Examination of Witnesses (Questions 206-219)|
12 MAY 2008
Q206 Chairman: I welcome our witnesses:
Celia Atherton, Professor Julian Le Grand, Jane Haywood and Steve
Titcombe. We always very much value people giving of their time
to give evidence when we are conducting an inquiry. As you will
probably know very well, some of us used to be involved in the
Select Committee on Education and Skills. When it changed its
personnel andquite dramaticallyits focus to children,
schools and families, we were determined to ensure that we took
the whole of our brief very seriously. That is why our first major
inquiry on the children's side was about our most vulnerable children.
As we have gone on, our witnesses have told us that it is not
politically correct to speak about looked-after children and that,
according to some experts, we should go back to speaking about
children in care. Whichever it is, you know where we are. Today,
we want to look at and learn about workforce issues, because they
have come up consistently as we have dipped our toes into this
inquiry. Are there preconceptions out there that are wrong? How
good are the workforce who deliver this social care? Are they
in need of radical reform or are they perfectly good as they are?
Should we just adjust the tiller a little? What I tend to do in
this first bit of the session is to ask you not about yourselveswe
have your CVs and so onbut to spend a couple of minutes
telling us where you think we are and what we need to address.
It would be helpful if you could do that very pithily, if you
do not mind. Celia.
Celia Atherton: Hello. Thank you
very much for inviting me.
Chairman: I go to first names. Is that
all right? We do not use titles.
Celia Atherton: That is fine.
Thank you very much for inviting me. I am speaking from my experience
of working with more than 100 agencies in England and Walesmostly
local authorities, but also some of the big national organisations,
such as TACT and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Children. They are all committed to using research better in
the work that they do with children and families. I thought that
I would just mention three areas that I hope bother you as much
as they bother us at Research in Practice. One is the need to
refocus more on the skills, knowledge and behaviour that social
workers need to have in their bag, and to rebalance those against
what is almost an obsession with structure, systems, procedures
and a crushing of what is meant to be a distinct skill by the
need to fit into those rather more bureaucratic elements. Secondly,
we need to work hardthis is why I really appreciate the
Committee's focus at the momenton developing social work
as a strong discipline within children's services. There has been
a real danger for many years that social work would lose its distinctiveness
and that we would begin to think about children's services workers.
What we need is different disciplines, each strong and each confident.
If you like, we need a mixed salad, rather than a pureed soupat
the moment, we may well be in danger of having a rather thin soup
at that. The last thing that I want to say is about leadership.
It is very common for people to talk about leadership, but if
we are to remodel the workforce, we need very strong leadership,
not only among senior managers, but among elected members and
trustees in voluntary organisations. Specifically on this subject,
we need leaders who are reflective, who model what we need, who
promote evidence-informed practice and who provide their staff
with the support and tools to carry things out.
Professor Le Grand: This is my
first experience of testifying before a Committee and I am delighted
to have the opportunity to do so. Thank you very much. I have
always felt a little suppressed by central government when I have
tried to do this before. I am not a social worker, but I did chair
the social work practices group that the then Department for Education
and Skills set up, and I think that you will all have seen the
report that we supplied. We were looking at some of the problems
faced by the workforce and thinking about social work practice
as a possible answer to those problems. The problems that were
identified were very clear. We talked to looked-after children,
social workers and local authority managers, and it was very clear
that there was a problem with continuity and stability. One of
the children we talked to had five social workers, and another
one had had three, but the changeover had been so fast that she
had never even met the third one. They all kept coming back to
us and almost saying, "It would just be wonderful if we had
the same person"a person who could act as a friend
and a support throughout their time in care, if possible. There
were one or two examples of that care, and they were the ones
that threw into relief the plight of the others who did not have
it. The social workers themselves also identified a set of problems.
