4 Practice placements |
95. To achieve either the Bachelor's or Master's
degree, students must undertake 200 days of assessed practice.
This must include placements in at least two contrasting practice
settings with two different client groups, and experience of statutory
social work tasks involving legal interventions in at least one
of their placements. Just under half (48.4%) of placements in
2006-07 were in local authorities; 24.4% in a voluntary agency;
5% in a private agency; 3.7% in health settings and 2.8% in education
settings. On the
definition used by the GSCC, however, 58% of placements were classified
as 'statutory' because they gave students some experience of statutory
tasks. In terms
of the social work focus, by some way the largest category of
practice placements is children and families work, accounting
for more than a quarter of all placements in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Supply of practice placements
96. The current requirement for 200 placement
days is an increase from 130 days under the previous Diploma in
Social Work qualification. Combined with the 37% increase in students
that has taken place since the degrees were introduced, this has
placed considerable strain on the supply of good quality placements,
particularly in the statutory sector.
Bridget Robb recalled that
The Government then put a lot of money into sending
people out to create placements to meet the need, but they created
the placements by going to all parts of the children's and social
care work forces. We have seen the results of that and have learned
about the disadvantages, so now we are challenged to rethink how
we support local authorities.
97. We heard about the difficulties posed by
under-supply of placements from the recently-qualified social
workers we spoke to. Several had been offered placements that
were not only outside the statutory social work arena, they were
not even supervised by qualified social workers. These included
placements in schools and GP surgeries. In these circumstances,
some students were so concerned about the learning they would
get from such a placement that undertook to arrange their own.
One social worker characterised the situation as "a total
John Barraclough of London Metropolitan University commented that
universities continually have to "persuade, cajole and occasionally
beg agencies to provide student placements." This makes it
impossible to plan placements well, and every year a proportion
of students cannot be placed at the right time.
Less than a quarter of respondents to a survey of heads of university
social work departments thought that the supply of statutory sector
placements is adequate.
The survey results also show that only 37% of universities were
able to report that all of their students had at least one placement
in a local authority in which they were taught and assessed by
a qualified social worker.
Sue Berelowitz told us that because of the lack of placements,
"people are desperate and take whatever they get".
98. There is a sharp contrast with how training
placements are organised in some other professions. In social
work, Cafcass argued, supply of placements "is overly dependent
on the initiative and commitment of individual employers who may
struggle to prioritise and fund this area with other competing
demands", whereas in medicine and teaching, training new
entrants and being involved in assessing them "is a more
central part of the culture and structure".
Andrew Webb commented: "Why the profession does not make
space in its daily delivery to bring on the next generation is
a question that we are looking atany good profession should
99. The consensus view is that local authorities
do not offer more practice placements because it is difficult
to accommodate students in workplaces already under pressure from
vacancies and high workloads.
Heather Wakefield of Unison told us:
I am sure that you know that there are very high
vacancy rates. There are high levels of agency staff, with even
higher turnover, in most social work departments in most local
authorities across the land. That is a general picture. There
are people out there working under absolutely enormous pressure.
I absolutely agree that there should be a high statutory component
within placements for student social workers, but I think that
to expect departmentsgiven the pressure that many of them
are underto give the requisite degree of supervision and
adequate time and space to social work students is a very big
ask indeed. I am sure that it is not unwillingness on the part
of local authorities, which are struggling to meet, as we know,
their own statutory commitments.
These pressures, said Bridget Robb, bring about a
widespread perception that taking on students is "a burden,
rather than part of the solution".
100. Part of the role of the Children's Workforce
Development Council, in partnership with Skills for Care (the
adult social care sector skills council), is supporting employers
to provide practice placements.
Rather than subjecting employers to a requirement to make placements
available, Jane Haywood, CWDC's Chief Executive, reasoned that
quality placements were more likely to be generated by "people
who want to do it and see that it is important, not from people
who are forced to do it."
The General Social Care Council argued that a formal requirement
for partnerships between higher education institutions and employers
would help; in
some parts of the country partnerships have already made important
contributions to improving supply.
Incentives to employers was the favoured approach of Universities
101. A performance indicator for social work
practice learning was introduced for local authorities in 2003
but discontinued in April 2008; in the higher education sector
there is a widespread feeling that its discontinuation has contributed
to serious difficulties in some areas in securing enough quality
the GSCC stated that there is "anecdotal" evidence that
the availability of statutory placements has reduced, they reported
having no evidence to attribute this to the withdrawal of the
102. Funding for practice placements was raised
as a factor in placement supply by employers, who reported that
the placement fee does not meet the substantial cost of providing
supervision, training, and support for the student.
Practice learning funding is paid by the General Social Care Council
to universities, who then pass it on to employers hosting placements.
