Social work courses too easy to pass, say MPs
Social work training is unfit for purpose, according to a damning report by MPs out today. The Commons select committee for children, schools and families warns that children’s lives are being put at risk because social workers are not being prepared adequately for the challenges they face.
The root cause lies in sub-standard degree courses. The report cited evidence “from several quarters” that the degree is too easy to pass, while some social work courses have a reputation for being hard to fail.
Children’s charity the NSPCC told the committee that its practice teachers had on occasion come under pressure to pass students whom they felt should not be allowed to proceed further.
Urging an investigation into whether the funding arrangements for degree courses act as a perverse incentive to pass unsuitable students, the committee says: “It is unacceptable that social work courses, or any element of them, should have a reputation for being ‘difficult to fail’.”
The committee’s verdict comes 24 hours after an interim report from the government’s social work taskforce outlined plans to overhaul the training and leadership of the profession in the wake of the Baby P affair .
While the MPs welcome the prospect of radical reforms, they say they are concerned that a “plethora” of other new initiatives has been announced and set in train by ministers before the taskforce has concluded its work. “It is not clear how these initiatives fit together with each other, or with existing structures,” the report says.
Helga Pile, national officer for social workers at Unison, said: “To say that social work training is not fit for purpose is a bit alarmist and damaging to the profession. There are lots of highly skilled, competent social workers out there doing a fantastic job. But they are battling with truly impossible working conditions which no amount of training can compensate for.”
The report also criticises the entry requirements for degrees. In 2006-07, almost half the students admitted to courses had fewer than 240 Ucas points (three grade Cs or equivalent at A-level), compared to fewer than a quarter of entrants to comparable teaching or nursing degrees. The Joint Universities Council has reported complaints from some employers about standards of literacy among social work graduates.
Children’s minister Lady Morgan told the committee that the door should remain open to would-be social workers “with life skills”. But the MPs say that while A-levels are an imperfect measure of potential, “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”.
The committee proposes establishing a social work development agency, similar to the Training and Development Agency for teaching, to bring together recruitment, workforce development and funding and commissioning of training. MPs also called for better pay for social workers.
Barry Sheerman, who chairs the committee, said: “Social workers need a high-quality training body and high-profile national leadership of their profession – and they need to be better rewarded.”
Welcoming the MPs’ findings, Lady Morgan said: “We have asked the taskforce to consider the select committee’s recommendations in their thinking about long-term reform needed.