National Skills Academy for Social Care to appoint director

Next month the National Skills Academy for Social Care appoints a director. Amy Taylor examines how it will help care providers find training and funding to improve their service standards

The world of training and development in adult social care is a complicated one.

Funding for employers is often available but difficult to locate and there are myriad courses, some with no quality assurance mechanisms, making it difficult to choose the best options for staff. For small employers with limited training and development budgets, these problems are magnified.

Next month sees the appointment of a director at the first academy for social care employers designed to tackle these issues. The National Skills Academy for Social Care is the brain child of Denise Platt, chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, who called for it in her  Status of Social Care report, in April 2007.

At the time, Platt said the arrangements “clearly do not add up to a coherent and flexible framework for the development and support of social care leaders” and recommended the creation of an academy focusing on leadership, commissioning and management covering the whole sector.

The new body is set to receive £2m-£3.5m of Department of Health funding and £1.5m from the Learning and Skills Council over the next three years employers are also expected to contribute. Academies, which exist in other sectors, all have to be financially self-sustaining and income is expected to be generated by particular pieces of work and possible membership schemes.

The skills academy is all-encompassing. It represents employers from the public, private and voluntary sector and of any size – potential members range from large scale organisations such as Bupa to a single person employing a personal assistant.

Jennifer Bernard, programme director of the academy (who will hand over to the yet-to-be-announced permanent director when the body is launched) sees this as one of the academy’s strengths and says both ends of the spectrum were represented on the body’s steering group.

“We think this is the first time that employers of all shapes and sizes have really had a chance to guide what’s happening in training and development,” she says.

The academy will not provide training itself but operate more as a signposting body, directing employers towards courses. It is also looking at creating a kite marking scheme for social care training because it is not always possible to judge the quality of a scheme, nor for employers other than councils to find money for training.

Personalisation and leadership, as called for by Platt, will form key components of the academy’s work. This includes a new trainee scheme to identify future leaders from within or outside social care and a programme for employers of personal assistants and small employers.

Bernard says that, currently, both personal assistants and their employers are relatively isolated, there being little training or support available for either. She says personal assistants carry out complex work, something that is sometimes overlooked, and there are few training options open to them.

“We are looking to some kind of framework aiming to make sure they [personal assistants] have the skills they need,” she says. “There’s a tendency to think that all you need is common sense but it’s a lot more than that. That’s helpful but it’s not the same as skills.”

There are thought to be more than 45,000 personal assistants. As the popularity of self-directed support increases this is set to grow. Despite the large number there is no way of identifying and mapping PAs, so offering them training is difficult.

This could change if they become registered with the General Social Care Council as some have called for. But given that the government plans to register domiciliary care workers have been delayed by two years, this is a distant prospect. As a result Bernard says the academy may develop a way of identifying them.

“It might be possible to create some identification for PAs who are interested in learning and development,” she says. “We think they are a section of the workforce that isn’t really a part of the workforce and that’s wrong.”

The academy represents a key part of the government’s move to more personalised services. The required workforce will only be forthcoming if they see social care as a positive place to work and Bernard says raising the status of the sector is the body’s most important function.

But the jury is out on the government’s commitment to the adult social care workforce in some quarters. Last year the chief executive of social care training body Skills for Care Andrea Rowe called for the £73m of government investment in the children’s workforce strategy to be matched on publication of an adults strategy later this year. She warned adult practitioners could “move over to the children’s side if they thought they were getting a better deal,” something the government would be expected to want to avoid.


What should be the priorities for the Academy?

Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, which represents not-for-profit health and social care providers in the UK

“We have an organisation that looks like it is going to be properly employer-led and the way in which it has been set up shows it has got sector support. There’s a need for leadership in the sector and opportunities for leadership that brings people together from across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.The implications of personalisation are important and what that means in terms of new skills.”

Sue Bott, director of user-led organisation the National Centre for Independent Living

“We definitely think the academy should concern itself with individual employers and PAs. There seems to be a willingness to do that. It would be a matter of getting the balance right. We must ensure opportunities are available to people [PAs and their employers] who want to make use of it but accept there are some circumstances in which people will say ‘that’s not for me’.

“We are very keen to see personal assistants getting much wider recognition for what they do. Some of them do quite complex tasks and it’s frustrating that there’s no form of recognition. So if they want to go to another job there isn’t a piece of paper they can get saying ‘I have achieved this’ and ‘I have achieved that’.”

Lesley Rimmer, head of the United Kingdom Home Care Association, which represents care homes from across the private, voluntary and statutory sector

“One of the most difficult things for social care providers is to get comprehensive information on all the sources of funding [for training]. Some 78% of provision in adult social care is done by the independent sector but the majority of funding goes to local authorities.

“There are lots of other sources of funding but there’s no established clear way of finding it and if you are a small provider you don’t have a lot of time. A really valuable service would be information on what funding is available.

“There are lots of small providers and if the academy can focus on the needs of those organisations that don’t have a training infrastructure but where somebody needs to deliver something, then that would be great. I don’t think people have really got to grips with how learning goes on in those organisations and the high turnover in the sector means that training is an on-going fact of life.”

The academy 

The Status of Social Care – a review 2007

This article is published in the 26 March 2009 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline Raising the bar for care skills

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