more imaginative
ways. The Minister,
Baroness Morgan, admitted that she found the statistics on UCAS
points "troubling" but cautioned that they "do
not always tell a very straight story. We want to welcome mature
students and people with life skills who may have come into social
work through an unconventional route."
47. A-levels are an imperfect
measure of potential, but as they are a proxy for the intellectual
ability that social work students need we wish to see an improvement
in the average grades required for acceptance to undergraduate
social work training. This should not, however, preclude universities
ensuring that they have the means of offering places to experienced
applicants who lack an academic background but whose personal
attributes would be valuable assets to the profession.
48. Application processes need to assess not
only academic ability, but also whether a candidate possesses
the personal qualities needed to be an effective social worker.
Intervening to protect children requires courage as well as skill,
and the ability to handle risk, uncertainty, stress and conflict.
The NSPCC conducted a brief consultation with young people about
their views of social workers. Among the traits they highlighted
were: being a good listener; sincerity and honesty; reliability;
understanding and empathy; respectfulness; calmness and confidence.
To this list the Association of Directors of Children's Services
added resilience, fairness and reluctance to pre-judge.
One young woman told the NSPCC that "social workers should
have experience with young people in general [
] Having a
social worker qualification does not mean you can or have the
experience to work with young people."
The Family Rights Group reported that many parents express concern
about qualities of social workers such as perceived prejudices
and lack of knowledge about issues affecting their families, and
the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services complained
about lack of respect shown by social workers to parents.
49. The General Social Care Council (GSCC) state
there is a rigorous selection process for entry to
the social work degree, stipulated by the Department of Health.
This includes requirements that entrants should possess appropriate
personal and intellectual qualities to be social workers. All
short-listed applicants must be assessed through group or individual
interviews, which should involve employers and people who use
services and their carers.
Mike Wardle, Chief Executive of the GSCC, explained
that existing requirements "give various general statements
about the types of quality you should be looking for [
and say you must have a process to make that selection",
but that "there is no nationally prescribed guidance as to
exactly what you are looking for and what you should be doing
when selecting students".
50. Bournemouth University commented that "we
need to be clearer about fitness for practice and this is where
the regulator can help; leaving this to universities may create
Enid Hendry, representing the NSPCC, commended some universities
for involving children and young people in their selection processes,
but suggested that assessment of students could more regularly
involve observing social workers' interactions with children and
young people. The
Family Rights Group argued that universities should take into
consideration the applicant's personal history and motivation
in choosing to train as a social worker.
Professor Sue White said that universities have an opportunity
to develop imaginative methods of assessing candidates' emotional
aptitude for the job.
In particular, there may be opportunities to involve employers
more closely in application processes, to ensure that candidates
show potential to develop the personal qualities needed to be
an effective social worker.
51. The 'Social Work Development
Agency' that we have proposed should make available more guidance
about best practice in assessing the personal qualities of applicants
to social work degrees. We are encouraged to hear that some universities
involve service users already, and we believe this should become
standard practice. Employers should be routinely involved in application
processes to help universities identify those candidates with
the potential to be effective social workers, not just successful
52. Surrey County Council argued that prior experience
in the field, such as in a support role in children's social care,
is a much better way to test an individual's aptitude for the
work than academic study.
It also enables candidates to get a better understanding and more
realistic view of the work they are studying for.
One recently-qualified social worker who worked for a year in
residential care before commencing her studies told us that she
still draws on that experience every day.
53. Previous practical work
experience in related fields seems to us an immensely valuable
attribute to bring to the study and practice of social work. This
should be taken into account in application procedures, and consideration
should be given to making it a mandatory requirement.
Fast track and other routes
54. The Children's Workforce Development Council
put forward the view that "the number of entry routes to
the profession should be increased, so that it is easier and more
attractive for a wider range of talented and committed people
to qualify as social workers."
One of these possible alternative routes is through a Foundation
degree, which could function as a way to qualify staff to work
in roles supporting and supervised by social workers, or which
could be preparatory to a social work degree.
Diplomas and apprenticeships offer other possible routes.
The NSPCC have developed a traineeship scheme which attracted
over 3,000 applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds in its
first year. However, they reported facing a number of barriers
to introducing an NVQ route to a social work qualification: "academic
elitism, the extra work involved for universities, and less revenue
from courses if students are exempted from some elements of the
55. The Children's Workforce Development Council
is developing options for a fast track to social work for mature
graduates with experience in "allied professional areas".
There was significant anxiety about such a proposal in our evidence
from the academic community, largely because of the breadth of
theory and practice which social workers must assimilate during
Whilst an undergraduate degree takes three years, the time available
for communicating the knowledge base is limited by the requirement
for 200 placement days. Professor John Carpenter cited research
showing that the topic of first degree does not make a significant
difference to the final outcomes or marks of students taking the
Master's in social work.
Professor June Thoburn wrote that
I do not believe that it is possible to compress
the knowledge component of the qualifying social work curriculum
any more than at present, even for those with 'relevant' degrees.
