The regulator, which will take over regulation of social work from the General Social Care Council (GSCC) in July 2012, has no powers to compel students to register but, under the Health and Social Care Bill, it could maintain a register that students could join voluntarily.
But students would face a hike in the annual £10 a year registration fee charged by the GSCC because the HPC does not receive financial support from the government. Professionals registered by the HPC pay £76 a year but it not clear whether students will be expected to pay the same fee.
BASW policy officer Joe Godden said the rise in fees would affect applicants from poorer backgrounds and could therefore impact on the diversity of undergraduate registrants, and in turn the profile of tomorrow’s social work workforce. He added: “The idea of voluntary registration is, on the face of it, attractive but I think in reality the vast majority of employers taking students on placement would want to be assured and ask that students are registered, therefore in effect making it compulsory.”
The GSCC, which has 15,000 students on its register, heard eight cases between 2010-2011 concerning students’ conduct, 5% of the total number of conduct hearings over that period. They involved fraud, dishonesty, abuse or convictions for violent behaviour. It has refused registration to nine social work students and registered another seven with conditions between 2005 and 2011.
Mr Godden said students in second or final year placements were given more autonomy than first year students and were far more likely to be working in isolation and with very vulnerable people, often seeing people in their own homes and at times of considerable crisis.
“Good universities go to considerable lengths to do their own checks prior to entry to courses, although there is room for improvement, and universities have a considerable role in monitoring and supporting students on placements,” he added.