One of them said to usthis is very similar to what Celia
was just saying"You've trained us to be professionals,
but you give us jobs as clerks." They felt very much that
they were at the bottom of the local authority heap. To give one
quote, they said that they did not have control over the numbers
on the case load, the budget for their looked-after child or access
to the looked-after child, the school, the foster and residential
place, the child and adolescent mental health services and additional
tuition or psychological support. They said they were the least
powerful members of the children's services department, although
they felt that they were the most trained. What seemed to be happening
was the takeover of professionalism by managerialism. That was,
in some ways, the idea that social work practice set out the problems
that it tried to address, but we will no doubt talk about that
in a moment.
Jane Haywood: I am not a social
worker either, but hopefully I can speak for them today. Our organisation
is the Children's Workforce Development Council, and we have two
responsibilities. One is to lead workforce reform across the whole
children's workforce, and the other is to set occupational standards
and approved qualifications for key parts of the workforcesocial
workers and residential workers are ours. We spend a lot of time
talking to social workers and thinking about their issues. I would
make two or three points to support what both previous speakers
have said. When we go out to meet people, it is clear that this
is a very committed workforce who absolutely want to make a difference
to the lives of children and young people. The job that we ask
them to do is extremely difficult and challenging. They deal with
situations that most of us probably will not meet in our day-to-day
lives, and we ask them to make some very complex judgments and
decisions. In doing that, they feel undervalued by society at
large, and often by their own leadership and management. They
do not feel that they get the support that they need to do the
job. We can look at what a nurse, doctor or teacher does, get
a view of it and see how important it is, but most of our views
of what the social worker does are what we get from negative press.
We do not see that underneath that is a very skilled task. The
big issue for this workforce is how we give them the support that
they need and the right training and development to do that difficult
and challenging task, and also how we help them to work with other
professionals so that we have their core specialist skills and
they are able to work with other professionals and social care
workers so that they do not get into a paperwork-driven bureaucracy,
but are doing the job that we have trained them for.
Steve Titcombe: I am a social
worker, although it seems a long time since I was a practising
social worker. In contrast to what my colleagues have said, I
want to say a few words about the remodelling project that Rochdale
is runningone of the 11 remodelling projects of the CWDC.
Often, the dissatisfactions of youngsters who were asked what
social workers ought to be doing were that they were not visiting
youngsters in care often enough and were not sufficiently in contact,
or sufficiently on top of such things as ensuring that the care
plan was up to date. Our bid to have a remodelling project was
borne out of our need to improve and develop further services
for children in care. Despite significant progress over the years,
there are some important issues, particularly in relation to the
position of front-line social workers. I consider the situation
to be serious. I have a few notes about new recruits coming off
social work courses. They appear to lack preparation and lack
confidence in the work that they are being asked to do, so they
are easily knocked off course by their experience of working with
very damaged children and young people, and dysfunctional families.
They need more time and nurturing, but the demands of the job
are such that they are very quickly expected to get into practice.
Experienced staff have all sorts of opportunities to get out of
front-line worktempting opportunities in specialist services
and management posts in the independent and voluntary sectors,
away from very difficult front-line work. I repeat Jane's comments
about people's need to be valued, looked after, developed and
rewarded, so that they stick with front-line experience. We need
people to remain in practice to provide the services that only
social workers can. Another part of the remodelling project is
whether we can find extended roles for other members of the social
care workforce, who are really important to social workers and
Chairman: That is very good; thank you
very much. I shall declare an interest, as I always have to do
when there is a professor of the London School of Economics here.
I am a governor of the LSE, and indeed I knew Richard Titmuss,
which makes me feel ancient.
Professor Le Grand: I shall be
very careful about what I say.
Q207 Chairman: Let us go back to
what is obviously coming out of our deliberations so far and of
what you have said. Is there a shortage of good entrants into
the profession? Is there evidence of an under-supply of good people
Professor Le Grand: Well, there
was. Now that the new system of training for social workers has
come in, there is a fairly substantial number of applications.
We are improving the training quite a lotit will be interesting
to see whether Steve thinks that. The problem is that we are training
them to be highly skilled professionals and the kinds of jobs
that we will ask them to do are way below their levels of skills
Chairman: I have a feeling of déjà-vu,
because I have heard that from representatives of teachers and
the education sector.
