Poorly performing schools were turned around holds lessons for social care, says Corin Williams
The Social Work Taskforce has been charged with turning round the profession’s endemic problems of poor recruitment, retention and professional development, at a time of low morale in the aftermath of the Baby P case.
A decade of strong investment in schools, relative to social care, means the situation is very different in teaching, but the challenge of delivering a good education in areas of high deprivation is perhaps one of equivalent proportions.
However, it is not insurmountable, according to an Ofsted report published last week that showed how 12 schools in highly disadvantaged areas transformed their fortunes.
Ofsted has not done an equivalent report on children’s services or social work more generally, but there could be lessons for the profession in the story of these schools.
The study found that before their turnaround the schools shared the same difficulties that afflict many social work teams and children’s and adult services departments.
For instance, high staff turnover was identified as a major obstacle to a school breaking out of the vicious cycle of poor results, low motivation and low aspiration.
Ofsted said that quality of leadership from head teachers was “paramount” in transforming this situation.
The head teachers, many of whom joined their schools in the early 1990s, had high ambitions for students and a vision of achieving them, which they pursued with a “moral purpose”.
Ofsted said the approach of such head teachers was “infectious” and was transferred to the whole school, starting with senior managers.
Julie Jones, chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, says that good leadership in schools has been the result of “enormous levels of investment” in development, through the National College for School Leadership, established in 2000.
She says social care needs the same approach, though recognises progress is being made.
The National Skills Academy for Social Care, which will start work on 30 March, will provide a training programme for current and aspiring adult care directors and other senior adult social care managers.
And the NCSL has been charged with running a programme for directors of children’s services, which will start this autumn.
The college’s deputy chief executive, Toby Salt, is wary of drawing comparisons between the leadership skills required by different parts of the public sector, but says: “No one can deny that high-quality, energetic leadership is essential for the effective running of any public organisation.”
Staff development was regarded as absolutely essential in the 12 schools, and good performers were constantly set new but achievable challenges. A thorough training programme, often delivered in-house to help “mould” new recruits, was also significant.
General Social Care Council chief executive Mike Wardle told Community Carelast month it was examining making post-qualifying training compulsory for social workers – for instance through the re-registration process – because too many employers were leaving practitioners to manage this alone.
But staff development at the 12 schools went hand-in-hand with weeding out those who were not up to the job.
With respect to social care, Jones says: “There will, unfortunately, always be some staff who, despite support, continue to be ineffective. Managers need to be able to identify and tackle those problems to ensure service users and their families get the high quality care and support they need.”
Besides extra government investment, Jones points out that teaching has benefited from a “sympathetic and well-informed public profile”, something that seems a world away for social work in the wake of Baby P.
She says this, along with extra resources, will be crucial to raising the status of social work. But she adds: “The Social Work Taskforce is a real opportunity to tackle these challenges, and Scie is confident that it will.”
➔ Report at www.ofsted.gov.uk