Social work reform Contents

6Professional body, regulation and leadership

Social work professional body

The closure of the College of Social Work

79.The College of Social Work (TCSW) was set up in 2012 following a recommendation by the Social Work Task Force for a national college that would promote practice excellence, provide a national professional voice, and influence national and local policy.139 The Government supported the creation of the College and provided £5 million of seed funding over two years for the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to establish the TCSW, and a further £3 million to support the College in its formative stages. The College closed in 2015 after just three years of existence following financial difficulties. Mr Timpson said that membership did not get to the level required for the College to become self-sustaining and that the Government decided it did not want to put millions of pounds more “into what was effectively an insolvent body.”140 Annie Hudson, former Chief Executive of TCSW, Jo Cleary, former Chair of TCSW, and Dave Hill, former Trustee of TCSW, discussed the reasons for the College’s demise in their written submission:

TCSW’s effectiveness and sustainability was arguably vulnerable from its inception because of an ongoing lack of coherence about its core functions. These functions have instead been dispersed across a range of organisations, including HCPC and BASW. TCSW faced a continued challenge in defining and shaping a clear mandate for its role and functions and this in turn made it harder to recruit members [ … ] TCSW was not set up with the role and functions that would ensure there was a clear and compelling incentive for social workers to join their new professional college, as has been the experience of other professions’ colleges.141

Replacing the College

80.We heard there was a strong need to fill the gap created by the collapse of TCSW. Barbara Peacock, representing the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, lamented the closure of TCSW and said that it had left “a very significant gap” which she considered should be filled by a body which could provide a professional voice into Government.142 Essex County Council expressed concern about the lack of professional voice following the demise of TCSW.143 Professor Ray Jones said the decision by the Government not to continue supporting the College meant considerable investment had been “wasted” and “the ambition that many of us have had for 20 plus years of having a College of Social Work like the Royal Colleges has now been negated.”144

Box 3: Functions and characteristics of a new professional social work body

We believe a professional body for social work needs to be independent from Government and owned by the profession, self-sustainable, and clearly demarcated from the social work regulator to prevent blurring of functions.

A professional body for social work should have the following functions, some of which are currently dispersed across a range of organisations. It is imperative they are all in one place to ensure the sustainability and attractiveness of the body.

(1) Be a ‘broad church’ that represents a diverse workforce of social workers in a range of settings;

(2) Provide high profile leadership and a national voice for the profession which explains what social work is and what social workers do, to and on behalf of the profession, to the public, the media, and Government;

(3) Make the profession an attractive choice by building a professional identity and culture;

(4) Defining the continuing professional development and post-qualifying pathway for all social work, including development of a national framework, providing and endorsing courses, and the ownership of any future accreditation scheme;

(5) Promote practice excellence, including links with research, and owning and safeguarding of professional standards;

(6) Shape and influence national and local policy and practice;

(7) Build good working relationships with the Government, the regulator, employers, and educators.

81.We heard different opinions on how a new professional body should be developed. Some of our evidence pointed to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) as the natural replacement for TCSW. We heard that BASW already was a self-sustaining grassroots movement that represented 20,000 social workers, with the capacity to evolve into a wider role. Marc Seale, Chief Executive and Registrar of HCPC, told us that he supported BASW becoming the centre of the body of knowledge for the profession, because the solution should “not need to create any more bodies and if the Government goes and does another version it will end up with the same waste of taxpayers’ money.”145 In written evidence to us, BASW set out its desire to be the College’s successor as the “only body in England currently positioned to fulfil this role” and recommended that:

The Committee should recognise BASW as the successor body to the College of Social Work, recognising it has taken on some of the most valued College functions (including the Professional Capabilities Framework, Continuing Professional Development Scheme, key written resources and the member-led ‘Faculty’ structure). Within its forward plans are the building blocks to further develop in its new role and position within the social work and social care sector.146

82.However, support for BASW as a successor body was far from universal. We received some evidence that suggested a new body, separate from BASW, should be formed. June Thoburn, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at the University of East Anglia, raised concerns over BASW’s ability to balance two different functions: representing the rights of social workers in the workplace, over issues such as pay and conditions, and representing the voice of social work overall. The latter, Professor Thoburn argued, was the role of the College, whereas the former was covered currently by BASW and other trade unions.147 However, BASW argued in their evidence that there are examples of professional bodies which combine “promotion of excellent practice” with “representation and advice for members” such as the Royal College of Nursing, which doubles up as a College and trade union.148

