The chair of England’s Social Work Reform Board has called on the British Association of Social Workers to put aside its objections and accept “the government’s shilling” in setting up a national college.
Moira Gibb admitted she was “puzzled” at BASW’s controversial decision to ballot members over launching a separate UK college amid concerns that the official organisation would lack independence.
But the chief executive of Camden Council said she still hoped the association would “find a way to stick with” efforts to develop a national college as supported by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, which will receive £5m in start-up funds from the government.
Speaking exclusively to Community Care, Gibb asked: “How do you get it up and running? If social work as it stands could have set up a college, it would have done so by now.
“I think it’s perfectly reasonable to take the government’s shilling at this stage, but the college will be in social workers’ hands.”
Gibb pointed out that the Social Work Task Force, of which BASW was a member, also proposed an independent college.
Another of BASW’s concerns was that a college of social work should be open to practitioners in all four UK nations, not just England.
Gibb, who trained as a social worker in Scotland before continuing her career in England, is in favour of a UK college but said it was unlikely to happen in the short term. “The college will need all the members it can get,” she said. “But [a college] can’t be forced upon the other countries; they will have to choose if they want to be part of it.”
Recruitment for the interim chair starts this week, and Gibb has confirmed he or she will be a qualified social worker. “It’ll be someone social workers can have confidence in, with experience on the front line, but also someone who can set up an organisation.”
Gibb will soon write to all social work employers in England asking them to undertake a workload “health check” using the framework provided in the taskforce’s final report.
The results could be used as a basis for deciding what share of funding employers in children’s services should receive, she said, when the £23m social work improvement fund is allocated.
“We recognise there isn’t loads of money. [Employers] will have to use their ingenuity and use small amounts to relieve the pressure on frontline staff.”
But the reform board will not monitor uptake of the checks because it is not intended as an inspection tool. “We don’t want to give the sense this is Big Brother doing it to people.”
Nor will it be monitoring compliance with the national standard for employers on support for frontline social workers, which is due to come into effect by 2014. Instead, the reform board plans to consult employers on whether it is something they feel they can live up to. But Gibb said it would not be watered down. “Employers do want to get it right; they’re not wicked people.”
Gibb admitted there may be anxiety about how long some of the reforms will take to implement: for example, the assessed year in practice will not be rolled out nationally until 2016.
But she said: “You can’t suddenly destabilise a whole cohort of students who started out thinking they were doing a three-year degree and then are told they’re doing four years. And of course you have to design it well. Universities should have time to make those changes.”
There is also work to be done on the existing schemes to support newly qualified social workers, which could become more “unified”.
However, Gibb pointed out that there was no guarantee that the government would continue to fund them after next year. “Everything is at risk in this economic environment,” she said.
Steering group bars BASW during ballot
The official development group for the national college of social work has barred the British Association of Social Workers from taking part in meetings while it ballots its members over launching a separate college.
Allan Bowman, chair of the group facilitated by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, said BASW’s referendum represented “a conflict of interest”.
However, he added that the door was still open to BASW’s involvement in the group and the association would be kept informed of future talks.