39.The primary way the DfE is planning to ensure the continuing professional development of children and families social workers is through the proposed Assessment and Accreditation programme. In October 2014, following advice from the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, DfE announced three levels of social work practice: Approved Child & Family Practitioner; Practice Supervisor; and Practice Leader. Subsequently, the Department published a statement of knowledge and skills for each social work level. These statements will form the basis of a new national assessment and accreditation system for each level, which the Government hopes will provide a career pathway for social workers, public assurance on the quality of practice and expertise, and improve the quality of leadership. DfE awarded KPMG and Morning Lane Associates a £2million contract to design and deliver the social work accreditation standards. In written evidence, DfE said it was too early to indicate the total cost of the assessment process, as the system had not yet moved out of the proof of concept stage. The Department told us accreditation will be only for children and families social workers, with no plans to extend it to adult social workers.
40.The memorandum emphasised the Government’s continued support of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE). The Social Work Task Force recommended that initial education should “culminate in a new supported and assessed first year in employment” to increase a newly-qualified social worker’s (NQSW) specialisation, set the groundwork for career-long development, and ensure NQSWs can develop their practice skills in a supported environment with reduced caseloads. This led to the creation of the ASYE programme. ASYE is voluntary for employers of children and families social workers, and participation has increased over time, from 1,876 in 2011–12 to 2,774 in 2014–15. The DfE pays employers £2,000 for each NQSW they support through ASYE.
41.Children and families social workers are required to participate in CPD throughout their career to stay registered and be able to practice. The Health Care Professions Council (HCPC), the current social work regulator, select annually at random 2.5% of children and families social workers to be audited for CPD. Those selected submit a CPD profile, which is a snapshot of their learning about changes in practice over the previous two years. HCPC is not prescriptive about either the content of CPD activity, which can range from reading journals to attending training and conferences, or the time spent on it. The standards instead dictate that the social worker has to demonstrate how their CPD activities contribute to the quality of their practice and service delivery. We recognise that the Government’s intention to change regulator by 2020 will mean these requirements may be overhauled. In regards to CPD quality, the Minister told us:
It is for employers to decide how they want to enable [CPD] to happen [ … ] What we are doing through teaching partnerships, through the What Works Centre and through Partners in Practice is providing a platform for CPD to be more accessible and of a higher quality. One of the last things we want is social workers, two days before they need to comply with their CPD to get their re-registrations, to go online and do a quick multiple-choice test. We want it to be meaningful.
42.Several submissions spoke of the importance of improving the access to, and quality of, post-qualifying training or CPD for children and families social workers, and expressed concerns that the new reforms did not sufficiently prioritise this. The Safer Safeguarding Group, a group of professionals committed to making child protection activities safer, said that the memorandum “dwells too much on pre-qualification training” and expressed concern about the lack of even a paragraph devoted to post-qualification training, which they said was just as important as it is in “other professions such as medicine.” Some of this evidence suggested the accreditation money should instead be funnelled into the creation of a national post-qualifying framework. Professor Ray Jones said such a framework should start with, but move beyond, the Assessed and Support Year and Employment (ASYE) to develop specialisation for social workers and assist in retention. Sarah Maskery, a senior practitioner of child protection social work who has been involved in workforce development, said the money planned for accreditation should be “re-invested into social work CPD to develop the skills of workers, rather than score them.”
43.Isabelle Trowler told us on this point:
If there is a gap, there is a role for the Government to stimulate the system so that it starts to invest in that. That is what accreditation will lead to. If you set a national standard, and if you have an assessment process where people have to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and skills to do certain things, then inevitably that will trigger local employers to make sure that they develop their stance so they have the knowledge and skills, so they are accredited, and so they can do the job that they need them to do.
44.Karen Castle, an independent social worker and assessor of newly-qualified social workers, said the accreditation scheme needed to go “hand in hand with a robust scheme for continuous professional development that has the same status as CPD for solicitors and other professional groups.” Essex County Council suggested a national CPD programme would be required to address needs arising from the assessment and accreditation scheme.
45.Our evidence suggests improving opportunities for access to quality CPD will assist in retaining experienced staff. William McKitterick, a former director of social services who has led national workforce development work, said he had found one of the key reasons cited for leaving in exit interviews was limited professional development.
