Improving the skills of professionals working with children and
young people is a central aim in the children’s green paper
Every Child Matters. It proposes the setting up of a
sector skills council (SSC) to deliver key parts of the
government’s workforce reforms, alongside a new children’s
workforce unit in the Department for Education and Skills.
Such a body would be welcome, says Amanda Edwards, head of
knowledge services at the Social Care Institute for Excellence. “It
would be a considerable advantage if the SSC would look across the
whole of the children’s workforce and develop a coherent response
Local Government Association adviser Vic Citarella applauds the
green paper’s acknowledgement of the unique needs of those working
with children and young people. He says: “We are pleased to see the
recognition of occupational standards as a way to help integrate
Despite the warm reception given to the skills council idea, there
are concerns, particularly about its impact on the sector’s
training bodies. Edwards says social work staff adhere to a
particular working ethos and any new training and development
structure must aim to maintain that.
Other professionals working with children, such as the police,
health visitors and doctors, also have their own training
organisations and Edwards says the SSC must consider their
experience. “If we want to create a new body how will it work with
other professions to operate effectively?” he says. Some
commentators have also questioned whether any possible future
decision by the SSC to split social care qualifications into
children and adults would kill off the fledgling social care
Edwards adds that limiting the skills council to social care staff
in children and young people’s services may be problematic. “Adults
in families need social support. We need staff to work with
children and adults too, not just children.”
Andrea Rowe, chief executive of social care training body Topss
England, picks up this point. Although Topss England supports the
principle of an SSC, it is worried about separating children’s
services from adults’ services because those working with both
client groups need “similar skills”.
The governance arrangements of the SSC are an issue the LGA will be
looking into, says Citarella. In particular, they want it to be
employer-led rather than DfES-led. He says: “We are also concerned
about the potential duplication of work and bureaucracy of the SSC.
Lots of employers have staff who work with other clients.”
One apparent contradiction surrounding the SSC is that, although
Every Child Matters applies to England, SSCs in other
sectors of the economy are UK-wide. The green paper does not spell
out whether the SSC would apply to England or to the UK as a whole.
A DfES spokesperson admits the department is consulting on
Topss’ role in the new SSC is also under scrutiny. Rowe says Topss
has the relevant regional structures and expertise with employers
to assist in the development of the SCC, and the LGA believes the
organisation should become the lead agency.
But, although she insists that Topss would not want to prevent the
launch of a children’s services skills council, Rowe says setting
it up without Topss experience and expertise does not make sense.
The government would have to start from scratch and it “could take
three years to establish and gain the trust of employers,” she
says. “If the government set up a skills council now it would be
Skills councils’ goals
Sector skills councils were established in December 2001 as
independent, UK-wide organisations developed by employers in
Each SSC agrees targets with its employers to reduce their sectors’
skills gaps and shortages; improve productivity and service
performance; increase the skills of the sector’s staff; and improve
national occupational standards.
There are five SSCs ranging from retail to the oil, gas and
petroleum industries. A further 12 are being set up.
Each SSC is licensed to operate by the secretary of state for
education and skills in consultation with his Scottish, Welsh and
Northern Ireland counterparts.