Changing social work education
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sussex
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
In a period of national questioning of social work quality, Sussex
research has significantly influenced the curricula content of and entry
standards for social work education (SWE). New guidelines set admissions
standards for all English social work courses, resulting in better quality
candidates. Law teaching has been shaped by a new curriculum guide based
on our research, as well as the development of prize-winning educational
resources. Social workers feel better equipped to communicate with
children through contributions to new curricula requirements, textbooks to
improve teaching, and direct influence — via Continuing Professional
Development — on the quality of communications.
Leadership of the quality enhancement of SWE was brought to Sussex in
2001 with Taylor's appointment and her Co-Directorship (with Rafferty,
University of Southampton) of the HEFCE Learning and Teaching Support
Network Social Policy and Social Work Subject Centre. Funded research into
SWE took a significant step forward in 2006, when Sussex was selected
(from 300 applicants) as a Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)
Registered Provider of Research. Sussex staff were commissioned to
undertake ten studies of teaching, learning and assessment in Department
of Health required curricula. Our research contributed to the knowledge
base for implementation of the new social work degree (introduced in
2003-04) and was methodologically innovative — including participation by
users in its research design and implementation — and was the first to
apply systematic review methodology to SWE.
Two SCIE studies, Teaching, Learning and Assessing of Communication
Skills with Children and Young People in Social Work Education and Teaching,
Learning and Assessment of Law in Social Work Education, selected
here for their significance to the changing policy and practice context,
were informed by systematic reviews, surveys of university practices and
consultation workshops with service-users, including children and young
people. We found that the teaching and assessment of communication skills
with children was inconsistent, with diverging views on its importance
[see Section 3, R1], and that the law-social work relationship was often
strained — students found law learning difficult and curricula were
diverse [R2]. Both SCIE studies led to further commissions to extend the
reach of the initial research. Following a commission (2007) to develop
innovative e-learning tools to enhance law-learning, Braye and colleagues
undertook a further SCIE study (2011) using 283 matched student pairs
across 8 institutions to explore educator capacity to use e-learning
resources, and their impact on student learning [R3]. Luckock and Lefevre
were commissioned to develop 2 core practice texts translating the SCIE
findings [R1] for HE educators, students and practitioners: (i) in 2008,
the British Association of Adoption and Fostering commissioned them to
address direct practice with children (2008) [R4]; ii) in 2010, Policy
Press commissioned Lefevre to write Communicating with Children and
Young People [R5]. In 2009, following a presentation by Lefevre at
the UK Joint Social Work Education Conference, the Care Council for Wales
invited Lefevre and Taylor to undertake 3 linked studies to inform SWE and
practice with children in Wales. Overall, in addition to 5 SCIE
publications, these studies generated 10 peer-refereed journal articles, 8
national conference presentations (6 by invitation) and 9 international (4
In 2008, following a child-abuse death, perceptions escalated of a
failure to select `suitable' social work students and/or produce high
quality graduates. Stakeholders voiced concerns to The House of Commons'
Children, Schools and Families Select Committee investigating the training
of children and families social workers (2008-09), the Social Work Task
Force (SWTF) (2008) and the Social Work Reform Board (SWRB) (2010). In
response to changing policy, we pro-actively engaged with new bodies
mandated to raise the standards of SWE: The College of Social Work and the
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) — which replaced the General
Social Care Council (GSCC). In 2008, the first UK exploratory study of its
kind examined the relationship between applicants' pre-admission
information and their performance on a social-work programme [R6].This led
the Higher Education Academy (HEA) to commission Holmstrom to research
student selection in social work, and to inform development of admissions
policy in England [R7]. This study found limited evidence to support
SWTF/SWRB concerns, particularly expressed by employer stakeholders,
regarding below-average entry requirements compared to other professions.
It underpinned two further HEA commissions: (i) to survey admissions
practice (2009-10) and (ii) to write national guidance for Social Work
Admissions Tutors (2011) [see Section 5, C3].
Key researchers were employed by the University of Sussex at 31 October
2013: Barry Luckock, appointed 1998; Professor Imogen Taylor, appointed
2001; Dr Michelle Lefevre, appointed 2003; Professor Suzy Braye, appointed
2005; and Cath Holmstrom, appointed 2006.
