Social workers will gain a stronger collective voice through the first ever national college for the profession, after the government accepted all of the recommendations in a 10-year reform programme proposed by the Social Work Task Force today.
England’s 90,000 practitioners will also have to apply for a “licence to practise” in future, with new requirements for all newly qualified social workers to complete a supported and assessed probationary year before gaining their licence.
National standards for employers
Employers will be required to follow new standards ensuring manageable workloads, high-quality supervision and time for professional development, though this will not include numerical limits on caseloads.
The measures were included within a far-reaching overhaul of training, recruitment and working conditions outlined by the taskforce today.
Ministers promise transformation for profession
Although they are yet to announce any additional funding, ministers promised the programme would “transform” the profession in England after accepting all 15 recommendations.
In its final report, Building a Safe, Confident Future, the taskforce also called for:
- Tougher entry criteria for social work degree courses to address “acute” concerns about poor literacy and analytical skills among a minority of students. Entrants would have to pass a written test.
- An overhaul of the social work degree through a common curriculum and robust assessments of courses.
- The system for regulating social work education to be strengthened. The General Social Care Council should implement measures to improve the monitoring of courses.
- New arrangements to ensure sufficient, high-quality practice placements, delivered in partnership by universities and employers. Required placement days should be cut from 200 to no less than 130 to help improve quality.
- Frontline social work managers and aspiring managers to receive dedicated training and support.
- A more coherent and effective system of continuing professional development, building on the current post-qualifying framework.
- A national career structure linked to the CPD framework, alongside a review of pay levels led by unions and employers to ensure salaries reflect social workers’ career development.
- A more sophisticated workforce planning system to improve recruitment.
- A campaign to improve public understanding of social work.
Implementation plan in early 2010
The government promised to set out an implementation plan for the social work reform programme with funding announcements and necessary changes in legislation in early 2010. A Social Work Reform Board will be set up to oversee implementation, with Moira Gibb, who also chaired the taskforce, as its chair.
The taskforce was set up in January to conduct an in-depth review of training, recruitment and frontline practice to address longstanding concerns over the morale and status of the workforce. The announcement came at the height of a national outcry over the case of Peter Connelly, the 13-month-old who died following a campaign of abuse despite intensive contact with child protection agencies.
One of the strongest conclusions of the report was the lack of a national voice for social work, to lead the profession in policy debates and represent practitioners in the media.
To address the problem, the taskforce recommended the formation of a national college in its interim report in July, to improve standards, influence policy and play “a key role in driving learning and best practice”.
Ministers welcomed the proposal, and said they would lobby for it “to become the first Royal College of Social Work”. A statement from the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “Independent to government, the college will represent the voice of all social workers.”
It is expected to receive £5m of government funding in its first two years of existence, after which it will become self-sufficient.
The commitment to introduce “binding standards” on employers for caseloads, supervision and professional development comes months after the government promised to place the employers’ code of practice on a statutory footing, a change recommended by Lord Laming in his child protection review.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and Association of Directors of Children’s Services said any new expectations placed on employers should be “matched with an increase in resources”.