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Reform of Social Work Education

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Consultation on the Reform of Social Work Education

November 2002


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland represents workers from social work services throughout Scotland, with members employed as social workers, home care workers, residential care workers, welfare rights workers, and others administrating and supporting the social work team.

We welcome the opportunity to comment on the Reform or Social Work Education, particularly given the current problems in recruitment, retention, job status and pay, along with the increasing pressures facing social workers in Scotland.

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive on the Reform of Social Work Education.


The Consultation

First UNISON Scotland wishes to express concern at the short time scale of the consultation in this important area of service provision. The period of one month between 7 October and 8 November has not given our union sufficient time to consult all of members within the Social Care Sector as we would have wished. Social workers provide essential services to the most vulnerable people. We believe that any consultations on changes to their working practices, conditions, and training should be open, transparent and allow sufficient time for interested parties to respond.

Project Group

UNISON Scotland is disappointed that neither UNISON Scotland nor the STUC were represented on the Project Group set up under the Action Plan that was charged with taking forward the reform (Paragraph 1.2). We note that the British Association of Social Workers was included, and are concerned at the exclusion of trade unions representing social workers.

Complexity of Social Work Task

UNISON Scotland welcomes the acknowledgement of the complexity of the social work task, the many demands made on social workers, and the need for them to apply critical thinking to their role (Paragraph 2.1). We believe these factors emphasise the need to re-grade the basic Social Work grades, and develop an effective recruitment and retention strategy. Our members' experiences are of staff shortages with problems in recruitment and retention of staff in Scottish Local Authority Social Work Departments.

A key concern of UNISON is whether successful Social Work Honours graduates will actually go into the profession, unless more is done to address status, pay, conditions and career development.

Grading of Social Workers

We welcome the intention to compare the training, development and social work standards framework with other professions in the public sector (paragraph 2.6). UNISON Scotland believes that Social Workers have fallen behind other public sector workers such as teachers, doctors and nurses, in pay, status and career progression, particularly post-McCrone and following pay review body awards for other public sector workers.

UNISON's members in social work tell us that social work shortages, pressures from the range of cases, and new demands, mean that social workers' workloads are building up. Pressure is increasing across the care spectrum, with additional demands on home care workers, residential staff, unqualified social work assistants, and qualified social workers. We are clear that job structure, pay and grading of social workers, and other staff in the sector needs to be seriously reviewed in the light of all of these demands and pressures.

Social Work Degree Places

UNISON believes that it is essential that we have the resources and study places available to deliver on the proposals to reform social work education. Earlier this year Edinburgh University hinted that they were about to abandon their social work degree at a time when recruitment for the profession is in crisis.

We also need a recognition that the average age of students going into social work studies is higher, and that inevitably this means students have more commitments, in terms of family, financial and social responsibilities. This needs to be taken into account, with adequate funding and support for students entering into social work training, and with an availability of student places in accessible areas.

Practice Learning

UNISON Scotland welcomes the debate on the options for Practice Learning and on how Practice Placements are organised. We would have preferred more time to consult within our membership for views on these issues. However, we do feel that it is critical that Practice Placements are properly resourced and managed by appropriate trainers. Importantly, Practice Learning should be done without putting unnecessary burdens on already stretched operational services.

We believe that Option B outlined in the consultation has merit to it. Option B specifies a minimum of 200 days supervised direct practice, with flexibility to allow Higher Education Institutes to develop additional forms of practice learning.

Models for the Delivery of Practice Learning

Again on the model for delivering Practice Learning UNISON believes that further debate and consultation is required. We would tend to support Model 4 as set out in the consultation as offering a positive way forward for social work training. We would welcome dedicated Practice Teaching Agencies or Centres operating from within an agency or University working on a partnership basis employing staff who teach in the centre and work in the community. We believe this partnership working could, if adequately resourced and staffed, work well to ensuring that students receive high quality training and gain invaluable real life experience on service delivery.

Continuing Professional Development

UNISON believes that the issue of continuing Professional Development needs to be addressed. Employers need to provide resources for post-entry training, and resources to allow for cover of posts for social workers in training / study / practice, particularly in Residential Social Work. UNISON been campaigning for decades to make Residential Work attractive to qualified staff, and we believe that this will only be achieved by improving pay, benefits and working conditions, and resourcing appropriate training and support in this sector.

Professional Competence

UNISON welcomes the moves to ensure that social workers are given the skills, training and resources in order to carryout their role efficiently and effectively. However we have concerns in the section of the consultation on professional competence, (in particular, Section 4, D52) that there are proposals to hound out "bad" social workers. UNISON is against this type of blame culture, rather we believe that the partnership approach should ensure that social workers are supported and encouraged in their roles to ensure that they are working to the highest standards.

Inter-Agency Working

UNISON Scotland believes that greater emphasis should be placed in this consultation, and in social work education, on inter-agency working. Clearly co-operating and working in partnership with other agencies, such as the NHS, the police, and the voluntary sector, is integral to the developing role of the social worker. The Joint Future agenda, where social work and health services will be working in partnership to deliver seamless services in the community. With this in mind it is crucial that social workers have the skills and resources available to them to participate effectively in joint working initiatives.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary

14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


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