Jane Haywood: There are areas
of the country where there are still recruitment problems. Classically,
that is London, because of all the other pressures of recruiting
public sector workers, but across the country the issue is retentionhow
we keep social workers, rather than recruiting lots more. That
is, in some ways, where the focus of the work has to be: what
kind of support do we give them when they first qualify? Let us
think about the newly qualified social worker, at the age of 22
or 23, who suddenly has to deal with very difficult cases and
dealing with some things on their own. A newly qualified teacher
or nurse would tend to be doing their practice with other professionals
working alongside them and giving them support. For social workers,
that is much tougher. The issue now is retention rather than recruitment.
Q208 Chairman: But is there not a
system whereby a newly qualified social work entrant is given
what all of us would think was necessary in those difficult situations
at the sharp end of social work? Surely there should be a greater
process of induction. I was interested when Celia referred to
skills, knowledge and behaviour. I added experience because if
there is one thing that I find when I meet social workers, it
is that they need experience. They need some miles on the clock
before they develop the maturity to do the job.
Celia Atherton: That is right.
It is only through having experience and being in the job that
you gain the full set of skills and knowledge that you need. You
cannot learn that entirely from a book. Having said thatI
am a social worker, although I am also rather a long time out
of practiceI think that in the past we have overemphasised
the learning on the job, at the expense of learning from beyond
what we could see or experience: research and learning from others
working in different settings. I think that that needs to change.
Jane Haywood: At the risk of sounding
a bit Blue Peter-ish"And here's one I prepared earlier"the
piece of work by CWDC that will really kick off from September
onwards is a programme called "A Newly Qualified Social Worker",
which will give a newly qualified social worker guaranteed time
away from the front line for that kind of development and support.
We will invest in supervision to support them in that role, so
we are hopeful that that programme will start to support them.
Alongside that, another programme is about focusing on years 2
and 3 as a social worker, when people think, "I've got through
my induction; what support and help do I need now?" Those
two pieces of work are kicking off this year.
Q209 Chairman: My experience in the
education sector suggests that one of the things you do not do
even with a teacher is drop them into a school shortly after training
with no good mentoring. We know that people getting burned out
or dropping out very early is often related to the kind of guidance
and mentoring they are given in school as they get into the profession.
This is not rocket science, is it? Why did the professional bodies
not work on it a long time ago? Steve, I meet social workers who
burn out. Quite honestly, if I was doing their job, I would burn
out. Why is there not a system whereby every five years you are
shifted to a different kind of post and then you come back when
you have recharged your batteries? Why do you not have a sabbatical
built in? Otherwise, people will flee into management and other
things, will they not?
Steve Titcombe: In most authorities
there is not such a system, so you are quite right to raise it.
What tends to happen in my authority is that we will offer secondments.
There are opportunities to swap jobs, to move within the service
and to rejuvenate and revitalise yourself, which does happen.
The point needs to be made, however, that despite a very good
induction standards programme, which we certainly have in the
met I work for, some new recruits are not prepared and do not
have the experience or understanding of the job to survive that
initial six or nine months. Some new recruits are very successful
and good, and quickly incorporate their professional training
and the necessary reports, reviews, recording, and communication
that are so vital. When we look at past tragedies, how often have
social workers been weak in recording communications? Those important
matters are arguably part of the management demands made on social
workers. They are really important, and I must emphasise the need
for social workers to be rounded professionals. They must cover
the paper work and so on.
Chairman: This is the answer to Julian.
Julian is saying that social workers are trained to be professionals
but are ending up as clerks, and you are saying that clerking
is integral to the job.
Steve Titcombe: I would say that
it is not clerking, but part of the professional job.
Celia Atherton: In my experience,
what often happens is that when a newly qualified social worker
comes into post, the authority intends to provide induction by
the book, but, because of shortages, someone gets pushed into
taking on a situation that, for example, results in them having
to give evidence in court. We have been trying to focus on such
work to try to provide guidance and tools to help social workers
to give evidence better, and particularly to use research to back
up their assessments. A number of authorities said that that was
interesting and useful, but that they would not use it with social
workers in the first two years because they do not go to court,
although we know that they do. If you end up without support and
preparation, you revert to procedures because you know nothing
else. To me, it is about balance. Procedures and systems are meant
to assist, but they can become the overriding reason for going
to work and have become that for many people, and leadership tends
to demand compliance firstthat is how it is perceivedrather
than good judgment.
