16 July 2012

Standards of proficiency for social workers in England

On 1 August 2012 we will take over the regulation of social workers in England from the General Social Care Council (GSCC) which closes on 31 July 2012.

The preparations for this transfer are almost complete and last month, we published our standards of proficiency (SoPs) for social workers in England. The standards of proficiency set out what a social worker in England should know, understand and be able to do when they complete their social work training so that they can register with us. They set clear expectations of a social worker’s knowledge and abilities when they start practising.

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 also use these standards to assess applications to join the Register from individuals who have qualified outside the UK.

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

• be able to undertake assessments of risk, need and capacity and respond appropriately

• be able to recognise and respond appropriately to unexpected situations and manage uncertainty

• be able to recognise signs of harm, abuse and neglect and know how to respond appropriately

Social workers in England will also have to meet the standards of conduct, performance and ethics. These standards set expectations in terms of ethics and behaviour and they are similar to the GSCC’s Code of Practice.

Our work to set the standards of proficiency took place whilst the Social Work Reform Board, and subsequently The College of Social Work, developed the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) for social workers. The PCF supports social workers throughout each stage of their career, beyond the threshold standards we set. The PCF acts as an overarching framework by setting out key capabilities expected of a social worker as they develop in their career. These include professionalism, values and ethics, knowledge, intervention and skills and professional leadership.

Whilst the PCF looks across a social worker’s career, from before they start their training to the very end, the standards of proficiency set out our expectations of social workers when they start practising for the first time.

We consulted on the standards of proficiency last year. Some respondents to the consultation asked about the interactions between the SoPs and the PCF and wanted more clarity on the different roles. Consultations are an important way of engaging with stakeholders and we made a number of changes to the standards following feedback from the consultation.

However, we also wanted to respond more generally to the comments about the interactions between the SoPs and the PCF. As a result, we have worked with The College of Social Work to produce a joint statement setting out the different, but complementary, roles of the SoPs and the PCF. We have also worked to produce a joint mapping of the SoPs to the PCF level of end of last placement.

The GSCC have published several reports setting out their experience of regulating social workers. In the report ‘Regulating social workers 2001 – 2012’, they say that they believe that the SoPs and the PCF are ‘significant improvements on the GSCC codes of practice for the specific regulation of social workers’.

Setting effective standards is an important part of our role in protecting the public. We are committed to working alongside the social work community to raise standards and achieve the vision of a safe, confident future for social work.

For more information please visit our website

By Charlotte Urwin, Policy Manager at the Health Professions Council (HPC)*

*From 1 August 2012, HPC will regulate social workers in England. At that time, we will be renamed the Health and Care Professions Council to reflect our new remit and the diverse range of professions on our Register.