Government to support fourth cohort of Step Up to Social Work trainees

Timpson tells BASW conference fast-track schemes are 'changing social work's image' but delegates question lack of support for current workforce

Edward Timpson speaking at the 2014 annual BASW conference (credit: Simon Hadley)

Children’s minister Edward Timpson announced yesterday that the government will be supporting a fourth cohort of trainees on the Step Up to Social Work programme, starting in January 2016.

Speaking at BASW’s annual conference in London, Timpson praised the scheme, which enables trainees to work towards a social work qualification at the same time as gaining hands-on experience. To-date the programme has produced 415 new social workers with another 304 currently undergoing training across 75 local authorities, Timpson said.

Timpson said: “A whopping 97 per cent of the second cohort of trainees, who come from varied backgrounds, tell us that the combination of intensive hands-on experience, academy study and close supervision left them well prepared to begin work.”

Research by Kings College London showed that 93 per cent of people completing the course had got a social work job, said Timpson. The minister added that the government-backed Frontline fast-track scheme for children’s social workers had attracted 2,700 applicants for its first 100 places.

“Frontline and Step Up [are] programmes which both, in their way, are changing the image of social work; making it an aspirational profession rather than one which has too often been viewed by the public as a last-choice career,” he said.

But social workers in the audience questioned whether sufficient consideration is being given to sustaining talent in the existing workforce.

One delegate asked: “What kind of support can you give around retaining experience within local authority departments, and making sure that working conditions are sufficient to permit workers to show what they can do, rather than firefighting and heading off the next cut?”

BASW chief executive Bridget Robb added: “At a time when we are seeing a serious loss of expertise from the workforce… we need to value what is already there.”

Timpson also used the speech to restate his defence of the recent consultation on proposals to let local authorities outsource delivery of children’s services, which he reiterated was not an attempt at privatisation. The minister called on social workers to engage with the government’s £30 million Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, which he described as presenting an opportunity for social workers to implement “bottom-up” service improvements.

Timpson said: “It’s about letting you show us what you can do to raise standards, if we liberate you from the same old structures that social work has operated in for so long.

“I want to see new partnerships with the third sector, with the private sector too if they can find a role to play – but driven by you, social workers and councils.”

The proposals have triggered fierce debate within the sector. Delegates at the BASW conference raised concerns over the plans, comparing them to the past privatisation of adult care homes and the recent outsourcing of the probation service.

And BASW chair Fran Fuller said she is worried about the government’s direction.

She said: “The Minister emphasised the fact he wants to do what is best for children and acknowledges the expertise of social workers, but the government aren’t listening to us. I also have concerns over the innovation fund because what he is saying is, ‘you are not good enough’.”

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