Sector fears Trowler’s agenda undermining reform efforts as Morning Lane set to develop pass/fail test

'You don't have to be in the room to influence the decision'

Priced out of justice. Photo: REX Features

Last week’s news that an accreditation system for children’s social workers is expected to be developed by private companies has sparked a torrent of concern from both inside and outside the sector.

Open letter

An open letter published this week by a group of social work academics is the latest in a series of questions posed in comments, asked on social media and even tabled in Parliament surrounding the Approved Child and Family Practitioner status, which it is believed is to be developed by KPMG and Morning Lane Associates.

With two working days to go before government departments shut up shop in the lead up to the election, the Department for Education (DfE) has still not formally announced this.

Concerns

The concerns from academics range from  why an additional test is needed, to how it will fit into the existing system of assessment within qualifying programmes and post-qualifying structures such as the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment.

This extra testing surely goes directly against the principles which Morning Lane itself is based upon… the idea that social workers need to reclaim their sense of purpose and their sense of pride in their profession. – social worker

The academics also question why the DfE is expected to award the £2m contract to consultancy giant KPMG and Morning Lane Associates, former company of chief social worker Isabelle Trowler, rather than to The College of Social Work (TCSW).

Community Care understands TCSW put in a bid for the contract but was unsuccessful, although spokespeople at The College declined to confirm.

The open letter states: “Our professional college, The College of Social Work, has recently been established with the key role of promoting and enhancing social work standards in England.

“Why, then, is money being distributed to the private sector for the outsourcing of the accreditation of qualified social workers whilst simultaneously essential public services, which seek to serve local communities and safeguard children, are being cut at an alarming rate?”

Questions in Parliament

However, academics are not the only ones voicing concerns. Their open letter follows Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck tabling a series of questions in Parliament asking how many bids the DfE received for the tender, what funds have been allocated to developing the new status and why the qualification is being introduced in the first place. The responses are expected by the end of the week.

The funding needed to be invested in social work placements. This is the weakness in social work education. – social work academic

One comment on Community Care’s story on the tender said: “This is a worrying development, not so much in the sense of the lack of evidence for the need for a new a professional standard of qualification, but in the sense of handing over of £2m to one of the world’s biggest private management consultancies whose interests are solely focused on maximising the rate of return for their shareholders and not necessarily on the needs of the people social work serves.”

Raised eyebrows

But it is not just the tender and the new test that is causing raised eyebrows and a certain wariness within the sector. More and more people, from frontline social workers to those in prominent positions (all of whom wish to remain anonymous amidst fears of repercussions, such has been the sensitivity in the sector) are asking questions about the degree of influence of Morning Lane Associates on children’s social care.

Morning Lane Associates was founded by the chief social worker Isabelle Trowler and Steve Goodman, and jointly headed up by Mary Jackson following their successful development of the Reclaiming Social Work model at Hackney children’s services.

We’ve seen what happened to one hospital that was handed over to a private company-the company walked away when assessing what? Profit!- practice educator

Funding Morning Lane

Trowler handed over her shares to Goodman after being made chief social worker. Mary Jackson has also handed over her shares following her being asked to head up Firstline, a training scheme for firstline managers currently being developed by the team behind Frontline. The new scheme also received £1.8m in DfE funds as part of the Innovation Programme.

Frontline, for which Morning Lane is professional advisor and training partner, has had its funding extended by the DfE for this year to a total of £5.6m to date.

Morning Lane itself has also received around £4m in Innovation Fund money to roll out its Reclaiming Social Work model to five authorities.

The DfE has made it very clear Trowler played no part in in any decision or tender involving Morning Lane Associates. She declared an interest, absented herself from any meeting concerning a bid by Morning Lane Associates and holds no remaining financial stake in the company – the department wouldn’t have allowed it any other way.

A DfE spokesperson issued the following statement: “Professional procurement processes between the Department for Education and Morning Lane Associates have been followed in all cases where they have been awarded funding.

“Both the chief social worker and the department have acted with complete probity at all times. Any suggestion to the contrary would be entirely false.”

Influence

While there is no suggestion of legal wrongdoing, the fears continue that children’s social work is being pushed in a particular direction – by the agenda of a small number of people with a large amount of influence .

A source in the sector told Community Care  they believed it was not irrelevant that the contract has been awarded to Morning Lane, but that this was not about financial gain: “You don’t have to be in the room to influence a decision. Isabelle Trowler, through her tweets and [public appearances], makes her views  very clear.”

One commenter on a Community Care article said: “If Ms Trowler sincerely stands to gain no pecuniary benefit from an expected contract award then given previous business ties it still appears akin to ‘a job for the boys’ here and…deserves some further scrutiny.”

Despite repeated opportunities to do so, both on social media and directly by Community Care, the DfE and Trowler have refused to comment or respond to such concerns.

A source said: “In the context of austerity we were embarked upon a  reform process. Every bit of that reform process has been undermined by the chief social worker who has her own agenda – and this is the final straw.”

More from Community Care

9 Responses to Sector fears Trowler’s agenda undermining reform efforts as Morning Lane set to develop pass/fail test

  1. Gerald March 26, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    It’s OK then for the Public Sector to control and inspect the Private Sector but not visa versa.

    This is Hypocrisy in the extreem.

    • Plant March 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

      If you read the article carefully, you might find that the concern is not about private v. public but about vested interests pursuing their own agenda for potential personal gain, to implement a process of dubious value at considerable cost when children’s services around the country are being cut to ribbons and social workers are increasingly hard to find.
      And it’s “vice versa” and “extreme” by the way . .