The rates since April 2005 have been £18 per day in the statutory
sector and £28 per day in the voluntary sector.
Universities are obliged to pass on the fully daily rate unless
there has been an agreement that the university will supply some
of the assessment or supervision needed to support the placement.
Although we heard an argument that universities are more reliable
custodians of practice placement funding than employers,
Bruce Clark of Cafcass told us that institutions do not in fact
always pass on the full sum to employers; he reported that some
have offered Cafcass as little as £4 a day.
Although Cafcass make a loss on the placements they provide, they
are willing to absorb this because of the "non-financial
benefits" of hosting placements. For local authorities, these
ought to include supporting local higher education institutions,
to which they can send staff to gain qualifications, and from
which they can expect to recruit social workers in the future.
Bridget Robb suggested that employers ought to correlate the number
of placements they offer with the number of posts for new social
workers they expect to need to fill two years hence.
103. Training future and current
members of the profession must be seen as a core part of the social
work task and a fundamental responsibility of employers. This
should be reflected in performance frameworks; specifically, Ofsted
should take into account how effectively a local authority provides
for and delivers placements for social work students and further
development of its workforce when assessing children's services.
104. Workforce planning should
provide a centrally-driven mechanism for judging the numbers of
students for which a local authority should be providing placements.
Employers should commit to providing placements as part of a comprehensive
partnership with higher education institutions, and this must
happen in advance of student intakes. It is unacceptable that
students have to accept below-par arrangements at the last minute
when universities are unable to persuade local authority employers
to provide placements.
105. Arrangements for funding
placements should be reviewed to ensure that the amount received
reflects the true cost and the division of responsibilities. Funding
should be allocated to formal partnerships of universities and
employers, rather than passed on from one to the other.
106. The Department of Health and Department
for Children, Schools & Families jointly established a Social
Work Development Partnership in 2008. The Departments told us
that the Partnership "is responsible for the development
of appropriate, high quality practice education and continuing
professional development opportunities for social workers. The
primary focus on the work to date has been on developing quality
measures for practice placements and developing additional capacity,
particularity in the statutory sector."
The Partnership was mentioned only once in our evidence,
outside the Government's own evidence, which leads us to doubt
that it has yet impinged much on the consciousness of employers
or universities. We note that an initiative with similar aims,
the Practice Learning Taskforce, was funded by the Department
of Health to run from January 2003 to March 2006.
107. In the light of our findings
about the remits of the various social work sector bodies, we
question the wisdom of setting up another body, the Social Work
Development Partnership, to oversee the development of practice
placement quality and supply. We expect that the 'Social Work
Development Agency' which we have proposed would be charged with
overseeing the necessary changes.
Type of practice placements
108. Placements make up half of students' time
on qualifying courses, so the type of placements a student undertakes
is a very important influence on the overall skills and knowledge
they acquire through initial training.
Lord Laming highlighted the fact that, because of a lack of the
right sort of placements, it is possible to start work as a new
children's social worker without any practical experience of child
of this, employers are choosy about the placements a candidate
has done when recruiting permanent staff. Eleni Ioannides, Director
of Children's Services at Bury Council, told us that "in
my authority, we will not employ social workers unless they have
had not only a child care placement, but a statutory child care
placement. Otherwise, we find that they don't stay and we can't
There have been suggestions that some employers elect to carry
vacancies rather than filling them with new social workers whose
experience of statutory work is lacking.
Bruce Clark commented that
I don't think that any employer should employ as
a children's social worker someone who has not had a final placement,
not only in a children's social work setting, but in a statutory
children's social work setting [
] my experience as a social
work manager over many years and in many agencies is that many
social work placements are not in the mainstream and have little
concept of the statutory construct within social work.
109. Both Unison and the British Association
of Social Workers proposed tighter restrictions on the type of
placements that make a student eligible for qualification.
There has also been some criticism of the GSCC requirement for
a student's two placements to be 'contrasting'. Liz Davies, Senior
Lecturer at London Metropolitan University, told us that "that
is not good enough, because it means that students can do two
adult placementsproviding they are differentin mental
health, older people and so on." She stated that in her opinion,
the social worker in charge of Baby Peter's case had been "set
up to fail" because both her placements had been in adult
services, and she had no post-qualifying training in child protection.
110. The selection of new social workers according
to the placements they have undertaken should not happen by default
at the point of recruitment by local authorities: it should be
an integral part of the requirements for passing the degree course.
Although a case could be made for decoupling graduation from attaining
the professional qualification, we consider that it would be more
straightforward for existing requirements simply to be more strictly
defined and more rigorously applied. It
is not sufficient to stipulate that students should get "experience
of statutory social work tasks involving legal interventions".
