A consultation has been launched to look at new ways of funding placements for social work students to make sure money is spent most efficiently and provides students with excellent learning opportunities, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb announced today.
The consultation will ask for people’s views on how the Education Support Grant (ESG) could be structured to make sure it operates within its £28 million budget. The grant has been running increasingly over budget year on year and the current annual overspend is approximately £3 million.
It will also look at how the quality of placements can be improved as a result of these proposals. This includes looking at giving higher education institutes more flexibility over how this grant is spent, so they can reward the providers that offer high quality placements or work with others to improve standards. This will ensure every social work student has access to high quality practical experience before they begin their career.
The consultation will ask for people’s views on:
- Different options for how the ESG can be used to fund placements fairly and equally without exceeding the budget
- Ways of bringing in greater financial control over the ESG budget
- Ways of improving the quality of placements alongside funding changes
- How we can make sure the ESG is used to provide social work students with the most valuable learning opportunities
In launching the consultation, Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: "We know how important it is for social work students to get practical experience during their education but the way these placements are funded at the moment is simply unsustainable.
"This consultation will look at how we can use this money more efficiently whilst making sure our social workers of the future are trained to the highest standards.
"In these challenging financial times we have to make better use of our resources and control every penny we spend to make sure the public’s money is used effectively.
The ESG was introduced in 2003 to contribute to the cost of organising and delivering placements for social work students. Until now, there has been a lack of clarity and understanding over what should be supported with this money. This has led to an uncapped system where the money is distributed solely according to the number of students and placement days required. That is no longer a sustainable approach.
The public will be asked for their views on the following four options for how the ESG fund could be distributed in the future. They are:
- Remain as is
- ESG allocated according to previous year’s number of students on placements
- ESG allocated according to next year’s number of students on placements
- ESG allocated according to number of students who receive the social work bursary
This consultation is not about reducing the budget; it is about stopping the overspend. The responses to this consultation will be analysed carefully before any recommendations are made and there will be further consultation on detailed proposals before any changes are made. The Department is planning to introduce the reformed ESG in the 2014 academic year.