The British Association of Social Workers has vowed to launch a breakaway national college in reaction to persistent doubts over the independence of the official college development group.
Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board and former Social Work Task Force chair, said she was "surprised and very disappointed" at the decision by BASW's council to ballot its members on forming "a UK college of social work", separate to the national college being developed under the reform programme.
The association has asked for its members to respond before the end of April. BASW's motion said the college would help to transform standards within the profession and support a career structure, enabling experienced practitioners to remain on the frontline.
It would be funded by member subscriptions and fees from associated membership organisations, under a scheme announced by the association this week. The need for it to be "led by and accountable to social workers is an urgent imperative", BASW said.
But Gibb advised all BASW members to "think carefully" about going it alone.
She told Community Care: "The taskforce was constantly reminded of the stretch in the social work system, with little capacity for developing the future. To split this capacity into competing colleges would be short-sighted."
Gibb was not the only reform board member to express doubts about a breakaway college. Roger Kline, social care spokesman for children's services union Aspect, said: "While we respect BASW's decision, Aspect will continue to take part on the development group that is planning the college as we believe that the opportunity represented by the taskforce's recommendations should not be missed."
However, Ann Haigh, chair of Nagalro, the professional association for children's guardians and independent social workers, pledged her support for the UK college proposed by BASW.
The official steering group for the national college, facilitated by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, comprises bodies representing employers, academics and social workers.
However, a spokesperson for Scie was only able to name one practising social worker on the board in their capacity as an independent practitioner – Jamaila Tausif, a team manager from Stoke Council, who was also on the Social Work Task Force.
The chief executive of BASW, Hilton Dawson, has repeatedly called for an independent national college. He said: "We've got the constitution, we've got the resources and we have a responsibility to create a national college and open it up to the democratic accountability of all social workers in the UK."
When asked whether the move might undermine efforts to reform the profession, Dawson said: "It's important to get a college that actually works and fundamentally that needs to be one rooted in the profession."
Dawson has cited several objections to the talks to establish a national college, including the involvement of Scie – a "government-funded" agency – the presence of civil servants at meetings and the government's offer to provide launch funding, understood to be £5m.
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Final report of the taskforce