By Deborah Hadwin, workforce development officer at Solihull council, and Lesley Parish, practice facilitator at the University of Worcester
The Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) programme will be familiar to all social workers, but particularly those who are newly qualified. In the South Midlands region, a panel was developed to moderate the portfolios of both children’s and adults’ social workers. The members come from a variety of settings including councils, universities, an independent fostering agency and CAFCASS, and all bring their expertise from both practice experience and practice education to this important, quality assurance role.
Panel members have seen a range of ASYE portfolios that demonstrate a quality of practice skills, and highlight candidates’ growing abilities in areas such as direct work, assessments, reflection, analysis and decision-making. There is also clear evidence that their work has resulted in effective interventions, which have enhanced the lives of numerous service users.
One portfolio, for example, demonstrated the progress made by Jasmine*, who was supporting a mother of two young children, aged two and three. The mother had experienced domestic abuse, perpetrated by the children’s father. While Jasmine was able to discuss this issue, she initially marginalised the impact it had had on the children.
Supervision discussions later led Jasmine to reflect on how personal experiences had influenced her view. The ASYE assessor suggested some research for her to read and that, combined with reflective supervision, enabled her to recognise how her professional judgement had been affected. As a result, Jasmine became more empathetic, and her ability to then apply this wisdom in practice meant the mother opened up to her much more.
‘Parameters of the role’
The panel’s responsibility is also to review all the borderline or unsuccessful portfolios. Most newly qualified social workers in this category often demonstrate many key skills and they meet most of the knowledge and skills statements. However, the gaps often relate to candidates struggling with the parameters of the role, maintaining professionalism, communicating effectively with service users and colleagues, decision-making, being able to appropriately reflect on their practice, and produce cohesive and effective analytical reports.
Where these concerns arise, the panel has offered suggestions to agencies about how to support candidates and develop their ASYE systems. The moderation of Martina’s portfolio was an example of this. Although the line manager had recommended a pass, there were two points of the knowledge and skills statement which needed further work.
The portfolio demonstrated that Martina had excellent interpersonal skills in direct work, and the service user feedback was outstanding. The panel recognised that although Martina remained borderline at the end of the ASYE, a detailed action plan as included in the portfolio seemed a positive and supportive way forward. The panel’s role is to ensure consistency across all local authorities and given this example was clear, it was agreed that each local authority would use this template for workers in this situation in the future.
The panel feedback can also be really encouraging to candidates. Newly qualified social workers have said they are pleased that the regional moderation panel picked up on the varying quality of the observation reports in portfolios. Each newly qualified social worker has to have three direct observations of practice during their ASYE.
The quality of the write-ups of these observations was variable and the panel members noted where these fell below the required standards. The local authority and agency representatives on the panel then needed to feedback to the assessors and provide training and good practice examples, to enable the standards to improve.
Improving the quality of direct practice observations is something that Skills for Care recognise the importance of, as does the panel, and they are also investing in this nationally.
We have found that setting up the panel has brought energy and richness to the moderation of ASYE portfolios, both in terms of the different settings represented, but also the experience panel members bring. Learning and key messages have stemmed from our experiences and as a result we have been able to raise standards and improve the consistency and quality of the programmes being offered to ASYE candidates, and the employers who deliver this.