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Social work students get help to choose courses

Social work students will be able to judge the quality of degree courses before applying after a decision by the General Social Care Council to crack down on universities by publishing inspection reports.

Reports on the performance of most universities and colleges offering social work courses were released for the first time this week, showing that 14 institutions fully met requirements set out by the GSCC and the Department of Health, while another 61 institutions also met them but were asked to make some improvements.

However, there were misgivings about three institutions in the London area: Brunel and Thames Valley universities were found to be at risk of not meeting the requirements, and Havering College has been given an action plan after concerns that it was failing to meet the requirements.

GSCC chief executive Penny Thompson said it was hoped that publication of the inspection reports would drive up standards “by compelling failing institutions to act and encouraging others to learn from best practice”.

She added: “Where degree courses are not up to the mark, we will take decisive action to improve them without penalising or interfering with the vast majority that provide a high quality social work course for students.”

In higher education generally the reports, which cover 2008-2009, reveal a considerable improvement in collaboration with employers, with 99.4% of students finding practice placements and 95% of institutions reporting that their engagement with employers was better than it had been the year before.

There were signs that universities are doing more to assess the quality of placements, with 57% rejecting potential placements after deeming them unsuitable. Out of 14,172 placements delivered, only 115 were reported as falling below quality standards.

But the GSCC said it continued to hear evidence that more work was needed to improve practice placements and called on universities to hold early meetings with employers to match placements with intake numbers. Publication of the reports is part of a series of reforms intended to focus more intensively on what the GSCC believes are poor quality courses.

BASW joint manager (England) Ruth Cartwright said publishing inspection reports would help students applying for courses. “The more information they can get about where they’re going to study, the better, but I remain very concerned about practice placements,” Ms Cartwright said.

She added: “It’s no good giving a student social worker a placement in a housing department. There has to be a clear social work remit and activity within the placement and there are too many placements which aren’t like that. Students who get the wrong placements are severely disadvantaged in the jobs market.”

Practice placements were a big concern at Thames Valley University, which was not able to show that it was meeting the requirement for “employer engagement in the education and training process.”