Chairman: I am going to let my team drill
down into the questions. Graham, will you lead off on workforce
planning and training?
Q210 Mr Stuart: Yes. You said that
there used to be too much on-the-job training, but now there is
a slight picture of often young graduates appearing with insufficient
on-the-job training. Where is the right balance? Picking up on
Julian's point about training, he looked round desperately at
his colleagues and said, "Training is getting betterisn't
it?" Can you tell us about that balance, and how training
has been improved?
Professor Le Grand: Let me say
something briefly about social work practices in that context,
which relates to Barry's point about mentoring. We thought that
one of the advantages of social work practice was that there would
be a much smaller group with a collectivist professional ethos,
which would make a happier environment for a mentoring process
and the student training process. An important part of the social
work practice idea is that at least two students will be attached
to each practice. Again, the idea is very much that there will
be a strong sense of identity and a collectivist spirit, and that
the seniors will help the juniors, and the juniors will help the
students, and so on. Part of the idea is that by moving to a much
smaller organisation in which everyone has a stake in its success,
the training is superior. That is certainly one of the arguments.
Q211 Mr Stuart: Tell us a little
more about how much on-the-job training there is for those who
are studying, and how many sandwich courses or part-time courses
there are. Give us a feel for the way in which the workforce is
trained at the moment.
Chairman: Is it an all-graduate profession?
Jane Haywood: It is becoming an
all-graduate profession. Many who are in the profession at the
moment have a diploma, and are moving towards that. At the moment
there is a degreeit is fairly newwhich is being
reviewed. It has proved to be popular with students. A lot of
people are applying for it, and doing a lot of that research-based
work. As part of that degree they should spend time in practice
Q212 Mr Stuart: How much time?
Jane Haywood: I do not know. I
do not run the degree course. I can find the answer for you, but
I do not have that detail at the moment. They should spend time
on practice placements. If they want to specialise in children
or adultsthis is a general social work degreethey
should make sure that their practice placements focus on the children's
part. Then, when they qualify and start work, they will have a
set of induction standards to work through to help them through
the process. There are then available to them post-qualifying
awards, which help them develop different skills and specialisms,
one of which is available in child care and children's issues.
There is a framework for that to happen. Each social worker has
to be registered with the General Social Care Council, and as
part of that registration requirement they have to complete so
many hours of learning and development a year.
Q213 Mr Stuart: But this is the new
degree, which will help to get the balance right. Does any member
of the panel have any idea of what percentage of the time students
spend on the job?
Steve Titcombe: The final placement
is 200 days. My expectation is that the placement would be close
to where that person then chooses to work.
Celia Atherton: There have been
real and continuing difficulties about finding good placements.
There is a requirement for a number of days, but we have all come
across social work students who, the week before their placement
is due to start, do not know where they are going. The rosy idea
found in publications, about there being a careful discussion
of what you are interested in and matching your interests with
the course requirements and finding a good supervisor, does not
happen. There are probably lots of reasons for that, and I know
that there is a commitment to do something about it. It is not
only about how many days' placement there are, but whether the
placements will really help people to develop the skills and the
knowledge that they will need. Although in the past there was
a great deal of learning on the job, there was almost no formal
training on the job. You learned to fly by the seat of your pants.
What Jane described is a much more robust system, but the difficulty
that we have is that it is honoured more in theory than in practice.
Some of the gaps need to be filled in. For instance, it seems
to me that social workers on qualifying courses are now trained
much better than ever before to understand how to access, analyse
and apply research findings. However, although they are still
going into workplaces, those newly qualified workers are not being
used as a resource for the whole team. People who come in with
those skills are finding that they are squashed by the demand
to get on with all sorts of other work instead. Their ability
not only to keep on developing their own knowledge but to work
as a resource for their team is diminished quite quickly. It is
about trying to fill the gaps in what is a much better structure.