  2. Nanbar March 26, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    Really, if social work is to be subjected to a test that is pass/fail, why bother getting into debt to pass a social work degree or MA in the first place. Under the last government, social work was systematically de skilled and became a matter of assessment by ticking boxes. There was an element of anti public sector taken to extremes by the present government.

    The matter isn’t that Morning Lane is a private company, rather, what agenda is th egovernment putting forward when Morning Lane in this case along with KPMG are being given large amounts of money to develop a test that is pass or fail interms of your ability to practice. If the universities are seen to be developing courses which produce unskilled graduates ( let’s see evidence), then that should be addressed not an alternative system set up.
    The de skilling of social work was and is a political construct, and with the latest proposal it appears to be continuing. The other project Frontline,which seeks to attract as ‘leaders’ to the profession graduates from ‘our leading universities’, clearly everyone who hasn’t been to a leading university must be a rubbish social worker. Morning Lane, KPMG , Frontline, runs the risk of concentrating power , money and the future development of the profession in the hands of a small group of unaccountable people.When social inequality is on the increase for a significant number of people is this the kind of profession and future we all want. It is however a myth to suggest these change simply occurred under the current government, the rot started with the last one too.

  3. James March 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    No one has yet explained why it is necessary for social workers with many years frontline experience in safeguarding and child protection – plus post-qualification awards – to undertake another test of their competence?! Time for frontline social workers in children’s services to stand up and refuse to take this test – what can the Government do if we don’t – sack us all? Unlikely

  4. a magic March 26, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    I believe the new test is valid and seriously needed. unless one has been on the other side of the social services then they, I believe wouldnt, truly have any knowledge of what’s going on and how dangerous incompatance is within this area.

    As for who has got the contract again a private company (business) with huge amounts of money to be made, which is obviously their aim.

    It would seem the present government are now ruffling feathers on both sides of the nest, and this can only be good for all our children … as previously All was hidden behind closed doors.

  5. Concerned of Social Work March 27, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    I’m not convinced the real issue is this private/ public narrative. I’m more conernd that its yet another additonal expectation, duplicating what already exits (ASYE) and adding in more layers and players in the assessment of the profession. It will be interesting to see if ‘our’ Chief Social Worker makes this a legislative requirement. Because otherwise I suggest we just ignore it. If this person has no interest in engaging with the profession to move forward together, then why should we walk her path? The decision not to award this contract to TCSW is just unacceptable.

  6. Jess March 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    See below the response to a Feedom of Information Request back in September. Oh see no conflict of interest! How things have changed. Different rule for different people.

    Department for Education

    12 September 2014

    Dear Mr Smith,
    Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 21 August 2014.

    You requested information on what declarations of personal or financial interests, or any
    other potential conflicts of interest, Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker for
    Children and Families, has made in regards to:

    A – Morning Lane Associates; and

    B- any other group, individual or organisation.

    You also requested information on whether Ms Trowler is subject to any rules regarding any
    declaration of interests in regard to her speaking publicly in the course of her work to
    local authorities who have paid Morning Lane Associates for services provided.

    I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

    Isabelle Trowler is employed as a senior civil servant in the Department for Education and
    as such is subject to the Civil Service Management Code. She therefore must not put herself
    in a position where her duty to the Crown and her private interests conflict.

    Ms Trowler has been appointed as a member of the Innovation Programme Investment Board.
    Information on the Innovation Programme can be found here
    [1]https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio…. Due
    to her previous association with Morning Lane Associates and her personal relationship with
    Steve Goodman, she has agreed with the chair of the Investment Board, Mr Clive Cowdery, that
    she will recuse herself from any decisions regarding any bid to the Innovation Programme
    from Morning Lane Associates to avoid any perceived conflict of interest.

    In undertaking her role as the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families there are no
    restrictions on Ms Trowler speaking publicly at local authorities who have paid Morning Lane
    Associates for services provided.

    The information supplied to you continues to be protected by copyright. You are free to use
    it for your own purposes, including for private study and non-commercial
    .

    Copyright in other documents may rest with a third party. For information about obtaining
    permission from a third party see the Intellectual Property Office’s website at
    [4]www.ipo.gov.uk.

    If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint
    to the Department by writing to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter.
    Your complaint will be considered by an independent review panel, who were not involved in
    the original consideration of your request.

    If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then
    contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.

    Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2014/0057562. If you need to respond
    to us, please visit: [5]www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number

    Yours sincerely

    Jonathan

    Jonathan Bacon

    Office of the Chief Social Worker

    Department for Education

  7. tufan de March 29, 2015 at 1:56 pm #

    if the government really wanted to improve services, it would invest. it simply doesn’t care.

  8. Teresa April 7, 2015 at 7:56 am #

    I have read the and openely support the need to look further into how this level of funding has been awarded. Albeit the previoulsy interested parities have stood down or handed thier shares over this does not mean that they have not influenced and directed the organisation to seek a contract which will offer shares and make profits.
    The most inportant issue is that this is yet another tests for social workers who are hard working and making very difficult decisions to protect the children and support families in our society who have and are being further affected by the harsh austerity measures.
    It seems that the main issue for this government is to yet again undermine the public sector and seek top privatise the services which support the vulnerable in society.
    There are numerous assessments and a further year of AYSE which assesses competencies and HCPC, Why another…. Test. This test makes money for the private sector and continues to undermine the social work profession.
    This requires further scrutiny and should not be allowed to proceed without further consutation in the public arena.