References to the research
R1 Luckock, B., Lefevre, M., Orr, D., Jones, M., Marchant, M. and
Tanner, K. (2006) Teaching, Learning and Assessing Communication
Skills with Children and Young People in Social Work Education.
London: SCIE: http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/knowledgereviews/kr12.asp
Accessed 14 October 2013.
R3 Braye, S., Preston-Shoot, M. and Marrable, T. (2011) Law
Learning in Action: An Action Learning Project to Evaluate Processes and
Outcomes of Using Law E-Learning Objects in Social Work Education.
The SCIE Reports above (R1, R2 and R3) were externally peer-reviewed by at
least 2 or 3 independent reviewers, including a service-user, and were
quality-assured by SCIE.
R4 Luckock, B.A. and Lefevre, M. (eds) (2008) Direct Work with
Children. London: British Association of Adoption and Fostering.
R5 Lefevre, M. (2010) Communicating with Children and Young
People. Bristol: Policy Press.
R6 Holmstrom, C. and Taylor, I. (2008) `Researching admissions:
what can we learn about the selection of applicants from findings about
students in difficulty on a social work programme?', Social Work
Education, 27(8): 819-36.
Outputs can be supplied by the University on request
Details of the impact
Our research has led to new guidelines, setting admissions
standards to almost all social work courses, resulting in
better quality candidates.
Influencing policy: The research findings [see Section 3, R6
& R7] informed national discussions between 2008 and 2012. In 2008,
they led to an invitation to Holmstrom to join the national Social Work
Task Force (to become the Social Work Reform Board in 2010), and lead
discussions on admissions. This resulted in Holmstrom's first
influential report [R7] which `dispelled the myths...and replaced them
with a widely acknowledged evidence base... Over a couple of years —
from the SWTF to passing recommendations to the SWRB — the work has fed
into discussions, led to a sub-group specifically on this area and to
two influential documents' [see Section 5, C1]. Holmstrom's second
`influential document' comprised the national guidance on the selection
of social-work students aimed at HE admissions tutors and partners in
England [C3], commissioned by the HEA and GSCC/HCPC to explain the HCPC
standards on admissions procedures and their interaction with the
relevant legislative and policy drivers and widening participation and
equalities issues. Holmstrom's research `was extremely well received and
helped set a benchmark for what new procedures should be adopted by SWRB
and The College' [C2].
Influencing HE practice: Crucially, Holmstrom's admissions
guidance [C3] was specifically designed to equip social work admissions
tutors and their partners with both technical and operational guidance
and some exemplars of good practice. It was also designed to integrate
with the criteria for programme endorsement used by The College since
2012. It informed an HEA translational summary, Recommendations for
the Selection of Students, now held by The College, which cites
Holmstrom's contribution on p. 1 [C4]. Holmstrom's guidance `has set the
benchmark for what good admissions looks like and so the criteria for
programmes to be endorsed by The College. ...It will impact on some 97
per cent of the 250 courses currently being offered' [C2]. Furthermore,
`Perceptions are that this work is positively influencing the calibre of
entrants...there is also now a focus on quality over quantity' [C1].This
statement was echoed by an Admissions Tutor who said, evaluating
participation in one of the 7 national workshops led by Holmstrom and
funded by the HEA to develop good admissions practice, `We now have an
effective balance between personal attributes and qualifications,
ensuring that those selected are the best qualified AND most able'
Law teaching nationally has been shaped by our research evidence
(conducted in partnership with the University of Bedfordshire, the
research reflects a distinct and material input from Sussex).
Influencing policy: Following the original research, Braye was
commissioned by HEA to conduct further research into the law field
). This research was cited in the Law Commission's review of adult
social-care law as evidence of the need for legal reform (see http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/docs/
lc326_adult_social_care.pdf) and subsequently in the Department of
Health impact assessment relating to the Care Bill 2013 (see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/
para 6.12). Braye provided evidence to the SWTF working group on the law
curriculum, and commented on its proposals. Law is now more thoroughly
woven within the HCPC and TCSW requirements, and the national law
curriculum reflects Sussex input to the TCSW Law Curriculum Guide
to accompany the Professional Capability Framework [C5].
Influencing HE practice: Law learning has improved as a result
of Law e-learning resources produced by the Department. The resources
[C6] were commissioned by SCIE on behalf of the Department of Health,
and were based on the evidence from the underpinning SCIE study [R2].
