Social work training needs upgrading, says Martin Narey
The training of social workers in England needs upgrading, with more emphasis put on practical skills, a government adviser has said.
Sir Martin Narey also suggests some of the students recruited are not up to the job and that course standards vary.
He is calling for tighter minimum entry standards and the standardisation of what is taught.
The British Association of Social Workers says there is scope to improve the quality of training.
However, it said university education was only part of the story.
Sir Martin, the former head of the prison service in England and Wales and the charity Barnardo's, advises the Education Secretary Michael Gove on children's social care.
He was asked to look at initial social work training.
He said in his report: "I reject entirely the suggestion that we do not currently produce some very good social workers.
"But there are universities and colleges where entry and academic standards appear to be too low and where the preparation of students for children's social work is too often inadequate."
He said standards were "variable" and many employers thought graduates were sometimes inadequately prepared for "the challenge of children's social work".
"There is too little clarity on what a children's social worker should know at graduation - that needs to change, quickly - and there is a question mark over the entry calibre of too many students," he said.
"We need greater assurance about both the academic standards and the quality of work experience at different universities."
The report quotes statistics suggesting that since 2003, just one in three social work students has had one or more A-level.
Entrants are now meant to have at least the equivalent of three A-levels at grade C, Sir Martin wrote, but the feeling was that some universities were accepting people with lower qualifications.
He is calling for that entry requirement to be adhered to.
The Association of British Social workers says the tightening of entry requirements will prove controversial, with many arguing that some people enter social work later in life with other relevant experience.
The report says another key issue is a lack of clarity about what trainee social workers should be taught at university.
Sir Martin calls for the chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler, to produce a clear definition of what a newly qualified children's social worker needs to understand and be able to do.
Universities, he said, should use this checklist as the basis for their courses.
In total, Sir Martin made 18 recommendations, which he said could be implemented at "minimal cost".
Welcoming Sir Martin's report, the Education Secretary Michael Gove said "too many social workers are leaving university today ill-prepared for their vital role working to protect at risk children."
He said that while the report revealed there are some good undergraduate courses, and many more post-graduate ones, "too many" prospective social workers were "ill-equipped" to meet the demands of the job.
"Children's social work requires a uniquely fine balance of moral, legal, practical and psychological considerations; challenge as well as support; a hard intellect as well as a generous heart," Mr Gove said.
"We want to see universities demand more of prospective social workers."
The British Association of Social Work said there was scope to improve training offered at some universities and that it wanted to see high calibre students entering the profession.
Chief executive Bridget Robb said: "Sir Michael clearly has the best interests of children at heart but... university education is only part of the story.
"Social workers must have high quality on-the-job placements."
The College of Social Work, which would become the inspector of social work training courses under Sir Martin's proposals, welcomed the report.
Chair Jo Cleary said: "This report testifies to the enormous contribution of social workers and recognises the credibility and strength of the College of Social Work in promoting the highest standards of practice.
"It is vital that everyone qualifying as a social worker is of the highest calibre and has the necessary knowledge, skills and resilience for working in what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging of public services."