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Social Work Task Force report good for social workers

It’s what all social workers have been waiting for: the final report from the Social Work Task Force. Today, the blueprint for the future of social work has been outlined and, on initial reading, the recommendations could bring about real and positive change for the profession.

The SWTF was set up at the height of the Baby P scandal – but not because of it, as commonly believed – in January and charged with conducting a ‘root and branch review’ of the profession. While the recommendations are hardly radical – more what many social workers/social work bodies have been requesting for years – they are nonetheless welcome.

In case you haven’t seen them, here are some of the headline recommendations:

  • Reforms to initial training, so all students receive ‘good quality’ education and practice learning placements
  • A new ‘licensing’ system which will introduce an assessed probationary year in employment for new social work graduates, during which they will receive extra support
  • A revamped framework for continuing professional development, underpinned by a practice-based masters qualification, so all social workers can keep their skills up to date and develop specialist knowledge
  • A career structure so experienced practitioners can progress in frontline roles as well as in management
  • A new standard for employers to ensure all employers put in place high quality supervision, time for continuing professional development and manageable workloads
  • Pay reform – to ensure social workers receive the appropriate pay and that it reflects their career development and progression
  • A new and independent College for Social Work led and owned by the profession, which must establish a stronger voice for social work and exercise appropriate influence over national policy making and public debate.

To see the full report and press release at the DCSF website, click here.

On the face of it, these all seem sound recommendations. I’m sure all social workers will like the look of pay reforms, for instance.

The career development options also seem positive – many social workers have complained that to progress in their career they have to go into management and away from the frontline.

Also, newly qualified social workers have said that their training doesn’t adequately prepare them for practice – this should help address that.

While the licensing requirement just seems like the GSCC registration system by another name, this is a minor quibble and is probably there to help increase public confidence in social workers.

But, as social work associations ADASS and ADCS have pointed out, this package of reforms also need to come with resources. Disappointingly, health minister Andy Burnham has said details of this will not be announced until next year, along with the implementation plan. This will worry those in the profession – with tightening budgets, money for reforms and increased pay will be hard to find from existing resources.

I’m sure there will also be cynicism from within some parts of the profession – which has seen many initiatives and reforms come and go over the years with little discernable impact on practice – over things like the commitment to cut workloads and provide time for professional development and the masters qualification. I can envisage an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ attitude as this will be difficult to implement without bringing in more social workers. Again, this is where increased resources become crucial to the success – or otherwise – of the recommendations.

So, while these recommendations give hope for a brighter future for social work, it is now up to everyone – government, employers, social workers and others – to play their parts and ensure they become reality.

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Ofsted needs to learn from criticism

Ofsted’s annual report on care, education and skills is out today, but rather than celebrate progress and successes, various groups – notably the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services – have wasted no time in putting the boot into the regulator.

The LGA says Ofsted “should be the calm, measured voice that helps to make child protection services work better rather than feeding people’s fears.”

Then, more provocatively – and obviously aimed at journalists looking for a juicy public-sector punch-up – the LGA added, “Ofsted has become too concerned about protecting its own reputation and places a disproportionate emphasis on publicly highlighting weaknesses in child protection without adequately reflecting the huge amount of good work being done by councils across the country.”

Meanwhile, the ADCS – which has a fractious relationship with Ofsted at the best of times – fuelled the fire with its own report. It said there are “very serious problems” with the current inspection model and that it is “ripe” for reform. However, ADCS did say that Ofsted should continue to inspect education and children’s services.

While regulators aren’t there to be popular, the criticism of Ofsted is stinging and with such venomous feelings towards it indicates that there are problems that need to be addressed.

For the public to have confidence in children’s services and education there has to be confidence in the regulator that governs it. If this is being undermined, it needs to be addressed quickly.

For instance, there is certainly a groundswell of opinion that Ofsted needs to get away from a perceived ‘box-ticking’ culture when it assesses services; it has been said to me that it can feel if they are being ‘marked’ during assessments.

And while Ofsted could probably do more to publicise the good work that is being done within children’s services, this is not solely their problem – the whole sector needs to be better at flagging up good work.

But Ofsted really needs to show that it can recognise criticism and learn from it – much like that it tells councils to after assessments. That way, everyone has the chance to improve and develop.

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