Involving service users and carers in social work education
Changes in social work training
It may be helpful for everyone involved in the degree programmes to be knowledgeable about the background to its introduction and, above all, its main purpose.
A 'quality strategy for social care' (2) signalled the introduction of the changes. It included the modernisation of qualifying training for social workers in its proposals to support quality and continuous improvements in social care. The registration of social workers by the GSCC in England and the equivalent Councils in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales under the 2000 Care Standards Act from 2003 is also part of this strategy. The thrust of all the new arrangements is that service users and carers get high quality social work services in terms of both processes and outcomes. Thus the changes, including service user and carer participation in training, are the means to the ends of improving experiences and outcomes rather than ends in themselves.
Issued under the 2000 Care Standards Act, the 'Requirements for social work training' (1) in England specify "what providers of social work training must do”, covering the entry, teaching, learning and assessment requirements for the degree programmes. 'The national occupational standards for social work' (3) and the Quality Assurance Agency subject benchmark statement for social work (2000) form the basis for the assessment of students at the end of the degree programme. Taken together, the requirements, standards and benchmark statement comprise the prescribed curriculum for the degree. The emphasis is on practice, with academic learning to support it. To this end, students will spend at least 200 days gaining experience and learning in practice settings.
Appendix 2 of the 'Requirements for social work training' (1) sets out the roles of stakeholders in programme design and delivery. The seven named groups of stakeholders are:
- service users
- practice assessors
- external examiners
Importantly, service users and HEIs are the only stakeholder groups that have been assigned roles in all parts of programme design and delivery.
Their roles are in:
- student selection
- design of the degree
- teaching and learning provision
- preparation for practice learning
- provision of placements
- learning agreements
- assessment of students
- quality assurance.
This is an ambitious agenda in which the type of knowledge that service users and carers can impart is identified as a strong lever for improving social care. It recognises that service users and carers are themselves experts in what would make for more control, choice and better quality in their everyday lives, and in existing services. The purpose of the agenda is to ensure that newly qualified social workers have a thorough understanding of the standards of practice, processes and outcomes that service users and carers want. Thus, from the very start of their professional career, they will treat service users and carers as active participants in service delivery rather than as passive recipients.
In support of these developments, each accredited university was allocated a special grant of £6,200 (total for England: £400,000) through the GSCC to support service user and carer involvement from January to December 2003. An additional grant (total for England: £420,000) for the same purpose was subsequently allocated for April 2003-March 2004. At the time of writing, discussions are progressing about the mechanisms and further funding required in order that the capacity for involvement can be achieved.
Detailed information on the reform of social work education in England has been mainly available in paper form and also electronic form through the websites of the Department of Health and the GSCC. When the special Department of Health website closes, the main sources of information on the degree and its further development will be the GSCC, with Department of Health publications still available in paper and electronic forms.