From its conception, the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) for first year social workers has been shrouded in uncertainty. The Social Work Task Force originally intended to link the ASYE to registration, so that social workers would only be licensed to practise upon passing the programme. But there is to be no direct link between the ASYE and registration and participation for employers is voluntary.
This, together with the continuing ambiguity over whether the scheme will receive any government funding – “Decisions about funding have not yet been made,” the Department for Education says – has led many to question if cash-strapped employers will see the assessed year as a priority.
But with the ASYE due to replace the existing programmes for newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) from September, it seems many employers are pressing ahead. One of these is Cornwall Council, whose children’s services were rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2009.
Jack Cordery, head of children’s social work and psychology services at Cornwall, secured council backing for a package of social work reforms in July 2011. Half a million has been earmarked for investment in social worker training, student placements, professional development and academic advancement. As part of that drive, Cornwall is developing the ASYE at an estimated cost of £100,000.
“We don’t want to puff and pant over the finishing line of getting from inadequate to adequate,” says Cordery. “We want to be one of the best children’s services in the country and the only way we will do that is by raising the professional capabilities of frontline practitioners.”
It is up to each employer to decide how they will implement the assessed year in practice. In Cornwall, the major innovation will take place through the creation of what they have termed a “social work college” for all NQSWs in the first six months of their employment. “Our NQSWs currently follow a curriculum of training spread over the year. This will now be concentrated into the initial six months,” explains Tom Parry, the lead for social work post-qualifying programmes at Cornwall, who has worked on developing the ASYE over the past two years.
The college will be overseen by a team manager whose presence will ensure a consistent approach to assessment and support, says Parry. They will guarantee the NQSWs are available to attend training and are allocated a carefully managed and diverse amount of work. After six months, newly qualified staff will join fieldwork teams, but their caseload will be monitored by practice educators.
Fearne Kenyon, a first year newly qualified social worker in Cornwall Council’s fostering department, says training under the ASYE promises to be more formal and structured than current NQSW provision. “At the moment NQSWs are a team member first and a newly qualified member second. It’s nice in a way because you are completely absorbed into a team, but it does mean that training can be a secondary factor. The ASYE should be a stepping stone between studying and work.”
Direct observation is a key part of Cornwall’s approach to the ASYE. There is no requirement for this under existing NQSW provision, but the national ASYE guidelines stipulate that two direct observations should be carried out. Cornwall plans six by a principal social worker for each newly qualified member of staff in the first six months.
At six months, senior social workers in Cornwall will take a view about how newly qualified staff are progressing. “Everybody will have varying strengths and weaknesses,” says Parry. “What has tended to happen in the past is that people get recognised for their strengths and their weaknesses have perhaps been ignored. We will be much more hands-on in directing people and much more involved in developing the capabilities they require.”
A universal difference with current NQSW support is that, under the ASYE, new social workers will be formally assessed. Cornwall plans to introduce external moderation through a partnership with Bournemouth University. NQSWs will be required to put together a practice portfolio and reflective assignments, which they will submit to Bournemouth. This academic element of the ASYE will be similar to the consolidation unit currently undertaken by second year social workers.
Of course, assessment also means that social workers can fail the ASYE. Cornwall Council plans to have an assessment panel, which will sit at nine months in and arrange support for strugglers. However, it is still not clear what would happen if someone failed. Parry says more guidance is needed from the national College of Social Work and the government as to what happens in the event of failure. “Employers have the option, if satisfied, to continue to offer employment in one capacity or another to NQSWs who do not pass the ASYE,” he says. “However, the more that happens, the less credible the scheme will appear.”
“There may be situations where social workers haven’t attained their ASYE, but would continue to be employed,” says Marion Russell, principal child and family social worker at Cornwall, adding: “I’m not quite sure what those would be”.
If a council decides a social worker has passed the ASYE, they will inform the College of Social Work, which will issue a certificate of completion. However, Parry fears that, as things stand, this could lead to a two-tier workforce: the larger tier would be “marketable” social workers who have passed the ASYE and are attractive to other employers and the smaller group would be social workers who failed for reasons perhaps only fully understood by their current employer.
The assessed year at a glance
- The Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) was one of the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force, which published its final report in December 2009.
- It will replace existing arrangements for newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) in England from September this year.
- ASYE will be a single programme for all social workers, succeeding the separate programmes for those working with children or adults.
- Whereas existing NQSW programmes result in a set of outcomes statements, the ASYE will lead to a final assessment. Students in the ASYE will be assessed against the Professional Capabilities Framework, whose nine elements of attainment include professionalism, recognition of diversity and human rights, and intervention to prevent abuse. Skills for Care and the College of Social Work will send further details to employers later this summer.
- Existing guidance emphasises a holistic approach to assessment. “This is not a process of looking at a list of competences,” says Graham Woodham, programme head of ASYE/NQSW at Skills for Care. “It’s about having an understanding of what the whole of social work looks like at that level.”