Q&A: What does the national college mean for social workers?
What is the national college of social work?
The national college of social work, due to launch next year, will be a membership organisation that will aim to improve standards, influence policy and provide a national voice for social work in England. It will clarify the role of social workers and stand up for them in the media. It will also provide advice on training and professional development.
Other professions have similar bodies, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health or the College of Occupational Therapists. They too provide leadership and a public profile to their professions, as well as promote high standards of training and practice.
Who is developing it?
A college development group has been established, with some government funding, to oversee its early progress. Allan Bowman, chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, also chairs the development group. An interim chair of the college and board will be appointed soon for two years to lead the next stages.
The college development group launched a major consultation at Community Care Live in May to agree the purpose and functions of the college. The consulation is open to anyone who wishes to take part.
What are the college’s aims?
The development group’s consultation paper proposes priorities for the college:
• to establish the college as a legal entity;
• define the values and purpose of social work;
• develop standards;
• and establish different types of membership.
The paper also sets out five key functions:
• providing a strong voice for, and leadership to, the profession;
• defining the values and purpose of social work;
• developing, upholding and supporting standards;
• providing guidance and support to the profession;
• and shaping training and development.
Why should you join?
According to the college’s website, membership will provide you with:
• Information, guidance and resources. This includes guidance on what you should expect from your employer by way of support, supervision and professional development, and what to do if it is not available.
• Access to accredited continuing professional development
• Help with getting other professions, such as teachers, the police, health service professionals, as well as the media and the general public to understand what social workers do. This includes providing a voice for the profession when things “go wrong”.
How much will it cost?
The college will need to charge enough to ensure income from membership fees covers the cost of providing services to members, so it will depend on how many social workers join. As part of its consultation, the college development group is asking how much people would be willing to pay for annual membership, from £50 to £245.
Who can join?
The college will be primarily for social workers and social work students in England. However, the development group is looking into a membership structure that would enable others, such as service users and carers, to join the college, possibly as non-voting members. Research is being done into whether a college of social work should cover Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Will the college take responsibility for regulating professional conduct and social work training?
No. Most professions have a separate regulator and social work will be no different. The General Social Care Council will continue to regulate professional conduct and social work training in England.
Where did the idea come from?
The Social Work Task Force, a government-appointed panel of experts set up in 2008 to conduct a “nuts and bolts” review of the profession, floated the idea of a national college in its interim report in July 2009.
The taskforce then conducted an online survey of social workers and found there was strong support for the idea. In its final report, published in December 2009, the taskforce formally recommended “the creation of an independent national college of social work, developed and led by social workers”. Ministers accepted the recommendation and the college is now being developed as part of the wider social work reform programme.
What is the difference between the college and the British Association of Social Workers?
The British Association of Social Workers is a professional association, which seeks to further the interests of social workers. As such, some of its aims and functions do overlap with the college. But BASW also provides some services that would not be part of the college’s remit, such an advice and representation service for individual social workers. It is also a UK-wide association, whereas the national college being developed at the moment is for England only.
BASW has been lobbying in support of an organisation like the national college for many years, and included this in its submission to the taskforce. The association has recognised that some its functions could be absorbed into the college altogether – but this would be a matter for its members to decide once the college has been established.
What is going to happen next?
The interim chair will be appointed by the end of June, followed by an interim board by the end of September. They will oversee the rest of the consultation, which ends in October. The college is due to be officially launched in March 2011.
Where can I find out more?