Social work reform Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.We welcome the Government’s commitment to the important area of children and families social work, and its focus on strengthening social work practice and improving outcomes for children and young people. The proposed reforms have the potential to make some significant improvements to the sector. During our inquiry, however, we heard some concerns about particular aspects. This Report concentrates on these areas of concern. (Paragraph 7)

The role of central government

2.The Government should publish a single national reform implementation plan, with clear expectations for local authorities, employers and educators of what needs to be introduced along with achievable timescales. This plan should cover delivery of both previous and new reforms, and a clear mechanism should be put in place to assess the success of the reform agenda by the end of the Parliament. (Paragraph 14)

3.We recommend that there be one Chief Social Worker sitting outside departmental structures, as proposed by the Munro Review. One Chief Social Worker would unify the profession at a national level and encourage joined-up thinking within Government. (Paragraph 23)

Initial training

4.We are persuaded of the need for a generic initial qualification for children and families social workers, as they should have a broad understanding of issues affecting both children and adults. Specialisation should primarily occur in post-qualifying training. We recommend that the Government increase generic elements in both Frontline and Step Up to Social Work curricula as we are concerned that at present they focus primarily on children and families social work
(Paragraph 30)

5.We recommend that the Government commission an extended research study of Frontline alongside university routes to establish comparative long-term outcomes. The Government will then have a stronger evidence base to make decisions on any future changes to the funding and structure of qualification routes. (Paragraph 35)

6.We recommend that any future contract with Frontline to deliver social work education include a university partner to collaborate in the design and delivery of the academic programme. In the meantime, we encourage Frontline and the university sector to co-operate more closely. We ask Frontline and the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee to write to us setting out how they propose to work together. (Paragraph 38)

Post-qualifying training

7.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. (Paragraph 48)

8.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. (Paragraph 49)

9.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. (Paragraph 55)

10.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. (Paragraph 58)


11.The Government must prioritise fixing endemic retention problems in children and families social work. Its current strategy is too dependent on Frontline and Step Up to Social Work improving retention, when these programmes are too new to provide sufficient evidence they can have an impact. Furthermore, the Government is clear that Frontline and Step Up will only produce a minority of children and families social workers. There needs to be as strong a focus on keeping experienced social workers in the profession as there is on improving the quality of entrants. (Paragraph 64)

12.We recommend that the Government reinforce the use of Standards for employers of Social Workers in England. ‘Health checks’ of working conditions should be made mandatory. The Government should also consider making the entire framework binding for local authorities. Without better working conditions for frontline social workers, who are facing ever-rising demands, the entire reform programme will be put at risk. (Paragraph 69)

13.In co-ordination with the social work profession, the Government should consider how successes in social work can be measured and promoted. We recommend the launch of a national public awareness campaign celebrating the positive aspects of social work, and explaining its complexities, to boost the profile of the profession. (Paragraph 72)

14.The Government should examine the benefits of a ‘just reporting culture’, as recently announced by the NHS, to move the sector towards a learning culture as recommended by the Munro Review. (Paragraph 75)

15.High vacancy rates and retention problems in social work have existed for far too long, especially in specific geographic regions. We recommend that the Government, working closely with local authorities, the regulator, and the social work sector, establish a national workforce planning system to tackle these issues. The system should include national and regional models for forecasting supply and demand, and give employers the ability to influence the supply of graduates. (Paragraph 78)

Professional body, regulation and leadership

16.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. (Paragraph 85)

17.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. (Paragraph 87)

18.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. (Paragraph 92)

19.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. (Paragraph 93)

20.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. (Paragraph 98)

21.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. (Paragraph 98)

Structural change and innovation

22.We welcome the Government’s focus on encouraging innovation but we believe some caution is necessary. The Government needs to ensure that projects are evaluated fully before being applied at a national level. We want to see further details about the What Works Centre, including the strength of its relationships with research active universities, its approach to evidence, and its level of funding. The Centre’s focus should be expanded to all aspects of children and families social work, not just child protection. (Paragraph 105)

23.We recommend that the Government assess the effectiveness of the existing independent trusts before expanding the model any further. Statutory children’s services should remain in local authority control until there is clear evidence that the independent trust model improves outcomes for children and young people. It appears that charities may not be as enthusiastic about taking on statutory services as the Government is to invite them to do so. (Paragraph 112)

24.Six months is an unrealistic timescale in which to expect substantial improvement. Take-over of a local authority at this point could lead to further disruption and demoralisation and should be a last resort. At the end of the six month period, an assessment should take place to consider a range of options, including whether given more time, and a comprehensive package of support, the local authority could improve its children’s services without them being taken over. (Paragraph 113)

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12 July 2016