Jane Haywood: That is right. That
is why the newly qualified social worker programme being put in
place puts a lot of emphasis on the supervision and the skills
of the employer in order to provide support to those new entrants.
Improving their skills with new entrants will also help their
support for students on placement.
Q214 Mr Stuart: Given how demanding
the job is, is it not possible that a lot of people could go in
for something much more theoretical? As you say, they come out
as theoretical graduates with a little work placement of whatever
quality is given, but then find that they are not temperamentally
suited to front-line work and the tough and challenging situations
in which they find themselves. Is there any effort to check whether
the entrants are suitable?
Celia Atherton: I have never taught
on a social work training course. I think there is a concern about
how rigorous selection is and how carefully people are counselled
as they go through their training, in terms of whether they have
the right personal qualities for itin a way that is not
a criticism, but is just about fitting for the kind of job that
it is going to be. It is a very tough job, which requires professionals
to be tough but very committed to forming relationships with peoplenot
an easy combination.
Steve Titcombe: I was going to
make the link between the issue about new recruit social workers
and retaining experienced social workers, because you will find
successful teams where new recruits find it easier because they
are supported by senior practitioners within the same team. So
the connection between retention and recruitment is very important.
Certainly where I come from, one of the problems we have is that
our experienced practitioners are drawn away into other workother
specialist teams and other specialist rolesthereby reducing
our capacity to support those newly qualified workers outside
the line manager and the team manager.
Q215 Mr Stuart: Thank you. On workforce
planning, a social worker came up to me at my street surgery on
Saturday and said she and mostI think she said most, but
certainly manyof her cohort, who went through Hull University
and qualified, have been unable to find work. How good is the
workforce planning? She said that they were promised that they
would be head-hunted and that there would be plenty of opportunities,
but that she is one of many fully-qualified people who simply
cannot find work. She is on the East Riding of Yorkshire council
pool and is annoyed to find that it is advertising for new entrants
to the pool, although when she rang up to ask about it she was
told hardly anyone on the pool has ever found a job. That is a
moot point, but perhaps you would comment. We seem to be going
from one thing to the other pretty quickly.
Professor Le Grand: Meanwhile,
the interim Humberside vacancy rate is 13% and the turnover rate
is about 18%. That is somewhat surprising, I think. There are
a number of vacancy and turnover figures that suggest that there
are substantial vacancies.
Q216 Chairman: But Julian, what I
think Graham is trying to get at is who manages all that. What
is the management process? You are all coming up with very articulate
criticisms of the disjuncture between educationwith graduates
coming outand who hires and supervises them. Who manages
the processor is it anarchic?
Jane Haywood: It is not anarchic,
but one of the issues raised is that there are a number of people
involved in the social work world, for lots of good reasons: we
have the General Social Care Council, which is responsible for
regulation and registration of social workers, and for the degree
and post-qualifying training, and we ourselves are responsible
for children's social workers and children's social care workers,
working in partnership with an organisation called Skills for
Care, which deals with adult social workers. It is our job to
try to identify how many social workers there are, and the numbers
and the gaps that are there. Then you have Ofsted, which inspects
children's social work and sees whether it is fit for purpose.
So some of those issues about the degree and the workforce can
get confused across that piece. The difficulty in measuring the
number of social workers is that they sit in many organisations.
We know how many schools we have and where they are, so we can
count the number of teachers who work in them. We estimate that
there are just over 20,000 social workers and their managers,
probably about 17,000 of which are doing social work, but they
sit in local authorities, voluntary organisations and private
sector organisations, and the big job that we have been trying
to do in CWDC over the last couple of years is just to try to
count them, because you have got to count them before you can
then plan for them, but it is actually extremely difficult to
pull that information together. We can get a pretty good fix now
on local authorities, but picking up that information in the private
sector and the voluntary sector is quite hard. There is something
called a national minimum data set, which should help us to count
the total, but we are having to count the private sector and voluntary
sector contributions to that total and it is not an easy shift.
