At the end of March, HCPC’s Council considered the Narey and Croisdale Appleby Reports, commissioned by different government departments to review the state of social work education in England. Narey’s report focused on the landscape of children’s social work, whilst Croisdale Appleby looked at social work education more broadly in relation to adult services.
The paper we considered looked at six themes – future responsibility for regulation, generic versus specialisation in social work education, standards, the education approvals process, licence to practice and continuing fitness to practice. Council concluded that certain recommendations, such as Narey’s recommendation that regulation should be transferred to the professional body, were a matter for government. There was discussion around the value of separating regulatory functions from professional body functions, and agreement that the role of the regulator was to protect the public by maintaining and upholding standards, whereas the role of the professional body was to develop and promote the contribution of the profession. These complementary roles best serve the public - and the profession - if they are kept separate and distinct. The days of self regulation by a profession are long gone, and evidence shows that there is little appetite for a return to the past.
The Council saw the reports as ‘snapshots of a system in transition’ – at times disappointing in that they did not reflect the complexity of the current educational landscape. Social work education involves many different players – internal and external quality assurance processes, as well as students, employers and service users. There is much about the quality assurance of social work programmes that is far in advance of other sectors in the ways in which service users are involved in the approvals process. HCPC has learned and changed as a result of this experience.
Perhaps most important, the impact of the new regulatory landscape has yet to be felt across the whole sector. The current approvals system is in transition. Only a third of all social work programmes have been through the entire HCPC approval process. We have required nearly all programmes to make changes to meet our standards. Students who are now enrolled on these new approved programmes are yet to complete their first year of study, meaning their engagement with placement learning and integration as the future workforce is still ahead of us. Similarly, social workers in England have not yet been audited against HCPC standards on CPD, with its strong focus on personal responsibility for learning and outcomes based approach.
What then of Narey’s concerns? Are placements in child protection in short supply? Do some students miss out on such placements during their training? Could more be done to support students in training to ensure that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to protect children from harm? Perhaps. We will be keeping a close eye on placements as we visit the programmes. If we find that there are not enough high quality placements in children’s services, we will alert providers to this shortfall. If, at the end of the process of visiting programmes, we see that there is a need to revise the current standards, we will do so. But we are not there yet. What of Croisdale Appleby’s proposals to augment the standards? If, at the completion of the visits, there is an appetite within the profession to do so, we will engage fully with the profession to introduce improvements.
The clear message was that the impact of the new system of regulation for social workers in England cannot be fully evaluated until it is complete. HCPC aspires to be an evidence based regulator. It has a track record in thorough review, adherence to clear scrutiny processes and careful ongoing monitoring. It is applying these same principles to its work in social work education. However, if there are areas for development in the standards, or weaknesses in programmes that are causing concern now, we would welcome further information on them. If the failures of Mid Staffordshire mean anything, they must surely point towards identifying weak links in the chain, whether in education or in practice.
Anna van der Gaag
Health and Care Professions Council