83.Annie Hudson, along with other former College of Social Work colleagues, wanted there to be a new body for social work “independent of government” and “fully committed to ensuring effective and consistently strong practice standards.”149 Annie Hudson told us the key lesson to learn from the closure of the College of Social Work was that its successor body must have “a clear and explicit mandate and set of functions, together with a sustainable business plan.”150

84.When we asked the Minister what a new professional body might look like, Mr Timpson said:

Having tried it from the top down, my strong preference is from the bottom up, from those grassroots. We have the British Association of Social Workers. We know they have a growing membership. That could well be the best groundswell of a professional body for social work. It would be wrong of me to impose another model through Government. What we need to do is let them make that decision. I am very supportive of there being a strong professional body for social work.151

85.Our evidence was clear that there was a need for a new body. How that should be delivered matters less than securing the clear support of the sector and individual social workers, and including strong incentives for membership such as having responsibility for professional accreditation. The Government is investing considerable resources into social work reform, and has been open to supporting a social work professional body in the recent past. Therefore it has a responsibility to help establish a replacement for the College. We are concerned about the absence of a professional body for social work to provide high profile leadership for the profession following the closure of The College of Social Work. We accept that a top-down approach to its replacement may not be suitable but the Government must do much more to help the profession recover from the loss of the College.

86.A strong professional body could help address many of the concerns we have covered so far. The new body could take the lead on a number of important functions, including greater representation of the voice of the profession at a national level, unifying social work as one profession, defining and improving professional standards, developing a post-qualifying framework and endorsing post-qualifying courses, developing and overseeing an accreditation scheme, developing and running quality assurance for the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment, creating a national workforce planning strategy and changing media coverage by promoting public awareness of the successes of children and families social work.

87.We recommend that the Government facilitate the development of a professional body for social work, working in partnership with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), other social worker representatives and the wider sector. It is imperative the proposed body is widely supported, and that its functions are clearly mandated and not shared with other bodies. It is important that there is a single, unified solution and that BASW and the professional body do not find themselves in competition.

The new regulator

88.Social workers are required to register with a regulator to ensure that only qualified and competent practitioners are able to practice. The Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) has regulated social workers in England since 2012, following the closure of the General Social Care Council (GSCC). HCPC is an independent multi-profession regulator, covering 16 health professions, including occupational therapy, radiography, and chiropody.152 In its January 2016 paper, A vision for change, the DfE announced it would “set up a new regulatory body for social work” with “a relentless focus on raising the quality of social work, education, training and practice in both children’s and adult’s social work.”153 The decision to remove the regulatory responsibility from HCPC was not based on its competence: the Minister told us the Government wanted a regulatory body “focused purely on social work” and that they would not be able to deliver the right changes “in the form of the regulatory framework that was set up within HCPC.”154 Mr Timpson said the new regulatory body will have a “wider remit” than HCPC to look at post-qualification, accreditation, and potentially CPD.155

89.The Government has advanced these plans in its legislative agenda with the Children and Social Work Bill currently before Parliament, which includes provisions for setting up a new body. 156 Little detail of how the system will work is set out in the Bill. Indeed, in oral evidence, the Minister told us that “it is fair to say we still have work to do to establish the deeper, granular details of exactly what the regulatory body will be tasked with.”157 Subsequently, during the passage of the Bill and just before consideration of this Report, the Government published a policy statement on the regulator that provided much more detail on its expected functions.158 The Bill provides for powers that could be implemented via delegated legislation to the Secretary of State for Education, including setting standards for social work education and the establishment of an accreditation scheme.159 The explanatory notes for the Bill state that a specialist social work regulator is a response to “reviews of social work education by Sir Martin Narey and Professor David Croisdale-Appleby.”160 The Narey review, however, suggested there was a “strong case for transferring HCPC duties in relation to social work to the College” which would remove the duplication of both bodies in prescribing professional standards.161 Professor Croisdale-Appleby said his preferred way forward “would be to see the basic standards of the HCPC enhanced by the standards of the endorsement given by TSCW”: in essence, a professional body setting the standards and a regulator upholding them.162