Past experience [
] taught us that there was too much room
for interpretation about what was 'relevant'. Degrees in sociology,
psychology, social policy and law, and professional qualifications
in nursing or teaching, for example, all left students with much
ground still to cover, and the need for time to re-appraise earlier
learning in the light of the realities of social work practice.
Anything less than 18 months' full-time study, Professor
Thoburn argued, would "compromise standards at the point
Professor Michael Preston-Shoot rejected the idea of a fast track
to social work qualification because of the distinctiveness and
complexity of social work "and the fact that getting people
to the point at which they are ready to begin their journey of
practice cannot, and should not, be rushed."
56. Dr Eileen Munro, however, offered qualified
support for the idea of a 'fast track' when applied to mature
students, supported by high-quality supervision.
Surrey County Council were keen to see alternative routes developed
through foundation degrees, and even shorter 'intensive' foundation
degrees for those with extensive relevant professional experience
such as youth workers or police officers. They considered that
people already working in the field would not need the same amount
of time for practice placements, and that quicker qualification
would help to ease the current staffing shortages.
57. We are persuaded that there
is little scope for routinely compressing the content of the social
work degrees into a shorter, 'fast track' package. However, as
an option for students with relevant experience, a clear idea
of what sort of social work they wish to specialise in, or prior
qualifications incorporating clearly relevant content, a 'fast
track' would make a valuable contribution to increasing opportunities
for applicants through non-traditional routes.
58. 'Grow Your Own' (GYO) is a term referring
to schemes whereby a student is supported and funded through their
social work studies by an organisation that will employ them once
qualified. These schemes can take various forms, principally secondments
or sponsorships of current employees, or traineeships into which
external candidates are recruited. The proportion of schemes falling
into the latter category has recently increased, and as employers
often prefer the Master's routebeing shorter and therefore
cheaperthis has increased opportunities for highly-qualified
external recruits, sometimes at the expense of internal candidates
with long experience in the sector. Heather Wakefield, representing
Unison, reported evidence from its members that it is increasingly
difficult for unqualified staff to obtain secondments to gain
a social work degree; "we are being told that they have to
resign from their jobs and apply for bursaries if that is what
they want to do."
59. The benefits of GYO schemes include students'
prior experience in the fieldtraineeships often include
a pre-study year in employmentand one or more guaranteed
on these schemes are also less likely to withdraw from courses.
However, of the 2007-08 intake onto social work degrees, only
10.4% were studying on employment-based routes.
Research carried out for the General Social Care Council found
evidence of local authorities cutting back their GYO schemes because
they are unwilling to commit to funding places over a number of
years when working within annual budgets.
This is especially so when an authority feels there is no guarantee
a student supported in this way will remain with them in the long
60. We consider the proportion
of students on Grow Your Own schemes to be surprisingly low. These
schemes appear to be a concrete way in which employers can exert
more influence on the type of training and preparation they wish
social work students to receive, as well as an important route
into the profession for people with highly relevant skills and
experience. We recommend that the Government consider funding
arrangements that would encourage more local authorities to offer
more of these opportunities. GYO schemes
could be a particularly fertile ground for the 'fast track' study
options discussed above.
66 Q 260 Back
Q 75 Back
Qq 23, 69 [Professor White], 281; Ev 103 Back
Q 24 Back
Q 82; Ev 31, 105 Back
GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 8 Back
Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2020 Workforce
Strategy: the evidence base (2008), p 32; Ev 126 Back
Q 24, 258, 261; Ev 31, 85 Back
Ev 28 Back
Ev 48 Back
Q 42 Back
Q 70 [Professor White]; see also Q 258. Back
GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 28 Back
Ev 44 Back
Ev 14 Back
Q 258 Back
Ev 17, 26, 31 Back
Q 80; Ev 26, 183, 197 Back
Q 42; see also Q 239 [James Brown]. Back
Ev 31 Back
Q 306 Back
Ev 146; Q 238 [Sue Berelowitz] Back
Q 235 Back
Ev 86 Back
Ev 121-3 Back
Ev 103, 174 Back
GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 8 Back
Q 101 Back
Ev 150 Back
Q 238; see also Q 238 [Sue Berelowitz], Ev 83. Back
Ev 103 Back
Q 75 Back
Q 239 [James Brown]; Ev 2, 44, 180, 195, 201 Back
Ev 200 Back
Ev 167 Back
See Annex Back
Ev 44 Back
Ev 27, 32, 179 Back
Ev 188-9 Back
Ev 107 Back
Ev 44 Back
Ev 27 Back
Ev 172 Back
Ev 180-1 Back
Ev 180-1 Back
Q 181 Back
Q 181 Back
Ev 199 Back
Q 41 Back
Ev 204 Back
GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), p iii Back
GSCC, What works in Grow Your Own initiatives for social work?
(December 2008), p55; see also Ev 82. Back
Ev 200 Back