46.In our private seminar, we were told that Wales had a much stronger post-qualifying offering (see Box 2). BASW told us that:
The multiple continuing professional development pathways, standards, schemes, evaluations and examinations are confusing, unhelpful and do not contribute to improving workplace standards or stability. Government and BASW need to work together to change this position. This is in sharp contrast to the arrangements and investment in CPD for social workers in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Box 2: Comparison of post-qualifying requirements in England and Wales
Following the closure of the General Social Care Council (GSCC) in 2013, post-qualifying social work is no longer regulated, with the exception of the Approved Mental Health Professionals training. There is also no standard post-qualifying award structure. The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), previously owned by the College of Social Work, and now BASW, provides a professional development structure for social workers, and providers of post-qualifying courses can link to relevant levels in the PCF. Learning gained through university awards is positive evidence of CPD but not a specific requirement for re-registration.
The Continuing Professional Education and Learning (CPEL) is an approved framework for post-qualification courses and governed by rules in the Care Standards Act 2000. The framework is compulsory for all newly-qualified social workers. Programmes must meet requirements in these rules to be approved by the regulator. CPEL supports the national career pathway for social workers in Wales and defines courses for newly qualified, experienced, senior and consultant levels.
47.We recognise that the Government’s approach may trigger some local authorities to improve CPD, but there are wider issues relating to resourcing and quality assurance that the accreditation scheme will not resolve. We are not convinced local employers will “inevitably” expand their CPD training given the financial pressures on budgets, and there could be significant variances in quality. Isabelle Trowler agreed that one way to solve the inconsistency of approach would be to have one streamlined approach, dictated and funded by Government. In written evidence, JUCSWEC advocated a national, unified post-qualifying framework with a professional body endorsing and approving courses to ensure quality assurance. William McKitterick said there needed to be externally validated courses leading to higher professional awards.
48.The current offer for CPD and post-qualifying specialisation is inadequate, variable and diffuse. We recommend that the Government work with the sector to create a robust, national post-qualifying framework to give a coherent shape to the continuing professional development of children and families social workers throughout their career.
49.The Government should develop a rigorous endorsement process for the new post-qualifying framework in collaboration with the social work profession. Re-registration as a social worker with the regulator should be dependent on some current or recent participation in endorsed courses, rather than only generic CPD activity.
50.It is the Secretary of State’s ambition to have every children and families social worker fully assessed and accredited by 2020. The Chief Social Worker for Children and Families said in January 2016 that there would be a consultation on whether accreditation would be mandatory or not “within weeks.” When we asked her about this, she said the consultation was pending the results of the year-long pilot and that the “plan is to go to consultation as soon as possible.” There are still no details about the planned consultation.
51.Evidence to our inquiry was mixed on whether accreditation and assessment would bring benefits or not. The ADCS said, for instance, that “the introduction of three accredited statuses has the potential to improve the consistency of practice at these three levels, and perhaps across the board” and we received similar evidence that was hopeful about the positive impact of accreditation. However, concerns were raised about the vagueness of the Government’s plans. For example, Essex County Council said that “having an accredited layer to the professional practice can assist with providing a more balanced public narrative of social work” but added it had concerns about “the lack of communication with the sector around implementation, costs, resources required and expectations.” Samantha Baron, Head of Social Work at Manchester Metropolitan University and Chair of JUCSWEC, said that there was a lack of clarity about what accreditation would entail.
52.ADCS told us that a particular area of concern for their members was the lack of detail about the implications of failure. This included a lack of clarity on whether social workers could re-sit the test, the relationship between registration and accreditation, and the implications of repeated failure. Similarly, Research in Practice said there were questions remaining about “what failure to meet the standards would mean for an individual” and called for improved engagement and transparency. When we asked what proportion of social workers would be expected to fail accreditation, Ms Trowler said “we do not know yet” but said social workers unable to meet the standard “will absolutely be in the minority.” When Community Care, a social work professional publication, asked Ms Trowler whether a credible fail rate was necessary to avoid it being a rubber-stamping exercise, she said the Government was “still in the process of looking at what the scores from the accreditation pilot mean.” In oral evidence to us, she stated that social workers who fail “would absolutely need to be able to retake it” but said the consultation would help decide the limit on how many times. Additionally, Ms Trowler made it clear that those who failed would nevertheless be able to maintain their registration and therefore presumably their ability to practice.