It should not be possible for a student to achieve a Bachelor's
or Master's degree in social work without having undertaken at
least one of their placements in a statutory social work agency,
and without being supervised and assessed by a qualified social
worker in both of their placements. Information should be readily
available to prospective students about any courses which have
a poor track record in securing the requisite placements.
111. In the interim, consideration
should be given to reducing the length of individual placements,
if this would help to ensure that every student has a placement
in a statutory service. We consider that quality of placements
is more important than the number of placement days.
Quality of practice placements
112. Responsibility for ensuring that practice
learning opportunities are of a good quality and that there are
sufficient numbers of appropriate practice educators to support
and assess students in their placements lies with universitiesthere
is no direct quality assessment by the GSCC.
The GSCC and CWDC both expressed scepticism about higher education
institutions' self-reporting that only 82 of the 11,500 placements
provided in 2007-08 failed to meet their own quality standards.
Rosie Varley, Chair of the GSCC, noted that the formula for placement
funding at present takes account only of numbers of students,
not the quality of the placements provided.
CWDC argued that universities should be held accountable for "the
quality and relevance of their arrangements" for practice
partnership with CWDC and Skills for Care, the GSCC are piloting
a new 'tool' for assessing the quality of placements, with the
intention of making it a compulsory part of the quality assurance
113. The majority (86%) of heads of university
social work departments responding to a survey considered that
the quality of placements provided by statutory sector employers
was either 'good' or 'excellent'.
Evaluation of the social work degree carried out for the Department
of Health found that 78% of students rated their placements as
good or better. However, it was also found that not all agencies
could offer a useful range of work experience, that the quality
of assessment was variable, and that some students received inadequate
support and supervision during their placement.
The NSPCC claimed that efforts to raise and guarantee the quality
of practice placements have been abandoned because of the difficulty
of getting enough placements.
There is concern that in some settings, students on placements
are overloaded with inappropriately advanced work to absorb some
of the pressure in teams with vacancies.
Professor June Thoburn argued that "there is urgent need
for the placement experience of each student to be more tightly
114. Quality assurance of placements
should not be delegated to universities alone. The quality of
practice placements must be taken into account explicitly in overall
inspections of both university courses and local authority children's
115. Research commissioned by CWDC and Skills
for Care has found significant differences between councils in
the roles, qualifications and experience of practitioners who
were supporting students on placements.
Some local authorities employ dedicated 'Practice Learning Co-ordinators',
but others have no-one within the organisation to oversee placements,
and some co-ordinators are located in general human resources
teams where there may be less knowledge of training requirements
specific to social work.
The Association of Directors of Children's Services argued that
central Government funding for 'placement managers' in every local
authority would protect the function from local budget cuts.
116. Department of Health requirements state
that each student must "be assessed as competent and safe
to practise by a qualified and experienced social worker"
but do not stipulate that placements must be directly supervised
by someone with those attributes.
Some practice learning takes place in settings
which do not employ qualified social workers, so that a student's
work is supervised by members of another profession.
Even when the supervisor is a social worker, they may not always
be on site with the student.
117. The fact that those with responsibility
for students on placement typically receive little in the way
of status or remuneration to compensate for the extra time and
responsibility was cited by several organisations as a factor
restricting placement supply.
Professor John Carpenter noted that among the many things that
doctors would find surprising about social work education are
the fact that senior members of the profession are not expected
or required to teach new entrants, and "the lack of recognition
accorded to those social work practitioners who do teach [
Many of those who do take a student on placement do so only two
or three times and so do not build experience."
Eleni Ioannides explained that her authority pays an honorarium
to practice teachers, but "it is not seen as part of their
An independent practice teacher described how long journeys, low
pay and long waits for payment lead to those experienced in this
field withdrawing their services.
118. An expectation that teams
and individuals contribute to the training of future generations
of social workers should be supported by reforms to pay scales
and structured career progression. Practice teaching must be built
into job descriptions so that social workers are not expected
to undertake practice teaching on top of their normal workload
but as an integral part of it, with commensurate reductions in
the caseload they are expected to carry. In theory these changes
could be achieved by local authorities on their own initiative,
but the evidence we have received shows that this is not happening
to any great extent. We recommend therefore that the Government
consider ways of developing these features of the workforce on
a national basis. Later
in the report, we will consider how this could partly be achieved
by developing a national framework for pay and career progression.
119. Because the social work qualifying degrees
were only introduced in 2003, the majority of the current workforceand
therefore, the majority of potential practice teachersqualified
through a two-year Diploma in Social Work. The Deputy Children's
Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, argued that "low thresholds"
to qualification through the Diploma mean that current practice
teachers have not been subject to the same academic rigour in
their training as the students they are now supervising.
