Growing reputations

You know how it is: you have something that needs fixing but you
can’t get anybody to do it; and if you do, they can’t do it just
yet and will, by the way, charge the moon and a couple of stars
when they do appear. So you decide to do it yourself.

In essence, this is the simple thinking adopted by Stockport social
services when it came to recruiting social workers for its three
main children’s service areas: referral and assessment,
looked-after children, and family support.

“About five years ago we had recruitment difficulties and were
heavily reliant on agency staff who were not only expensive but
also couldn’t provide continuity,” says staff development officer,
Ruth Yarwood. “At that time we had a lot of skilled family resource
staff who had progressed as far as their posts would allow. We
started thinking of ways to recruit from that pool of staff.
Initially, we made internal appointments to specially created
unqualified posts. And it progressed from there.”

Since then each year has seen the scheme evolve. “We have learned
and adapted it – our next scheme doesn’t much look like the one we
started with,” says Yarwood. Once qualified (with the Diploma in
Social Work) staff are moved into vacant social work posts.

The first and second years saw eight posts being filled from
internal candidates. But with the last intake four places were
ring-fenced for external applicants (of whom there were 400). With
the next intake, all eight posts have been opened up for external
applicants; half of whom from January 2006 will be the first to be
sponsored on the new social work degree course (Stockport uses the
Open University); the other four will take the MA post-graduate
route at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“We waited a year for the degree course: partly because we wanted
the Open University to bed in its course,” says Yarwood. The
requirement had been that once qualified they must remain with
Stockport for at least two years. But given the increased time and
cost, those on the degree course agree to remain for at least three

Yarwood says that the council will appoint to trainee social work
posts those taking an MA but release them immediately to go to
University. “We require their two placements to be with us, and
their research module will have to be on something our operational
managers have said will benefit Stockport. Throughout their courses
we pay their fees and salary – it’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Staff on Open University courses are appointed to trainee posts but
work four days a week for the council and study one day a week
throughout the course. Their practice placements and non-assessed
work experience will be rotated around the service. “This means
that by the time they have finished they will have worked in four
or five different service areas – which means they will have a
really good understanding of Stockport social services,” says

She adds: “I can’t emphasise enough how tough it is to do the Open
University course while working. I admire any trainee who does
that. The timetable is constant and the pace is incredible; OK, we
do give them study time but a lot is still done in their own time –
including evening and weekend tutorials.”

Nonetheless, the dividends are good. Two cohorts have qualified;
the third will qualify in December. Out of 24 trainees only one has

“It’s all about the quality of the end product,” adds Yarwood. “We
have qualified social workers who have been well supported; their
practice is good, they have very good underpinning knowledge and
they are confident. A lot have also breezed through their PQ1s. And
they are loyal to Stockport – they have stayed.”

Unsurprisingly, using the children’s services model, this year
Stockport adult services are offering traineeships to internal
staff. You can’t prune a good idea back: like a strong plant this
one is set to grow and grow.

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