Ed Balls’ career change scheme criticised as a ‘quick fix’

Ed Ball and Ray Jones

Social care expert Ray Jones has dismissed the government’s plan to fund other professionals to retrain as social workers as a “quick fix” and a “cheap option” that will not solve the profession’s recruitment problems.

Jones, a former social services director and British Association of Social Workers’ chair, said lawyers, teachers or others on the scheme, announced yesterday by children’ secretary Ed Balls, would not be ready to practice after the 12-18 months of training it will provide.

The professor of social work at Kingston University is one of a number of academics to back making graduates carry out a probationary year in practice before being able to register as social workers, effectively extending the mandatory training period for social work to four years.

Training period too short

He said: “At a time when people are arguing that social work needs a longer training period [Ed Balls is proposing a shorter period].”

Commenting on the £15,000-a-year salary that trainees under the scheme will be offered, Jones said: “What we are being offered is a quick route to becoming a social worker for people who have chosen other professions, with a financial incentive that is not available to people who have chosen social work from the start.”

Jones blamed the government – and Balls personally – for the recruitment and retention crisis in social work that had left one in nine posts in English councils vacant as of the end of January, according to a Community Care survey.

‘Pandering’ to tabloid press

He said ministers had failed to give social work the same investment and priority as teaching and nursing, and accused Balls of making matters worse by “pandering” to the tabloid press over the Baby P case, to the detriment of the profession’s image.

He urged the government to wait until the Social Work Task Force reports in October before committing to any initiatives to tackle the recruitment problem, but said he was pessimistic about the taskforce’s recommendations being implemented.

Jones added: “By the time we get [to the taskforce’s final report] the story will have moved on; we won’t be thinking about Baby P, the politicians will be thinking about the next elections and the tabloids will be running with a different story. And with the financial crisis people will be saying there won’t be the money to fund it.”

CWDC details on the scheme

The Children’s Workforce Development Council, which will run the on-the-job training scheme, has provided more details of how it will work:

  • The scheme will not lead to a qualification but will provide “postgraduate initial training” for a Master’s degree. On completing the scheme, candidates will be able to register as social workers, before starting the newly-qualified social worker support programme, which is being rolled out to all graduates this year.
  • The 200 trainees will start in early 2011 with recruitment and registration commencing in September 2010.
  • Local authorities will provide the training but must be accredited by a university or college, who will support them in the training.
  • CWDC will ask councils to join together in regional partnerships to provide the training. It could not confirm whether councils acting alone would be barred from taking part.

Other reactions

Charlotte Eldridge, head of social work at recruitment agency PULSE, said conversations with social workers on its books and local authority clients had revealed support for the scheme.

But she added: “But they felt it should be quite targeted. If we are targeting postgraduates they would be looking for people with direct experience [of social work] like primary school teachers or family court lawyers.”

She said there was likely to be a demand to retrain, particularly from lawyers, as a result of the economic downturn.

‘Drop in the ocean’

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social services, said the plan was “welcome but a drop in the ocean” in tackling the recruitment crisis.

She called for social work retraining initiatives to be focused on people already working in social services, who “already have a grounding in the skills and knowledge to give them the edge when training”, and were “familiar with the stresses and strains of the job”.

More support for middle managers

Balls also announced a scheme yesterday to provide peer support to 400 middle managers in local authority children’s social care teams.

The scheme, which will also be run by CWDC, is currently being developed in the East of England and will be rolled out across the rest of England from January 2010, with councils able to register staff to take part from this autumn.

For more information email CWDC or call 0113 390 7628.

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