53.Several submissions discussed the possible negative impact of accreditation on career flexibility for children and families social workers. The NSPCC, for example, questioned how accreditation would impact the ability of social workers to work across different countries in the UK, as many of the social workers employed by the NSPCC and other organisations do. We also heard that accreditation had too specific a focus on statutory settings. The NSPCC suggested the language in the knowledge and skills statements, which will form the basis of the assessments, was focused on statutory tasks. They concluded that the proposed framework could “potentially interrupt the flow of the workforce” as accreditation may only be accessible in statutory settings, and this could have an effect on employment prospects of social workers elsewhere. The ADCS released a position statement on accreditation in May 2016 which suggested it could cause the link between adult and children’s social care to be broken, and added that it could cause those who were unaccredited to move into non-statutory positions.
54.We recognise that the proposed accreditation and assessment system is in development, but there are still too many unanswered key policy questions for a programme which has the potential to destabilise an already fragile workforce. Subjecting social workers to rapid reform and possible upheaval may have severe consequences. If the Government intends to proceed with accreditation, it needs quickly to provide greater clarity on how it will operate.
55.We recommend that the Government bring forward its consultation on accreditation. This consultation should set out proposals on what will happen if social workers fail the process, and how it will ensure social workers can continue to move between statutory and non-statutory positions and different types of social work. It should also seek views on the principles behind accreditation and whether it constitutes the best use of resources.
56.We received several pieces of evidence suggesting the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) was an effective programme for new social workers and should be made mandatory. Cornwall Council said in written evidence that their robust, well-established ASYE programme, called ‘Foundation for Social Work’, draws the right people into the profession and reduces turnover. They favoured the supported year becoming mandatory for all newly-qualified social workers. Members of BASW in England said they wanted ASYE to be “used increasingly by more employers.” Samantha Baron, Chair of JUCSWEC, and Brigid Featherstone, Co-President of the Associations of Professors of Social Work, said in oral evidence that the supported year should be mandatory and fully funded by the Department.
57.We heard that, before any move to make ASYE mandatory, it needed to be quality assured across the country. Nick Berbiers, Head of Young People’s Services at The Who Cares? Trust, said that, while he fully supported ASYE, he was concerned about its patchy implementation across England, including inappropriately high caseloads. He suggested these need to be addressed through a quality assurance mechanism. The Chief Social Worker for Children and Families said that she was in favour of making ASYE mandatory. The Minister said no decisions had been made about the mandatory status of ASYE, and said that it was “an area where we would be interested to hear the Committee’s view, having considered all the evidence [ … ] I would want to have as much confidence as I possibly can before making a decision to say this is something that every social worker has to do.”
58.The Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) is an important programme. The Government should develop, in conjunction with the sector, a quality assurance system to ensure that ASYE is delivered at a consistently high level across the country and that caseloads are protected. It should also explore options for fully-funding the cost of the ASYE to ensure that employers have the necessary resources properly to support newly-qualified social workers. We recommend subject to these conditions that ASYE be made mandatory for all newly-qualified social workers. In addition, registration as a social worker should remain provisional until the ASYE is satisfactorily completed.
67 Department for Education, (January 2016) para 27
68 Department for Education () para 4
69 Department for Education () para 6
70 Department for Education, (January 2016) para 25
71 Social Work Task Force, (November 2009) p 15
72 Department for Education, (January 2016) para 25
73 See paras 85–90 for further discussion of the Government plans for a new regulator.
75 The Safer Safeguarding Group () para 4.6
76 Sarah Maskery (), para 7
78 Ms Karen Castle () para 3.4
79 Essex County Council () para 5
80 Mr William McKitterick () para 4.1.4. For more on retention, see paras 60–81.
81 British Association of Social Workers () para 4.5
83 Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee () para 19
84 Mr William McKitterick () para 4.2.5
85 Community Care, ’ January 25 2016
87 Association of Directors of Children’s Services () para 4
88 Essex County Council () paras 10-13
90 Association of Directors of Children’s Services () para 6
91 Research in Practice () para 11
93 Community Care, , June 2 2016
95 NSPCC () para 1.2
96 NSPCC () para 2.3
97 Association of Directors of Children’s Services, (May 2016), p 3
98 Cornwall Council () para 17 and recommendation 10
99 British Association of Social Workers () para 5.18
101 Nick Berbiers () para 18
12 July 2016