GCU researchers analyse social workers' preparedness for practice

08 January 2015

Researchers analyse social workers' early experiences

Researchers analyse social workers' early experiences

Education is providing newly-qualified social workers in Scotland with a solid grounding for their profession, according to new research - the first significant study examining social workers’ preparedness for practice since 1996.

The first year after qualifying is widely recognised as being extremely important for social workers. To support the workforce in achieving the relevant knowledge and skills required to practice effectively in the field of social work, the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) is developing a national learning strategy of robust qualifying programmes and national post-qualifying pathways.

The SSSC promotes and regulates education and training and aims to raise the standards of practice by social service workers.

The SSSC commissioned Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers Professor Stephen Webb, Scott Grant and Lynn Sheridan to carry out an evaluation of the readiness for practice and the experiences of support and learning of newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) during their first period of employment.

The study applied a mixed-method approach that incorporated a national online survey and focus groups, collecting responses from over 200 social workers.

Nearly 80% of participants reported that education providers had provided good or adequate preparation for the realities of practice. Researchers explored readiness within focus groups and found a striking consensus emerged to support the view that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are proficient in preparing NQSWs across a wide variety of areas such as interventions, assessment skills, values, anti-oppressive / anti-discriminatory practice and understanding risk.

The new findings challenge Sir Martin Narey’s report ('Making the education of social workers consistently effective', 2014) suggesting that newly qualified social workers are inadequately prepared for the challenge of childcare social work.

Over three-quarters felt that HEIs had prepared them in relation to complex decision-making. A more significant 94% of participants felt that HEIs prepared them for ‘managing value dilemmas’.

Researchers found that social work education could better prepare new social workers for the emerging landscape of personalised care and for the impact of the integration of health and social care in Scotland.

These findings are of significant concern given the current and emerging landscape of personalised social work provision in Scotland.

New social workers gave a more mixed response about their early experiences with employers, usually local authority social work departments, which provided a lack of satisfactory supervision or induction period to help them take on their professional roles.

Mr Grant said: “The results of this study indicate that the majority of NQSWs feel well-prepared by social work education in Scotland, but less supported by employers in terms of opportunities for continuous professional development.

“This study has implications for the forthcoming review of social work education in Scotland and builds on research from England and Wales. The report challenges the earlier findings and suggests that higher education institutions are preparing students well for the realities of front-line practice.”

In the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) assessment, GCU’s research in social work and social policy was found to be in the top ten in the UK for world-leading impact.