120. A Practice Teaching Award was introduced
with the Diploma in 1992 to prepare qualified social workers for
the task of supervising student placements. This award was superseded
in 2005 by the introduction of the GSCC's new Post-Qualifying
Framework, under which a five-day module on 'Enabling Learning'
is included in every 'specialist' Post-Qualifying Award (the first
of three levels). Views on the reasons for and impact of this
change vary. Dramatically increased demand for placements may
have made it unrealistic in the short term to expect all practice
teachers to hold a relevant qualification.
Moira Gibb commented that the old Practice Teaching Award required
a considerable commitment from hard-pressed social workers.
Mike Wardle of the General Social Care Council explained that
the GSCC's reasoning for withdrawing the Award was that:
our evidence showed that most people who had taken
that qualification only ever managed to supervise one student
in their career after they got the qualification. It was a very
good qualification for learning management and for learning how
to supervise staff. [
] but it was not delivering what it
was intended to deliver, which was a cadre of people in the profession
who specialised in being practice teachers and taking on students.
Therefore, the direction that we have taken is that every single
specialist Post-Qualifying Award in our new framework includes
a module that is about supervising and mentoring others, whether
they are students or staff, to try to achieve exactly that goal
and so that the whole profession takes responsibility for supervising
and mentoring, and the development of the future profession of
social work. That is the intention. We are still in the early
stages for that new award and we do not yet have enough evidence
to say whether it has been a successful development. However,
we think that it is a step in the right direction.
121. John Barraclough commented that "in
the eyes of many, [the withdrawal of the Practice Teaching Award]
constituted a downgrading of practice teaching."
Eleni Ioannides spoke in favour of a stand-alone practice teaching
qualification; Bruce Clark suggested that it would be helpful
if a single set of standards for practice teachers, and a single
route to becoming a practice teacher, were adopted.
Professor June Thoburn argued: "no student should qualify
who has not, for the majority of their time on placement (and
specifically for their final placement), been taught as well as
assessed by a qualified and experienced social worker who has
undertaken training as a practice educator".
122. Requirements for placements
should be amended to stipulate that all placements be supervised
by qualified and experienced social workers who either hold or
are working towards specific qualifications in practice teaching.
Withdrawal of the dedicated Practice Teaching Award has given
a damaging impression of the status of practice teaching in social
work, and consideration should be given to reinstating it. Training
enough of the current workforce to the right level will require
'pump-priming' with dedicated funding. This
could be done while retaining the new 'Enabling Learning' modules
in specialist-level Post-Qualifying awards.
226 Ev 52 Back
GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 65 Back
GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), p 14 Back
Q 125 [Mike Wardle]; Ev 28 Back
Q 46 Back
See Annex Back
Ev 152-3; see also Ev 198. Back
Ev 206 Back
Ev 207 Back
Q 274 Back
Ev 84 Back
Q 36 Back
Qq 37, 125 [Keith Brumfitt], 207, 314 Back
Q 45 Back
Q 47 Back
Ev 46 Back
Q 120 Back
Ev 53 Back
Ev 190 Back
Ev 26; see also Q 274 [Cathy Ashley] Back
Ev 33, 198 Back
Ev 52 Back
Ev 84, 87; Q 188 [Eleni Ioannides] Back
General Social Care Council Back
Qq 88, 92 Back
Q 190 Back
Q 186 [Bruce Clark] Back
Q 58 Back
Ev 127-8 Back
Q 46 Back
Ev 50, 194 Back
Lord Laming, The Protection of Children in England: a progress
report HC 330 (March 2009), para 5.10 Back
Q 193; see also Q 195 [Bruce Clark]. Back
'Students are undertaking practice learning without social worker
supervision', Community Care, 10 December 2008 Back
Q 195 Back
Ev 12, 17; see also Qq 99 [Jane Haywood], 274 [Sue Berelowitz]. Back
Q 136 Back
Ev 52 Back
Ev 46 Back
Q 120 Back
Ev 44 Back
Q 125 [Mike Wardle] Back
See Annex Back
Department of Health, Evaluation of the new social work degree
qualification in England (July 2008) Back
Ev 109 Back
Ev 104, 184 Back
Ev 181 Back
CWDC and Skills for Care, Sustaining Practice Learning
(April 2009) Back
Ev 29 Back
Ev 87 Back
Ev 52 Back
Ev 171; Qq 71, 136 [Liz Davies] Back
Qq 136 [Liz Davies], 274 [Sue Berelowitz] Back
Ev 194; Q 188 [Bruce Clark, Eleni Ioannides] Back
Ev 171 Back
Q 188 Back
Ev 168-9 Back
Q 280; Ev 104 Back
Qq 73 [Hilary Tompsett], 275 [Enid Hendry] Back
Q 38 Back
Q 126 Back
Ev 153, 168 Back
Qq 208 [Eleni Ioannides], 231; see also Q 274 [Sue Berelowitz]. Back
Ev 181 Back