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Innovative development in social work education

28 November 2019

For immediate release

New Professional Capabilities Framework - innovative development in social work education for Aotearoa

A new Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand is being launched at the Talking Teaching tertiary education event in Auckland today.

The evidence-based and industry-agreed framework aims to provide a clearer pathway of support for social workers before and after the point of qualification, strengthening newly-qualified social worker’s preparedness to practise.

Already, the findings from this work are having a significant impact on several developments at a national level, including feeding into a review of social work education conducted by New Zealand Qualifications Authority on behalf of Minister Tracey Martin. Stakeholders have warmly welcomed the work of the team and there has been considerable support from practitioners for the way in which the framework emphasises recognisable steps in the process of social work practice.

The framework is a response by a group of experts ¬– researchers, practitioners and educators – to public criticisms of the social work curriculum.

“As social work educators we were aware of critical comments made by several key policy actors about the adequacy of social work education”, says Neil Ballantyne, project co-lead and Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the Open Polytechnic.

“Educators are committed to improving social work education but reckoned that evidence is a better source of knowledge than anecdote. That was our motivation for the project, we wanted to collect evidence on the nature of the curriculum and the actual readiness to practise of newly-qualified social workers, and then make recommendations for improvements.”


Focusing on the transition from newly qualified social work (NQSW) to professional practitioner, the benefits of the Professional Capabilities Framework are twofold:

1. it can be used to inform and guide the learning opportunities provided by tertiary institutions, and agencies providing student placements, and

2. support qualified social workers through their continuing professional development, especially in the early years of practice.

The new Professional Capabilities Framework has resulted from a three-year collaborative project, with partnership funding from Ako Aotearoa, involving researchers from the Open Polytechnic, the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, Massey University, and the University of Otago. The team reviewed the content of the social work curriculum, evaluated the readiness to practise of social workers newly qualified graduates and, in close consultation with key stakeholders, developed the Professional Capabilities Framework.

The project made several recommendations including the establishment of an assessed and supported first year of practice for newly qualified graduates, improvements to the quality of agency-based fieldwork education and enhancements to knowledge in key curriculum areas such as mental health and law.

Project co-lead Professor Liz Beddoe, from the University of Auckland says, “One of the strongest findings from the project was that the development of confident and capable social work practitioners requires a partnership between employers and educators, and that we need resources to make that partnership work. Fieldwork placements are significant learning experiences but we need investment to ensure that they are of consistently high quality.”

Further impact

Impact at national level also includes the Professional Capabilities Framework being considered by the Social Workers Registration Board as a way of enhancing their existing Core Competence Standards, while the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers has incorporated the seven core professional values identified by the team - Rangatiratanga, Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga, Aroha, Kotahitanga, Mātātoa and Wairuatanga –into a rewrite of the code of ethics.

Further background on the project

The five separate frameworks or competency profiles reviewed as part of the research include: two from Aotearoa New Zealand (Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence, 2017; SWRB, 2015), one from Canada (Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators, 2012), one from the United Kingdom (British Association of Social Workers, 2017) and one from the United States of America (Council on Social Work Education, 2015).

Different from other frameworks, such as the English PCF, this framework is focused on the transition from newly-qualified social work (NQSW) to professional practitioner status, where the three levels build on each other.

Ako Aotearoa takes pride in supporting innovative projects, such as this, that have wide-reaching impact that leads to positive change for tertiary education teaching and learning, industry bodies, government agencies, and communities across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Download/read the ‘Enhancing the readiness to practice of newly qualified social workers’ reports, project overview, literature reviews and technical reports on the Ako Aotearoa website.


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