90.HCPC’s predecessor, the General Social Care Council (GSCC), a dedicated social work regulator, was closed down as part of the then Coalition Government’s aim to reduce public spending. The GSCC relied on DH grants. It was estimated that GSCC would require individual annual fees of £235 to sustain itself without these grants. HCPC was chosen to regulate social work due to the benefits of ‘economies of scale’: with over 340,000 registrants, the annual fee is a much lower £90, and HCPC is fully funded through this registration fee income.163 BASW estimated that it cost £17.6 million to shut down the GSCC and £1.7 million to transfer regulation to the HCPC, and told us that its members felt another expensive change would waste time, money and resources.164 Professor June Thoburn, a former vice-chair of GSCC, told us in oral evidence that she knew from her experience the changes would be very expensive, and she was not sure that this was “the best use of scarce resources at this time.”165 Community Care estimated a new regulator would cost at least £15m, based on consultations with experts with experience of regulation, and a comparison of set-up costs of similar bodies in the devolved nations.166 The Department told us they could not “anticipate any immediate changes to the amount social workers have to pay to be regulated,” and while they could not guarantee that fees will never increase, they would “consult on any future fee changes.”167

91.Our evidence argued that the Government plans to give the new regulatory body powers over improving education and standards was not the right move. The Professional Standards Authority told us that “improving education and standards across the board should not be confused with the primary role of regulation, which is to protect the public by ensuring the standards are being met.”168 Professor June Thoburn told us it was important that any new regulatory body concentrated on public protection, and not defining social work quality, which had been one of the reasons for the establishment of The College of Social Work.169 Dr Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of BASW, told us that the professional association was better placed to define professional standards and that a Government-led regulator having control over standards would create “completely unnecessary tension.”170 In their June 2016 policy statement, the Government said they believed that “the most appropriate course of action at this time is for regulation to move closer to Government” and that independence would be possible only in the longer-term. It argued an effective independent body would need to be partnered with a strong professional body, which currently did not exist.171

92.A regulator should concentrate on public protection by upholding standards and should not stray into defining professional standards for qualifying and post-qualifying education which we consider to be the role of an independent professional body. The Government’s proposals for a new regulator to have power in these areas will further marginalise the voice of social workers in influencing the standards of their profession. Our proposals for a successor for The College of Social Work should be the Government priority rather than changing the regulatory system once again.

93.The evidence we have seen suggests that due to a reduction of ‘economies of scale’, the creation of a separate social work regulator would lead to an inevitable future choice between a dramatic rise in registration fees or continued substantial investment from the Government. We are unclear as to why a change of regulator is needed, and call on the Government to rethink its plans. The Government has already spent too much money changing regulatory bodies. Another change will either require further injection of significant public funds or place an unfair financial burden on individual social workers.

The future of Principal Social Workers

94.The Munro Review recommended each local authority designate a principal child and family social worker to advise on enhancing practice skills and take responsibility for “relating the views of social workers to those whose decisions affect their work.”172 The majority of children’s services in local authorities now employ a principal social worker. More recently, the Government in July 2015 created the Practice Leader status as one of the levels of accreditation. Practice Leaders are defined as “qualified social workers with the day to day operational responsibility across the whole local system for child and family social work practice [ … ] most usually this is referred to as the Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care or Director of Family Services.”173 As ADCS point out, these two descriptions have “striking similarities.”174 Both roles suggest an individual who is responsible for practice leadership.

95.The Government told us their “development of Practice Leaders build on and extend the reach of the principal social workers [Munro] recommended”, which implies Practice Leaders might be a replacement for the principal social worker role. 175 Participants at our private seminar did not find the two roles easy to differentiate, and told us that they were concerned the new role of Practice Leader might conflict with the role of principal social worker. Barbara Peacock said that the principal social worker at her council, Medway, did not understand the Practice Leader role.176 When we put this confusion over the roles to the Chief Social Worker, she said:

The practice leader role is not a new role. The practice leader role is usually the most senior social worker in a local authority that has day-to-day responsibility for children’s social care. It is often the assistant director, for example [ … ] It is quite interesting because, in my perspective, I do not think there is any confusion about who the practice leader is.177

