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BASW’s disappointment at HPC’s refusal to register social work students

BASW has expressed disappointment at the conclusion of the Health Professions Council (HPC) that registration of social work students by the same body that regulates qualified practitioners is not necessary to protect the public in the long term.

The HPC decided this week that although it has no immediate plans to scrap the student register when the General Social Care Council (GSCC) closes at the end of July it is not committed to maintaining that register into the future. Instead it is to look into alternative methods for regulating social work students. These are likely to centre on applying similar standards to social work education providers to those it currently places on the training institutions for the other professions it presently regulates. The move, which could see universities being made to carry out criminal conviction checks on social work students and highlight any concerns about a student’s character, is to be discussed at a meeting in June.

Having repeatedly raised concerns about any move to discontinue the present registration arrangements, whereby the GSCC maintains a register of qualified and student social workers, BASW again emphasised its serious concerns at any development that could make it harder to ensure that students were fully accountable for their work with the public.

Commenting on the HPC’s decision, BASW’s chair Fran Fuller said: ”We are disappointed that the HPC continues to reject the need for students to be properly regulated in the same way as their qualified counterparts. Currently social work students have to register and adhere to the GSCC codes of conduct, which makes them accountable for their actions from the moment they register as social workers and, to some extent, protects the public when students are on a placement working alongside vulnerable people who need services.

“I am pleased the HPC has not taken any immediate steps to end the registration of students when it assumes responsibility from the GSCC but remain concerned at longer term plans and at this tentative proposal to put more onus on education providers in future.

“Universities do, of course, try to address misconduct issues via their own procedures but all too often they are not able to understand the complexities of social work and social work practice, so there remains a clear role for a regulator.

“Even leaving aside the difficulties of universities policing students on placements, there are other, similarly complicated issues associated with students who are terminated from social work degree programmes – how will it be possible to track these people and ensure they are not able to re-enter social work training? Social work students often work in isolation, alongside service users, which puts them apart from students who belong to other HPC registered professions.”