(Project co-ordinator Jan Williams, left, and NQSW Sukaina Kapasi are using the CWDC scheme)
Efforts to provide greater support for newly qualified social workers in England are gathering momentum, but many challenges remain. Kirsty McGregor reports
Before the dust has even begun to settle on the support programmes for newly qualified social workers in England, the Social Work Reform Board is looking ahead to the assessed year in employment (AYE).
The board is no longer satisfied with the original plan to roll out the AYE in 2016 after a four-year pilot. Instead, it has revealed that some social work graduates might have to complete it from as early as next year.
The revised timescale poses significant challenges to the sector, but nobody disputes the importance of making the AYE – one of the Social Work Task Force’s 15 recommendations for transforming the profession – a reality.
In its interim report to ministers, the taskforce found too many NQSWs “were being ‘thrown in at the deep-end’, leading some to ‘burn out’ and eventually leave, exacerbating the problem of high staff turnover”.
To address this, support programmes for NQSWs, being piloted in selected areas, were rolled out across England. Overseen by Skills for Care and the Children’s Workforce Development Council, the schemes were designed to provide protected training and supervision time to graduates in their first year of practice.
The taskforce said the AYE should build on existing programmes, yet go further and require all social work graduates to work for a year and demonstrate competence in certain areas before being granted a full licence to practise for the first time.
The CWDC’s scheme for children’s practitioners, in its third year, and Skills for Care’s framework for adult social workers, in its second, have shown clear benefits for newly qualified staff: namely, more recognition of the need for high-quality supervision, protected time for development and peer support.
But a recent evaluation of Skills for Care’s framework found 34% of adult NQSWs had not been allowed any protected time for development. And the CWDC scaled back its requirements for participants to produce a portfolio of their work in their first year of practice, because of the paperwork created.
Meanwhile, NQSWs found that, with resources squeezed and referrals rising, some managers did not have the capacity for the levels of supervision required by the programmes (see case studies).
So what learning needs to be taken from these programmes to ensure the AYE is a success?
Achieving consistency at a local level will be one of the biggest challenges, says Keith Brumfitt, director of strategy at the Children’s Workforce Development Council. The NQSW programmes have worked well in some areas, but not in others.
“You have a national set of expectations but clearly people are supported differently in different parts of the country and with different employers,” says Brumfitt.
“With the NQSW we were starting from scratch and we realised that the need for flexibility on how it is organised and arranged locally is important.”
It is clear the AYE will have to accommodate different levels of experience among graduates as well as different employer settings, but the assessments must be made against clear standards, which are likely to be the professional social work standards being developed by the reform board.
Division of responsibility
In Northern Ireland, where social work graduates have had to complete an assessed year in employment since 2006, it is the employer’s responsibility to assess whether the NQSW has passed or failed.
In England, however, the reform board says the assessments ought to be the joint responsibility of employers and higher education institutions. Yet the exact division of responsibility remains unclear, says John Nawrockyi, representing the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, while links between the AYE and the post-qualifying framework will also have to be decided.
Then there’s the question of who will oversee implementation of the AYE at a local level, particularly as workforce development teams are shrinking.
“The biggest challenge is how any of this will be achieved without dedicated resources, given the swingeing cuts we are seeing to training and development budgets and personnel in local government,” says Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work and chair of the reform board’s career development working group.
From next year, funding for workforce development will be fully absorbed into wider council budgets. “The concern is that if the ring-fencing goes the level of investment will go,” says Nawrockyi. He is concerned that, although the NQSW programmes received funding, employers would have to make the AYE work within existing resources.
All of which leaves a huge challenge for the reform board, which meets next week to decide on the future models of training for social work graduates.
Case studies: How the NQSW programmes work in practice
Essex Council: participating in CWDC’s scheme for newly qualified children’s social workers
Jan Williams, NQSW project co-ordinator at Essex Council’s children’s services: “Essex employs 47 NQSWs, so the council decided to employ me as a full time member of staff. The University of East Anglia has designed a post-qualifying consolidation award which we deliver in workshops; the NQSWs can achieve 40 credits at master’s level. That was a big risk but we’ve had a high pass rate. I offer the NQSWs an hour-and-a-half of supervision once a month for the first three months, then as and when they need it. The 10% workload reduction is impossible to measure. We have worked on a negotiation basis, so if an NQSW comes to me and says they’re struggling and I’m concerned about their caseload, I raise it with managers.”
Sukaina Kapasi, NQSW in children’s services at Essex Council: “I have a good manager but it was helpful to have an independent person there to fall back on. The biggest challenge has been working and doing the extra reading, churning out assignments and creating a portfolio. Management is quite good about me attending training, but most of the extra assignments and reading I’ve had to do in the evenings or at weekends.”
Nottingham Council: participating in Skills for Care’s framework for newly qualified adult social workers
Amanda Colclough, practice learning officer at Nottingham Council: “We’re quite a small workforce development team and have four NQSWs. Although feedback has been positive, they have found it difficult to find time for the extra work. It has also been a stretch for the managers to provide support, so we’ve had to provide supervision for a couple of the NQSWs ourselves. We haven’t been able to make reduced workloads a mandatory part of our scheme, but informally there’s recognition that NQSWs have additional work to do and they’re given protected time for that. The NQSWs are experienced practitioners, not stereotypical newly qualifieds fresh from the degree. So we wanted a scheme that appreciated this.
Pat Pullen, NQSW at Nottingham Council: The scheme will help to retain NQSWs, but they have to structure it better. For example, nobody knew how they wanted the evidence [work the NQSWs had done towards achieving the 12 outcome statements] set out. The only way I felt I could evidence it was to do an assignment backed with forms and assessments. It’s turned out to be a much larger piece of work than anticipated.
The NQSW programmes
CWDC – children’s services
● The programme offers NQSWs: regular supervision; a protected caseload; a training and development plan; 10% protected time for training and development activities.
● 11 outcome statements.
● In 2008-9, 1,000 NQSWs and 88 employers took part in the programme. In 2009-10, 2,000 NQSWs and 144 employers participated. In 2010-11, 141 employers have registered interest so far.
● Funding provided by the Department for Education in 2008-9: £5.2m; in 2009-10: £11.1m
● Employers receive £4,000 for each NQSW. Those employing 10 or more receive an extra £10,000.
● Each employer receives £15,000 on average to support supervision.
Skills for Care – Adult services
● The programme offers NQSWs: standardised induction; supervision and personal development frameworks, with strong links to post-qualifying training.
● 12 outcome statements.
● In 2009-10, 1,000 NQSWs and 106 employers took part in the programme. So far in 2010-11, 500 NQSWs and 110 employers have participated and it is expected that a further 175 NQSWs and 70 employers will sign up in January.
● Funding provided by the Department of Health in 2009-10: £4m.
● Employers receive £1,000 for each NQSW and £1,000 for each supervisor.
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