When pressed on the relationship between the two roles, Isabelle Trowler added:

I do not think there is a fixed one—that is what I am saying. Local authorities have recruited principal social workers and they are using that role in a wide variety of ways, so some have the title attached to another job that they are doing. Other people have the role of principal social worker and are case holding. There is not a fixed relationship [ … ] because the principal social worker is a very new role and what we need to do is to watch and see how that develops and whether it is a good use of resource.178

96.A survey of principal social workers by The College of Social Work in 2015 found that 60% held the PSW role as an “add-on” to a senior manager, head of service or assistant director position.179 The principal social worker is not a statutory requirement in children’s services, and there is no guidance on what the role should look like. This is in stark contrast to principal social workers in adult social care, whose position is enshrined in statutory guidance which requires local authorities give principal social workers sufficient powers to “have the most impact and profile.”180

97.Principal social workers at our private seminar were concerned that their position might be eliminated in the new reforms, before it had sufficient time to prove itself and embed in the system. We note that the LGA’s submission included a guide to social work recruitment and retention, written for local authorities, based on a series of detailed case studies. It included a core message that “the role of principal social workers as a voice for professionals in your council is increasingly important.”181 Professor Ray Jones told us:

The principal social worker role as a practice leader, professional lead within children’s services, is relatively recent. I think it is about two or three years old at the most. Already, we are churning that up and about to invent something else. We do need to calm ourselves down a bit and get a return on what we are changing, rather than changing it so frequently.182

98.We have already discussed the need for the Government to ensure important recommendations from the Munro Review have been embedded in the system. Principal social workers were introduced in 2011, and they have only existed in most local authorities since 2012 or 2013. We have heard that the role of principal social worker is valued. It should be retained so long as local authorities and frontline social workers find it useful. The current confusion over what the principal social worker position should be is not conducive to the role’s success. We recommend that the Government commission research on the role of principal social workers to establish best practice and that it produce guidance based on this evidence. The Government should include in this guidance clarity over how principal social worker and Practice Leader roles interrelate in current structures.


139 Social Work Task Force, Building a safe, confident future (November 2009) para 4.2

140 Q220

141 Annie Hudson (SWR0046) para 15

142 Q15

143 Essex County Council (SWR0023) para 3

144 Q15

145 Q113

146 British Association of Social Workers (SWR0044) para 9 and recommendations to Committee

147 June Thoburn (SWR0043) para 2

148 British Association of Social Workers (SWR0044) para 24

149 Annie Hudson (SWR0046) para 20

150 Annie Hudson (SWR0046) para 15

151 Q221

152 Health and Care Professions Council, ‘About us,’ accessed 9 June 2016

153 Department for Education, Children’s social care reform: a vision for change, DFE-00008–2016 (January 2016) p 6

154 Q225

155 Q222

156 Children and Social Work Bill, Part 2, Chapter 1

157 Q223

158 Department for Education and Department of Health, Regulating Social Workers: Policy Statement, June 2016

159 Children and Social Work Bill, Part 2, Chapter 1

162 David Croisdale-Appleby, Re-visioning social work education: an independent review (February 2014) p.73

163 Health and Care Professions Council (SWR0042) para 3.3

164 British Association of Social Workers (SWR0029), para 5.11

165 Q100

167 Department for Education (SWR0045) para 3

168 Professional Standards Authority (SWR0036) para 5.2

169 June Thoburn (SWR0043) para 5

170 Q105

171 Department for Education and Department of Health, Regulating Social Workers: Policy Statement, June 2016, paras 7 and 49

172 Professor Eileen Munro, The Munro Review of Child Protection (May 2011) para 7.21

173 Department for Education, Knowledge and skills statements for practice leaders and practice supervisors, DFE-00290–2015, November 2015, p. 8

174 Association of Directors of Children’s Services (SWR0030) para 8

175 Department for Education, Education select committee memorandum: social work reform (January 2016) para 34

176 Q19

177 Q157

178 Q160

180 Department of Health, Care and Support Statutory Guidance (May 2016) para 1.28

181 Local Government Association (SWR0012) appendix 1

182 Q16




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12 July 2016