14 October 2011

Standards of proficiency for social workers in England: Reflecting the complexity of social work practice

As you may be aware, next year the regulation of social workers in England is due to transfer from the General Social Care Council (GSCC) to the Health Professions Council. We are also due to be renamed the Health and Care Professions Council to reflect our new role. As part of getting ready for the transfer, we are currently consulting on standards of proficiency for social workers in England.

Each profession regulated by the HPC has their own specific standards of proficiency and this is a legal requirement. The standards of proficiency will set out what a social worker needs to know about, understand and be able to do when they become registered for the first time.

We will use these standards when we approve undergraduate degree and masters degree programmes in social work to make sure that someone who successfully completes their degree has met the standards they need to practise safely and effectively as a social worker.

We know that once a social worker becomes registered their practise might develop in lots of different ways – for example, they might work in different settings, specialise in a particular area of practise or become involved in training social work students. Because of this, once a social worker is registered with us we will expect them to continue to meet the standards of proficiency, but only those that continue to apply to their particular scope of practice.

The draft standards of proficiency include standards about ethics, communication skills, team working and safeguarding vulnerable people. Some examples of these standards are listed below:

• knowing the limits of practice and seeking advice or referring to another professional where appropriate
• recognising workload and resources
• understanding the importance of maintaining their own health and wellbeing
• Being aware of the characteristics and consequences of verbal and non-verbal communication and how this can be affected by disability, culture, age, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs and socio-economic status.
• Being able to contribute effectively to work undertaken as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

These are just a few examples. We set up a working group involving key stakeholders from social work to help us to put together the draft for consultation

The standards play a specific and important role in how we regulate but very much complement other standards such as the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). We have written a short statement with the Social Work Reform Board setting out the role of the standards of proficiency and the PCF

Currently social workers have to meet the GSCC’s code of practice for social care workers and our standards of conduct, performance and ethics (SCPE) will replace this code. These standards describe how the public and professionals alike expect someone who is registered with us to behave. They include standards such as the need to act in the best interests of service users, protect confidentiality and behave with integrity and honesty. The standards apply to all of the 15 professions we currently regulate and once social workers in England join the HPC register they will also have to meet these. Next year, we plan to review these standards so there will be an opportunity for social workers to help us shape these standards for the future.

We are really keen to hear what social workers and others think about the draft standards. It provides a great opportunity for individual social workers to get involved and to help us to make sure the standards are fit for purpose and reflect the values and context of social work.

The consultation closes on 18 November 2011. Please do respond and help us in shaping these important standards for social workers.

Link to the consultation:


Link to our standards of conduct, performance and ethics

By Michael Guthrie
HPC's Director of Policy and Standards