Social work degrees difficult to fail, MPs told

August 6, 2009

Degrees in social work are viewed as being "difficult to fail" - a reputation that is unacceptable, a select committee of MPs has said.

The Children, Schools and Families Committee said that witnesses to its inquiry on the training of social workers expressed concerns that it was too easy to pass the academic and practical elements of social work degrees.

The failure rate among students since 2003-04 is just 2.62 per cent, the MPs say in a report published last week.

In evidence to the committee, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said that its practice teachers had "on occasion" advocated that a student should not be allowed to progress, but had come under pressure to pass them.

Another witness, John Barraclough, senior lecturer in social work at London Metropolitan University, told MPs that students were "often given the benefit of the doubt about their suitability to practice or their performance in placements".

The MPs' report concludes: "It is unacceptable that social work courses, or any element of them, should have a reputation for being 'difficult to fail'.

"A review of the funding arrangements for social work degrees is needed to ensure that there are no incentives to keep unsuitable students on a course."

The report recommends that universities should allow students deemed unsuitable for practice to put credits towards alternative, non- qualifying awards.

It also calls for more high-level professionals to get involved in teaching, and for Ofsted or the General Social Care Council to take a more active role in quality assurance to ensure that standards are upheld.

The content of degree courses should be rationalised to form a "basic common curriculum", it says.

In addition, the report asks for an increase in the average A-level grades required for entry to social work courses.

In 2006-07, nearly half the students admitted had fewer than 240 Universities and Colleges Admissions Service points, which is the equivalent of three C-grades at A level.

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