Principal social workers question need for new practice leader role

Sector leaders say there is confusion about the new practice role and potential for duplication

Photo: Gary Brigden

Principal social workers (PSWs) have questioned the purpose of the practice leader role announced by education minister Nicky Morgan last month, saying it is unclear how it differs from their role.

Chair of the network for children’s PSWs, Marion Russell said an address to the network on Friday by chief social worker Isabelle Trowler had left them none the wiser.

“There was no clarification about what a practice leader would look like. We weren’t clear, and I’m not sure we’re clearer now.”

Their concerns follow comments from Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, last month who questioned if the move was simply giving principal social workers a new name.

The Department for Education (DfE) today published a statement confirming the introduction of practice leaders, but a spokesperson said they would not be releasing more detail about the role for some time.

The statement specified a career pathway for children’s social workers, laying out three new statuses including the practice leader role, which will be awarded using a pass or fail test.

A status for children’s social workers with case responsibility, and one for practice supervisors was also introduced.

But Unison professional officer Helga Pile said the announcement  raised questions around what the perceived gap is and how the department will ensure it is filled by the new practice leader role.

College of Social Work professional officer, Dr Ash Chand agreed the function of the role was as yet unclear, but said he was reassured by Isabelle Trowler’s promise it would not be a substitute for the principal social worker role.

As well as laying out the three new statuses, the statement addressed concerns brought up by social workers in the consultation.

The statement made it clear that the scope of the statement is focused on child and family social work and should be read in accordance with, not as a replacement for, the Professional Capabilities Framework.

The government response clarified the knowledge and skills statement was not intended to replace generic social work knowledge and standards.

But, following a consultation, the required practice skills for children’s social workers were given a stronger focus.

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2 Responses to Principal social workers question need for new practice leader role

  1. Marion Russell December 1, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Principal Child and Family Social Workers are Practice Leaders, and as such we are not questioning the Practice Leader role. Many of us have been implementing reform from a practice base for some time now. We continue to believe that Practice Leadership is essential. Principal Social Workers have developed differently in different organisations, and we look forward to a universal approach that builds on this.

    • Rachel December 2, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      Hi Marion,

      Thanks for commenting. You’re right, several people we spoke to were questioning the need for a new practice leader role for exactly that reason- that it’s a role PSWs already fill. I think that’s the source of the confusion for many and the reason many are questioning the new practice leader role- what is its purpose when a practice leader role already exists in the PSW?

      Workforce journalist- Community Care