Scottish inspection framwork is launched despite worries over record-keeping burden

Social work inspection in Scotland entered a new era last week with
the official launch of the Social Work Inspection Agency (Swia).


Since being established in April, the independent inspectorate,
which replaces the Scottish executive-led Social Work Services
Inspectorate, has been working with councils and other public
sector inspection agencies such as Audit Scotland to create a
framework for assessing the quality of social work


Driven by the high profile failures in the Borders and
Edinburgh’s Caleb Ness abuse cases, it will be the first
formal, regular system of inspection by an external agency to be
established in Scottish social work.


Its biggest task in its first year will be to embed this system
into the way social work departments go about their business. Swia
will trial the system in Angus, Fife and South Lanarkshire, and one
of the key questions that will emerge is the amount of
professionals’ time and councils’ resources that need
to be spent on it.


Alistair Gaw, Swia’s deputy chief inspector, says it has been
“working hard” to minimise the burden of


“One of our key principles is to make the best use of
information already available from other inspectorates and surveys
– we won’t be asking for additional reports. We will
put a lot of emphasis on the reading and the analytical process so
we have the fullest picture in advance.”


He envisages the whole process lasting six months, two weeks of
which will be field work.


“There will be case file analysis and we will put a high
value on face-to-face contact. We’ll speak to service users,
carers, front-line social workers and strategic


He expects the inspectors – some of whom will be lay people
– to analyse random case files from several different client


“We’d rather place emphasis on face-to-face contact and
the case file analysis rather than filling in lots of templates and
questionnaires,” Gaw says. And to help further reduce the
administrative burden, the inspectorate’s annual report
– which required departments to submit a self-assessment
– has been scrapped.


There have also been concerns the greater focus on
performance by the new system could create a blame culture, similar
to England’s where the introduction of star ratings has
coincided with a shortening of tenure for social services


Gaw understands directors’ “anxieties” but says
Swia aims to move away from the blame culture and work with them to
improve. But he adds it has given a commitment to come to an
overall assessment of departments’ abilities.


“We won’t express that through star ratings but it
could be through a narrative or on a scale of one to


A final decision on this is yet to be made, he adds. Whatever is
decided, it is sure to be another tough issue for directors to
grapple with.


  • “It needs to be a positive experience for those taking part and
    not over-emphasise the negative. If it gets bogged down in
    negativity it will be very difficult [for services] to become
    Ruth Stark, professional officer, British Association of Social
    Workers Scotland
  • “There is a concern that if it isn’t got right – which has
    happened before – it could lead to more of a focus on having files
    up to date and keeping paperwork in place rather than allowing
    professionals to focus on their job and improving services for
    Stephen Smellie, chair of social work issues group, Unison
  • “If criticism is constructive then we’d welcome it and not hide
    from it. As it stands at the moment I don’t think it would result
    in a shortening of directors’ tenure.”
    Eric Jackson, chair of social work committee, Convention of
    Scottish Local Authorities

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