The resources were awarded first prize for innovation by the HEA
Association of Learning Technology. Subsequent SCIE-commissioned
outcome-focused research [R3] led to the Collaborative Capacity Building
Learning Set research, with educators and students focusing specifically
on the impact of the e-learning resources. They identified the factors
that enhance tutor engagement with their use, the positive impact on
student knowledge and confidence, and the pedagogic practices that
enhance learning. Participants attest to the transformative change in
education practice, as exemplified by this quote from an educator: `I've
gone into (the learning set) meetings feeling bludgeoned by higher
education and my workload (and have emerged) feeling empowered to come
back and make changes. ... In terms of professional identity, I went
from being somebody who was new to having some credibility and
professional confidence with colleagues; I felt really of value because
I was part of it ... I've got some kind of identity within my profession
and teaching' [C11].
National teaching of communication skills with children has been
shaped by our research evidence, and communications with children have
Influencing policy: In 2013, the Care Council for Wales (CCW)
reported that they have used the 3 studies commissioned from the Sussex
team to improve practice with children in Wales in the following ways:
(i) to revise the National Occupational Standards for Social Work upon
which the Wales socialwork degree is based; (ii) to inform the CCW
review of requirements for approval of the degree and increase the
requirements in relation to safeguarding; (iii) to develop, consult on
and begin to implement a framework for Continuing Professional Education
and Learning for social workers in Wales, which forms a nationallyagreed
career pathway for social workers; (iv) to inform CCW quality assurance
of socialwork degree programmes; (v) to inform the preparation of
child-developmentannotated bibliographies as a resource for educators
and practitioners [C7]. In England, Luckock raised awareness of the SCIE
research findings [R1] in his submission to the House of Commons'
Children, Schools and Families Enquiry into the Training of Children and
Families Social Workers (Para. 14, Seventh Report of Session 2008-09,
Influencing HE practice: The research led to social workers
feeling better prepared for work with children. Research was used in two
books on good practice with children: (i) BAAF identified Luckock and
Lefevre's book [R4] as `a core text ...widely used to train social
workers and other professionals' [C8]; (ii) Policy Press records (2013)
show that Lefevre's book [R5] was adopted by 31 BA and MA SWE teachers
in 29 HEIs in England and Wales who were teaching 1,529 students a year
[C9]. Lefevre was consulted on development of The College `Curriculum
Guide on Communication Skills', where her 2010 book is cited as a
core text [C10]. The HEA continue to support development of the impact
of Lefevre's research. In 2013 they awarded a teaching development grant
to Lefevre to develop and evaluate the learning and assessment of
communication and engagement with children and young people in
final-year social work placements.
Influencing social work practice: Nationally Lefevre receives
more invitations from social-work and non-social-work children's
agencies to contribute to training their staff than she can accommodate.
In 2013, this included an invitation from the British Association of
Osteopaths. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, the Children and Family Court
Advisory Service commissioned Lefevre to train their practitioners in
London. This training draws directly on her researcher-practitioner
perspective and leads to improved communication with children by
practitioners. Practitioners commented on the effect of the
training: `I hope and I believe that I have developed some kind of
attunement, becoming a bit more alert to what children tell me and
finding/developing creative ways in establishing communication with
them'; `It has encouraged me to listen to children on how they
communicate in implicit ways that I failed to pick up previously' [C11].
Sources to corroborate the impact
C1 Former Head of Social Work Education Inspection, General Social
Care Council, now with The College of Social Work.
C2 Senior Academic Adviser , Higher Education Academy, Social Work
Education Project in England.
C3 Guidance for HE Admissions Tutors and Partners on
Implementing New Arrangements for the Selection of Students for Social
Accessed 13 October 2013.
C4 Recommendations for the Selection of Students onto Social
Work Degree Courses in England. http://www.tcsw.org.uk/uploadedFiles/TheCollege/_CollegeLibrary/Reform_resources/RecommendationsSelectionStudents(edref2).pdf
C5 TCSW Curriculum Guide: Social Work Law
C6 Braye, S. and Preston-Shoot, M. (2007, updated 2009) E-Learning
Law and Social Work. London:
C7 Manager Higher and Social Work Education, Care Council for
C8 Director of Policy, Research and Development, British
Association for Adoption and Fostering.
C9 Policy Press Record available on request.
C10 TCSW Curriculum Guide: Communication Skills:
C11 Evaluation feedback available from Departmental records: