Training of Children and Families Social Workers - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

1  Social work training in England

10.  The Care Standards Act 2000 introduced greater regulation of the social work profession through the establishment of the General Social Care Council. To practise as a social worker, professionals must be registered with the GSCC; in registering they must demonstrate that they have achieved an appropriate social work qualification and are undertaking post-registration training and learning. There are 78,635 registered social workers across all settings and specialisms in England (children's services, older people, mental health, disabilities).[8]

11.  In 2003, a three-year Bachelor's degree in social work replaced the two-year diploma (DipSW) as the main qualification route; there is also the option of a two-year Master's for those with a first degree. The degrees are generic in nature, meaning that students learn about social work with both adult and child client groups.[9] To achieve either the Bachelor's or Master's degree, students must undertake 200 days of assessed practice, giving them experience in at least two practice settings with at least two user groups.

12.  The General Social Care Council approves Higher Education Institutions to deliver the social work degree, and grants programme approval for individual courses. In February 2009 there were 231 approved social work degree courses delivered by 71 universities and 9 associated HEIs.[10] Funding for social work degree courses comes from four sources:[11]

  • £27m for universities from the General Social Care Council;
  • £5m for placements from the Children's Workforce Development Council and Skills for Care (the sector skills bodies for children's and adults social care respectively);
  • £70m from the NHS Business Services Authority for student bursaries;
  • Per student funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

13.  The number of students enrolled on initial social work qualifying degrees in 2007-08 was 5,221; 24% were studying at Master's level. There has been a decline in students qualifying through part-time study since the introduction of the degree in 2003, from 19% to 8%.[12] An age barrier to qualifying as a social worker, previously set at a minimum of 22 years, was withdrawn when the degree was introduced; students over the age of 25 now account for 61% of the total intake.[13] The intake for social work tends to represent a more ethnically diverse profile than other degree courses, but only 13% of enrolments are by men.[14]

14.  The social work degree has been successful in encouraging higher numbers of people to train as social workers; there has been a 37% increase in student numbers since 2003. Not all those who study on the degree courses, however, go on to practice as social workers.[15] A system of non-income assessed bursaries for students while they train was established at the same time as the new degree courses. The vast majority of applications for bursaries are accepted; in the 2008/9 academic year, 9848 undergraduates and 2660 postgraduates received bursaries. Some local authorities or voluntary organisations second or sponsor their employees to study the social work degree through the Open University or a local university, following a period of employment with them. This sponsorship will include financial support or salary through the duration of the course.

15.  Registered Social Workers are required to keep their training and learning up to date in order to re-register with the GSCC after the initial three-year period. In September 2007 the GSCC launched a new Post-Qualifying Framework which is divided into three levels: Specialist Social Work, Higher Specialist Social Work and Advanced Social Work. There are five specialisms in the post-qualifying framework: mental health; adult social care; practice education; leadership and management; and children and young people, their families and carers.

The Task Force and other initiatives

16.  The Social Work Task Force was set up in December 2008 "to advise the Government on the content of a comprehensive programme of reform for the whole social work profession".[16] The Secretaries of State for Health and for Children, Schools and Families told us that they "are prepared to consider radical reforms of the social work education system if that is what the Task Force recommend."[17]

17.  As part of the Government's response to Lord Laming's report on child protection in May 2009, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced funding of £58m for a new Social Work Transformation Fund "to increase the capacity of the system to train and support social workers and implement change in the immediate term". It will fund a range of initiatives:

  • An additional 200 places on the Graduate Recruitment Scheme from September 2009 (this scheme sponsors graduates with a minimum of 2:1 in a first degree to undertake the social work Master's route into the profession);
  • A Return to Social Work scheme to help former social workers move more easily back into the profession; "Our aim is that there should be 500 social workers back in the workplace from this autumn, supported by refresher training where they need it."[18]
  • Introduction of a 'practice-focused' Master's degree for qualified social workers, to be piloted from 2011, with an aspiration that, over time, social work becomes a Master's-level profession;
  • Expansion of the Newly Qualified Social Workers programme so that is it available to all new children and families' social workers in statutory services and the third sector from September 2009;
  • Additional support for frontline managers "to help them develop their leadership, management and supervision skills" from autumn 2009.

Also previously announced was the development of a "career framework" by the Children's Workforce Development Council, to "provide greater focus on training and development needs and set out expected standards of practice at various career points".[19] The framework will build on the Newly-Qualified Social Worker Programme to establish: an Early Professional Development Programme for those in their second and third years of employment, and Advanced Social Work Practitioner status which will create senior practice-focused roles for "excellent and experienced" social workers in local authority children and families services.[20] In July 2009, the Secretary of State announced plans for a work-based training route for career changers.[21]

18.  We asked Moira Gibb, Chair of the Social Work Task Force, whether the Government's announcements in response to the Laming report had inhibited the work of the Task Force in any way. She responded:

We understand the context of the Haringey situation—that Lord Laming is reporting and that the Government need to respond. That does not create a particular problem for us, but there is some confusion out there about which things are coming from where. There has been a lot of activity in a short period. The recommendations about newly qualified social workers, for example, are wholly to be welcomed. We have to work within those realities.[22]

Task Force Joint Deputy Chair Andrew Webb told us "it does not feel like a constrained exercise."[23]

19.  We asked the Minister, Baroness Morgan, why so many new initiatives had been announced before the Task Force had had a chance to make its recommendations. She told us:

It would be unacceptable for the Government to sit back and simply wait until the Task Force had finished its deliberation […] We had already identified some very significant steps such as rolling out the Newly-Qualified Social Worker initiative to all statutory and voluntary providers in September. It was widely accepted that that was the right thing to do […] There are some very straightforward things we can be getting on with. We are working very closely with the Task Force to make sure that our communication is good and that what we are doing does not pre-empt, or undermine, what it might recommend later on.

20.  Although we have received reassurances about the Social Work Task Force's scope to recommend radical reforms, we remain concerned about the plethora of new initiatives which have been announced and set in motion before the Task Force reports. While we appreciate the need to take urgent action in the light of Lord Laming's report on child protection, we consider that a more strategic approach would serve the social work profession better in the long term. It is not clear how these initiatives fit together either with each other, or with existing structures. For example, the links between the Children's Workforce Development Council's new "career framework", the existing Post-Qualification Framework overseen by the General Social Care Council, and the future introduction of a 'practice-focused' Master's degree have not been articulated.[24]

National leadership and sector bodies

21.  Despite the relatively small size of social work as a profession, a large number of organisations carry out a range of roles on the national level. Their functions are summarised below, in comparison with the equivalent bodies in the teaching profession.
Function Responsible children's social work body Teaching body
Funding initial training Higher Education Funding Council for England Training & Development Agency
Commissioning initial training None Training & Development Agency
Quality of initial training General Social Care Council regulates training Ofsted inspects training on behalf of Training & Development Agency
Regulation and registration of the workforce General Social Care Council General Teaching Council for England
Inspection of services Ofsted Ofsted
Workforce development Children's Workforce Development Council Training & Development Agency, General Teaching Council
Workforce planning No national body DCSF through the Teacher Supply Model
Post-qualifying training GSCC sets standards and criteria for courses, endorsing those that meet requirements, and regulates delivery by HEIs; commissioning happens at regional level (with variable results)[25] Training & Development Agency subsidises approved courses
Dissemination of best practice and research Social Care Institute for Excellence Various including DCSF, TDA, GTC
Leadership development National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services

22.  Rosie Varley, Chair of the GSCC outlined what she saw as the main functions of national sector bodies:

In my view, we need a strong regulator that focuses on regulation. We need a strong professional body, which to date has been lacking in social work. I really welcome the initiative that there is now to have a 'College of Social Work' that could become a 'Royal College of Social Work'. We need to have a strong work force development agency. The time has come to develop a very clear model with distinct boundaries between those three organisations and some discipline on their behalf only to operate in the area that is their own responsibility.[26]

23.  Many believe that the children's social work sector is beset by "too many cooks", and that there is an urgent need for greater clarity about the distinct roles and functions of these organisations.[27] The Social Work Task Force has reported in its initial findings that many social workers "have expressed confusion about unclear roles or overlapping remits of those organisations or find it hard to understand the work that they do."[28] The GSCC has itself admitted that there is confusion about which body does what in relation to the funding of social work education.[29] The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) argued that there should be a single body planning for the non-schools children's workforce, because duplication in the roles of CWDC, Skills for Care and GSCC "does not provide value for money or allow a comprehensive approach". In particular, the ADCS wish to see commissioning and funding of qualifying courses united under the Children's Workforce Development Council, to parallel the role of the Training and Development Agency for Schools for teacher training.[30] The influence of the CWDC is currently circumscribed by the fact that they deal with children's social workers only after they have completed their initial training, and not at all with adults' social workers, for whom the sector skills body is Skills for Care. Higher education institutions have found that the division of responsibilities between adult's and children's sector bodies has meant duplication of work.[31]

24.  Various pieces of work are being undertaken within Government in relation to these bodies. The 2020 Children and Young People's Workforce Strategy announced a review of the remits of several non-departmental public bodies serving the children's workforce to consider "whether they are configured appropriately to provide the most effective delivery of workforce reform and development".[32] Re-licensing of the Sector Skills Councils which have responsibility for parts of the children and young people's workforce was underway in early 2009. The Department of Health in September 2008 commissioned a review of the roles of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, Skills for Care, and the GSCC. As part of this exercise, a review of the organisations' roles in social work training was due to be carried out jointly with the DCSF.[33]

25.  One consequence of the proliferation of bodies appears to be a sense that the social work profession lacks leadership at a national level.[34] Andrew Webb, Joint Deputy Chair of the Social Work Task Force spoke of the need for a "central point of defence" of the profession.[35] The Task Force reported in its initial findings that social workers

do not feel that their profession speaks with a strong national voice or is well supported at national level. […] the profession is not felt to be setting standards for itself and is, therefore, vulnerable to being 'done to' by Government and others seeking reform. Some social workers look to Government-funded regulatory or delivery bodies for this leadership, but do not necessarily find it there.[36]

Bridget Robb of the British Association of Social Workers pointed out that there is no social work equivalent of the Chief Medical Officer, and issues affecting social workers are often subsumed under the general banners of social care (a category including residential and home care workers, who often train on the job), or children's services.[37]

26.  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families, Baroness Morgan, told us that there is a need for "a strong voice for social work", making a comparison with health and teaching professional bodies which help to promote knowledge about what those professions do.[38] However, she stated that "I don't necessarily see that we are going to end up with one body that can do everything. I cannot imagine that working, but I could imagine a system that is much more clearly understood and that works much more effectively."[39]

27.  Asked which Government department takes the lead on developing policy in this area, Baroness Morgan told us: "The Task Force has been jointly established between DH and DCSF. I work very closely with Phil Hope [Minister of State for Care Services]. We have a shared interest in developing the social work profession together. It is fair to say that we are, literally, cheek by jowl on this."[40] Responsibility for universities passed in June 2009 to the newly-created Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

28.  Nine years on from the tragedy of Victoria Climbié, the lack of a coherent and prestigious national profile for the social work profession appears to us to be perhaps the most important failing of the Every Child Matters reforms. It is unusual to hear so uniformly in evidence to a Committee inquiry calls for greater centralisation, prescription and national leadership. With responsibility for social work training spread across three departments, we urge the Government to be bold in establishing coherent leadership for the profession that can take responsibility for all parts of the whole, and present a profile distinct from the wider fields of social care and the children's workforce.

29.  Streamlining of the national sector bodies and rationalisation of their remits is an urgent priority. We acknowledge that the Government is awaiting the recommendations of the Task Force in this regard, but note that several reviews of the relevant organisations have already been put in train, and ask for clarification as to how these will affect each other. We urge the Task Force to consider how one of the existing bodies could be reformed to replicate the role and impact that the Training and Development Agency has had in the teaching profession; a 'Social Work Development Agency' should unite the functions of recruitment, workforce development and funding and commissioning of training. Such a body would replace the social work functions of the Children's Workforce Development Council. It would operate alongside the General Social Care Council which, in addition to its role as workforce regulator, should be freed to act as champion and advocate of the profession at national level.

Workforce planning

30.  The large increases in the numbers of students applying to social work qualifying courses when the degrees were introduced was a reversal of the trend in the immediately preceding years, and is in itself a development to be celebrated.[41] However, the increases have not necessarily been evenly spread across the country, meaning that in some areas too many graduates are being produced for the available jobs, and in others too few.[42] The General Social Care Council's main preoccupation with regard to training places is that they are available in the right parts of the country. They point out that mature students, who make up around 60% of the annual intake, are typically less mobile and therefore need access to local courses.[43]

31.  Although the GSCC regulates degree courses, it does not commission them or plan their provision; none of the national sector bodies in fact perform this function. Universities make individual decisions about whether to offer qualifying courses in social work, decisions which are influenced by a wide range of factors and the context of their own strategic business planning.[44] The London School of Economics is one of a small number of universities that used to, but no longer, offer social work degrees. Dr Eileen Munro told us this is because of the higher education performance management regime, which "makes it very unattractive for research-intensive universities to provide social work training".[45] The University and College Union drew attention to departmental closures "in areas where social workers are sorely needed", referring specifically to Reading University which took a decision to close its School of Health & Social Care in March 2009, despite opposition from local councils.[46]

32.  We asked the Minister, Baroness Morgan, what the Government can do about universities electing to discontinue their social work training. She responded that "What we can do is to ensure that we are doing everything in our gift to attract highly qualified, excellent degree graduates into the profession, that we work hard generally to raise the status of the profession through communication campaigns, that professionals doing the work at the moment stay in the practice and become advanced practitioners."[47]

33.  While there have been high-profile cases of universities ceasing to offer social work courses, others have capitalised on the popularity of the courses amongst students. There is some concern that this is principally a response to pressure on course leaders from the management of institutions keen to maximise income from social work student bursaries.[48] Bridget Robb of the British Association of Social Workers told us that universities have come to look on social work as "a cash cow"; "departments have been under great pressure to take more and more students. […] What is not taken account of is the pressure that that puts on placements and the question of whether people are then prepared and ready to enter the workforce".[49] John Barraclough of London Metropolitan University argued that

universities operate on a business model and there is a constant tension between financial considerations and considerations about the quality of recruitment processes, teaching and assessment. It may be beneficial to consider if social work education should be provided outside of the university sector […] and consideration should be given to providing protection for professional courses from the vacillations of the economic realities in higher education[50]

34.  At present, decisions affecting the numbers of student places, the supply of social workers into the workplace, and the posts available are taken by many individual organisations.[51] This does not only have implications for the numbers of social workers in the workforce; as discussed below, the expansion in university training places appears to have outstripped the supply of good quality, statutory sector practice placements.[52] However, any reduction of student numbers to ameliorate this situation risks exacerbating recruitment problems in the short term.[53]

35.  In the absence of an overarching strategy, employers have no means of influencing the numbers of students taken on to social work courses, which deprives them of one possible means of tackling the significant recruitment challenges they face.[54] A survey of two-thirds of England's social services authorities in January 2009 revealed an average vacancy rate of 10.9%. London had the highest vacancy rate at 18.6%, the North East the lowest at 6.5%.[55] The Local Government Association says that recruitment and retention of social workers is a particular problem in children and families teams.[56] Despite this, the GSCC has reported anecdotal evidence that some new graduates are having difficulty finding jobs.[57]

36.  Lord Laming recommended that a national children's social worker supply strategy be implemented to address recruitment and retention issues.[58] Witnesses to our inquiry overwhelmingly agreed, and the Government has accepted the recommendation in principle while awaiting the views of the Social Work Task Force.[59] It was argued that national workforce planning needs to encompass a mechanism to ensure that the provision of training places is linked to professional recruitment shortages.[60] Jane Haywood, Chief Executive of the Children's Workforce Development Council, explained that

We have chosen in this country for some parts of the work force—for example, teaching and medicine—to take very much a national planning approach. We have chosen not to do that in social work. We have seen that as the responsibility of individual employers. We might be coming to the point when we have to think about whether that is sustainable for the long term.[61]

37.  Jane Haywood told us that while the CWDC does track numbers of social workers, it has not been given "the powers or the levers to then really take a hold of that and make a whole workforce plan work". She added that there were several organisations who could undertake this work, but the Government needs to allocate the task to one of them.[62] Overall, the CWDC reported that "we have been struck in our discussions with employers by the appetite for central direction in relation to the recruitment, retention and development of the social work workforce."[63]

38.  Effective workforce planning for social work needs to take account of demography, levels of deprivation and the characteristics of the local population.[64] At present no satisfactory method exists for modelling this on a national scale. Mike Wardle, Chief Executive of the GSCC, explained the complexities:

There is not a strong research base to understand the factors that play into the question. In teaching we can set a pupil-teacher ratio and you can say that with a given number of pupils we know how many teachers we are going to need. […] In social work you first of all have to decide for any given population how many social workers are the optimum number to be engaging with the different types of social need and how the social needs are likely to change given the economic situation or other factors that we know have an effect. At the moment there is not the research base […] So at the moment we are relying very much on individual local authorities, as the major employer of social workers, to take their own decisions about what they can afford and what they think will work to deliver the services that they deliver to their local populations. What there has not been is a coming together of that experience and evidence from all over the country to say there may well be an optimum position here that we could be working towards.[65]

39.  High vacancies and retention problems have plagued children and families social work for too long. It is no longer tenable that there is no mechanism for employers to influence the supply of graduates, and no national model for estimating future demand. We recommend that the Government prioritise the research necessary to establish such a model, link to it the future funding and commissioning of training places for students, and explicitly allocate the task of workforce planning to one of the sector bodies.

40.  There should be a mechanism for retaining funding for social work training places when universities cease to offer these courses. Funding for social work training should be allocated by a social work organisation—such as the 'Social Work Development Agency' which we have proposed—which commissions places on the basis of quality assessments and workforce planning.

8   Ev 125. Throughout the inquiry we made frequent comparisons to the teaching profession, which has a very much larger workforce; over half a million teachers are registered with the General Teaching Council for England. Back

9   Ev 50 Back

10   GSCC, Raising Standards: social work education in England 2007-08 (February 2009) Back

11   Community Care, 13 November 2008 Back

12   GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), paras 10-11 Back

13   GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 12 Back

14   GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 13 Back

15   Ev 125 Back

16   Ev 1 Back

17   Ev 124 Back

18   Department for Children, Schools and Families, The Protection of Children in England: action plan, The Government's Response to Lord Laming, Cm 7589 (May 2009), para 85 Back

19   Ev 129 Back

20   Ev 126 Back

21   'Career changers asked to take on new challenge and help some of society's most vulnerable young people', Department for Children, Schools and Families press notice 2009/0130, 9 July 2009 Back

22   Q 17 Back

23   Q 22 Back

24   Ev 54, 191, 104; see below, para 150. Back

25   Ev 47 Back

26   Q 107 Back

27   Qq 3-4 [Andrew Webb], 107 [Rosie Varley], 218 [Bruce Clark, Rita Krishna], 268-9 [Sue Berelowitz]  Back

28   First Report of the Social Work Task Force, 5 May 2009; see also Ev 184. Back

29   GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 29 Back

30   Ev 88; Q 203 Back

31   Ev 198 Back

32   Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2020 Children and Young People's Workforce Strategy (December 2008), para 5.33 Back

33   Community Care, 17 September 2008 Back

34   Ev 199 Back

35   Q 4 Back

36   First Report of the Social Work Task Force, 5 May 2009 Back

37   Q 67 Back

38   Q 292 Back

39   Q 297 Back

40   Q 317 Back

41   Q 85 Back

42   Ev 29-30 Back

43   Q 99 [Mike Wardle]; see also Ev 144-5. Back

44   Ev 46-7; Q 99 [Mike Wardle] Back

45   Q 142; see also Q 44 and Ev 144-5. Back

46   Ev 144 Back

47   Q 293 Back

48   Ev 46-7; see also Q 86 [Professor White]. Back

49   Q 43 Back

50   Ev 152 Back

51   Q 106 [Keith Brumfitt] Back

52   Qq 23, 43 Back

53   Q 276 Back

54   Ev 86, 199-201 Back

55   'Highest vacancy rate in London boroughs', Community Care, 15 April 2009 Back

56   'LGA: Child social work is councils' biggest recruitment headache', Community Care, 10 December 2008 Back

57   GSCC, Raising standards (February 2009), para 42 Back

58   Lord Laming, The Protection of Children in England: a progress report HC 330 (March 2009), paras 5.5-6 Back

59   Qq 61, 103 [Mike Wardle], 295 Back

60   Q 96 [Rosie Varley]; Ev 28, 30, 199-201 Back

61   Q 106 Back

62   Q 108 Back

63   Ev 47 Back

64   Q 103 [Mike Wardle] Back

65   Q 106 Back

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