Going beyond inadequate: How a council and university have joined forces to boost social worker training

Buckinghamshire council's new partnership will offer social workers masterclasses to help the council on its improvement journey

Photo: Flickr/Jacob Botter

Since its inadequate Ofsted last August, good news has been in short supply for Buckinghamshire council children’s services.

But that changed last week when a Department for Education report said the service did not need any further government intervention.

However, the improvement journey is a long one, and one way the council is trying to improve is by forming a social work academy in partnership with Buckinghamshire New University.

Jason Schaub, senior lecturer in social work and integrated care at the university, says the academy is the first a university and local authority have entered into a partnership as part of an improvement plan.

Upskilling social workers

Launched in February, the academy will run masterclasses and seminars, and offer informal networking for qualified social workers and social work students. Qualified social workers will also have enhanced access to programmes run by the university.

Schaub says the academy’s job is to help the council “upskill its social workers and improve its recruitment and retention”.

The academy shows the council is committed to continuing professional development, he adds.

The masterclasses will be run by special guest lecturers, and the council and university will work together to identify what topics need to be covered. Schaub says this means the university will respond to the needs of the workforce, rather than providing sessions based on its specialisms.

“My areas of specialty might be very different from something the council needs to improve on, so we’ve had to go away and devise and construct things that respond to the needs of the council,” he says. “I think that is a unique approach.”

For example, Niki Clemo, service director for children’s social care at Cambridgeshire council, spoke at the academy’s launch about how Cambridgeshire went from an ‘inadequate’ to a ‘good’ Ofsted rating in less than two years.

Opportunities for social work students

These sessions won’t be mandatory, but Buckinghamshire’s social workers will be strongly encouraged to take part.

The academy will also allow students to develop an understanding of frontline social work through informal networking with qualified practitioners.

Students won’t get preferential treatment when applying for posts at Buckinghamshire council, but Schaub hopes the stronger relationship with the authority will mean the university is made more aware of job opportunities at the council.

It’s the level of engagement between university and council that sets this approach apart from other social work academies launched in the past, Schaub thinks.

“Because I came from a frontline children’s services team into academia…I understand what those pressures are like and I’m able to say, ‘even though you have these pressures there are these things from academia that can help to understand them, and can make them better,'” he says.

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