The national standard for employers should become legally binding if it fails to deliver improvements for frontline social workers, the head of England’s workforce regulator said.
Speaking at Community Care Live, Penny Thompson, the new chief executive of the General Social Care Council, also promised to “come down hard” on poorly performing universities providing the social work degree.
In her first major speech since taking up the post last month, Thompson told an audience of social workers she was determined to help their profession in England “reach its potential, climbing into the position that it deserves”.
That would only be possible if social workers are properly trained and effectively supported in employment, she said.
The Social Work Reform Programme for England, a 10-year plan to transform the profession, could help to realise this ambition, said Thompson, but she raised concerns about the lack of enforcement options available where employers fail to support their staff.
The Social Work Reform Board is asking all employers to carry out workload “health checks” on the support they deliver to social workers, which will lead to a national standard and graded kitemarks for individual departments.
However, initially the scheme will be only be voluntary, which led Thompson to say: “The effectiveness of this scheme must be measured, monitored and mapped and if it does not lead to a tangible improvement, for example in the support that you are offered, we hope that the government might consider introducing legal duties with which employers are forced to comply.”
She added that a revised framework of inspections for universities providing the social work degree had led to a stronger approach to regulating social work education.
“There is now greater scrutiny of institutions to better identify which are succeeding and which are at risk of failure,” she said.
“We will come down hard on those institutions not providing the right quality of education. However we will have a lighter touch for those performing well – so they’re left to get on with teaching student social workers.”
Thompson becomes the fourth chief executive to lead the GSCC in the last 10 months. Mike Wardle was suspended in July 2009 and later sacked in the wake of a damning review of the organisation’s conduct system.
Since then, two interim chief executives have been in place – Paul Philip, acting chief executive of the General Medical Council, and Paul Snell, former head of the Commission for Social Care Inspection – until Thompson started in April.