One of the big differences between the GSCC and the HPC is the issue of student registration. At the GSCC we register students as we believe it is very important to protect the public from poor practice and to instil a sense of professionalism and responsibility in our future social workers. When on a placement, students have direct and unsupervised contact with service users; registration reminds students, through signing up to the code of practice, of their responsibility to ensure that their conduct and practice are of the required standard and this enhances public protection.
The HPC currently does not register students. Instead they use their statutory powers to approve and monitor higher education institutions’ (HEIs) social work programmes. It is then the HEIs’ responsibility to ensure only those who meet the required standards graduate with qualifications that allow them to join the HPC’s register. However, the HPC has been seeking views on this topic. They ran a consultation from 1 November 2011 until 2 March 2012 and the responses will inform the HPC’s decision on student registration. In our response to the consultation the GSCC gave the following reasons about why student registration should continue:
- The often vulnerable nature of the people that social work students will work with and the setting in which social work students operate makes it imperative that they are subject to national regulation when undertaking practice placements. Students on placement work with a wide range of people who use services including children, those with mental health issues, and those with drug and alcohol dependency issues. They are often unsupervised when they engage with people who use services and may also undertake work in someone’s home.
- Requiring social work students to operate according to a set of national standards (the HPC Code of Conduct, Performance and Ethics) whilst undertaking practice placements will provide certainty to people who use services about what they can expect from the students working with them. Only students who are registered can be held to account according to these standards.
- The introduction of a purely voluntary register (with no method of compulsion) would have no public protection benefits and would not protect people who use services. Those people who use services and who come into contact with social workers should be entitled to the same level of protection and the same standards of behaviour irrespective of whether a student chooses to register or not.
- If there is a sufficient reason to register qualified social workers – which the GSCC considers there clearly is – then there is an equally strong reason to register social work students. The risks posed by students on practice placements are not substantially different to those posed by qualified social workers. Given the nature of the work carried out by social workers and social work students no system of supervision by either employers or universities could, in and of itself, fully mitigate the risks posed by unsuitable individuals. As a result, in both cases, national regulation is necessary.
We will let all current registered students know the outcome of the consultation when it is published in May. Until the outcome is known, all social work students should continue to register/be registered with the GSCC.
The full response to the consultation can be found here and you can read more about the importance of regulating social work students from our Head of Policy, David Rowland, on the Guardian Social Care Network .