Alongside every other social worker in England, I received a joint letter from Ed Balls and Alan Johnson this morning echoing their support for the profession in the wake of Lord Laming’s report. In particular, I welcome the introduction of the Advanced Social Work Professional status and the encouragement for social workers to train towards a Masters level qualification. I believe that these initiatives will help to develop professional leaders who will help to drive up standards within social work and protect vulnerable children and adults within our society. However, in my role as programme leader of an advanced level post qualifying (PQ) programme, I am concerned about some considerable obstacles to the achievement of these objectives.
Firstly, the funding of post-qualifying (PQ) education urgently needs reviewing. Under the revised PQ framework employers are responsible for funding their practitioners to undertake PQ awards. However, as there is no performance indicator linked to PQ, there is no ring-fenced budget for practitioners to undertake these awards. Very few employers currently fund social workers to undertake advanced level awards. Most of the practitioners on our programme currently self-fund and there are only minimal bursaries to support them. Ironically, self-employed independent social workers are more able to undertake advanced level PQ awards as they have access to a Skills for Care bursary and can fit their work around their study.
Secondly, employers are frequently reluctant to offer study leave for their practitioners to undertake advanced level PQ awards. Study leave is considered a luxury and rare commodity for advanced level PQ awards. None of our students have caseload relief and are expected to do their usual job in four days per week instead of five. In the worst cases, practitioners take annual leave or go part-time to have sufficient time to complete our programme. Employers need to be provided with appropriate support to release their staff for advanced level PQ training.
Thirdly, the withdrawal of funding for equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQ) by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has diminished the viability of advanced level PQ programmes in Higher Education Institutions (HEI). Students of advanced level PQ programmes at Masters level have frequently picked up another post-graduate qualification since qualifying as a social worker. Even if this is not a full Masters degree, it means that HEFCE will not provide the HEI with any funding for that place. The ELQ rules do not apply to graduate level PQ study or post-graduate qualifying programmes in social work. An exemption to the ELQ rules for post-graduate PQ programmes is required to stop this discrimination against advanced practitioners in social work.
Finally, there is a lack of a career structure for advanced social work practitioners in many local authorities. Some have adopted the Consultant Social Worker role and others have created Advanced Practitioner posts. However, there will need to be significant changes within local authority career structures to accommodate the Advanced Social Work Professional Status. Local authorities will need inducements to create these incentive structures to retain their most experienced staff.”