So we have a rough idea of how many social workers there are and
we know that about two thirds of local authorities are facing
recruitment problems and that most local authorities are focusing
on the retention of social workers. However, I would be surprised
if we had massive unemployment of social workers at the moment.
Q217 Mr Stuart: Obviously, we are
specifically looking at looked-after children, so can you tell
us how well-qualified the workforce are becoming for those children,
especially as the Association of Directors of Children's Services
said that it felt that the degree course did not adequately prepare
social workers for the role that they would have to carry out?
Jane Haywood: The work that we
have done in developing the newly qualified social worker programme
shows that the students coming out do not feel adequately prepared,
and their employers do not feel adequately prepared. However,
we get a different message when we review the effectiveness of
the degree and ask students how the degree has gone; the degree
is quite popular and people are saying that it is useful. So,
what is happening at the moment is that people are trying to draw
together the information from the review of the degree along with
the information from the newly qualified social worker and see
what the issue is, because there is a slightly different picture
from the two sources of information. However, I know that directors
of children's services feel that their newly qualified social
workers are struggling with the basics of putting together a good
report and pulling together research and drawing on that research.
What we are trying to do with the newly qualified social worker
is to establish a clear set of standards, so that, to get through
your newly qualified social worker year, you must have learned
how to do these things and demonstrate these things. I suppose
the question is whether you should learn that while you are doing
a degree, or while you are in practice. That is quite a difficult
Q218 Mr Stuart: Yes. As you say,
it is graduates only, but to what extent are there sandwich courses
available, or part-time degree courses? You did not really comment
on that issue. The other specific issue is looked-after children,
in particular; they are the focus of our inquiry, so are there
any particular strengths or weaknesses in the training for social
workers that you think apply to looked-after children? In the
light of some of the international comparisons, the training that
we give to our social workers to look after some children who
are extremely challenging is not seen as all that favourable.
Celia Atherton: The type of training
that social workers receive at qualifying levelit would
be interesting to come on to post-qualifying level at some pointdoes
not give them the kind of skills that they need in the job. So,
when I talk to senior managers in local authorities, they bemoan
the lack of ability to work alongside young people and families
in real difficulty. Social work is not just about being able to
work with children; most of these children and young people go
home to their families. So, if we cannot train social workers
to work really well with adults and with the children and young
people, we will fail. That is why I have been very pleased to
see that the children's plan, despite the Committee's worries
about it, nevertheless tried to bring families back into the picture
and not keep them separated. I think that that has been mirrored
in some of the training. Sometimes, social workers have been pushed
down very narrow alleyways in the way in which they are to think
about the work and what they are to do. However, when they get
out on to the job, they discover that it is more complex and it
is much broader than that, and they are not equipped to do that
job. Having said that, social work must be a shared responsibility
and local authorities and other employersbecause, as Jane
has said already, local authorities are certainly not the only
employers of newly qualified social workersdo not do enough
themselves to ensure that they induct their staff really well.
Any of us who bring staff into our organisations know that it
will take at least a year before they can do the job half-competently.
Chairman: We will come back to some of
these issues, but I am conscious of the time and I want to move
now to social work practices. David Chaytor will lead on that.
Q219 Mr Chaytor: I wanted to ask
about the Care Matters system; I imagine that it is a question
for Julian. When you were previously arguing for bringing new
suppliers into the education servicethrough choice and
competition and the academies and trust schoolsthe basis
of your argument was that they would improve diversity and variety.
Now, however, in arguing for new suppliers and a form of independent
social work practices, you are saying that they will improve consistency.
How do you explain that contradiction?
Professor Le Grand: Well, it is
stability and consistency in the relationship between the child
and the social worker. We would like social workers to stay with
a child for as long as possible and not to change every year.
The idea is that there will be a fairly substantial variety of
ways in which children are looked after. One of our aims is to
encourage more innovation, and we state that quite explicitly.
We see social work practices as a device or organisational structure
that leads to greater continuity in the relationship, with that
relationship being much more closely tailored to the needs of
the child in, where possible, a broader local authority setting.