College insiders want BASW to fill the gap

As The College of Social Work closes many feel the British Association of Social Workers needs to step up to the plate

Sources from within The College of Social Work are calling on BASW (the British Association of Social Workers) to consider stepping forward as the independent voice of social work.

One member of the soon-to-be-closed professional body told Community Care: “People in the College are saying they would really welcome conversations with BASW [about taking on the body’s role]. I would definitely want to have that kind of conversation and a lot of members do.”

Controversial view

Even children’s chief social worker Isabelle Trowler tweeted this week in response to the closure: “I thought maybe more might/can happen through existing membership & 70,000 social workers not members- or with BASW?”

This view is controversial in some areas. There are those who believe the College’s fraught beginnings, dogged by conflict with the association, led in part to its demise. For BASW to absorb the College’s roles with this history would be wrong, one sector leader told Community Care.

But social work academic Professor Ray Jones, says it is more urgent than ever for the profession to have an organisation to stand up for it, and he believes BASW is the obvious choice.

“The important professional challenge for social workers now is to make sure they have a really strong voice and BASW is the only opportunity at this point in time,” he says. “It’s a voice that needs to be strengthened by social workers joining in greater numbers.”

‘Reports of its death exaggerated’

Some are holding out hope the College may yet be resurrected. The College’s children faculty lead Brigid Featherstone tweeted “reports of [its] death may be premature”. There is a feeling among many that government, and even the College executive itself, cannot  act autonomously to close what is in essence a membership organisation.

Featherstone, along with her fellow leads for the adults and mental health faculties, Gerry Nosowska and Ruth Allen, say they are committed to supporting the continuation of the College’s mission, whether that is as a scaled down version of its current form or through a separate body. In a statement the faculty leads say: “We are really encouraged by the number of social workers who have contacted us to express their commitment to this too.

“Our priority is to listen to and represent the views of our faculty members and to ensure they are centrally involved in discussions  about the way forward.”

Not everyone is as keen to save the College in its current form, though. Andy Elvin, chief executive of looked-after children charity TACT, but speaking from a personal perspective, says: “It [the college] should have come out strongly to challenge poor and inadequate social work pre- and post-qualification training. It should not have waited for government but gone ahead and created a robust system for continuing professional development and pushed the profession to adopt it. It also should have sought outside funds for this.

“So it is very disappointing that there will not be a college, but maybe not a tragedy that we don’t have this college.”

From the ground up

A group of social workers, using social media to gather views under the heading TCSW Phoenix, are discussing whether it is feasible to raise enough money to make up the College’s £240, 000 shortfall. All agreed they would pay more for their membership, but only if it was made worth the money. Some see this as an opportunity to build a college from the ground up, based on what social workers really want from their professional organisation.

However, college board member Ken Terry points out that although a £100 pledge per member would fill this gap in the short term, it would have to been done fast as the college’s charity status means, with insufficient funds, it has a legal duty to cease trading within the week.

“Sadly we are fast reaching the point when we will be unable to pay our loyal and hardworking staff,” he says. “My personal view is the only viable option would be a merger with BASW provided they set up a separate charity distinct from their union. It would mean that social workers would join as individual members and corporate membership would cease. Although we may lose membership, we would gain in having a more independent voice for social work.”

BASW has yet to decide how it responds to such calls.

Open door

Chair of the association Guy Shennan says: “BASW’s council has not yet had the chance to meet since the closure announcement. College members seem to be challenging the leadership’s decision to announce its closure. As a member-led organisation ourselves, we want to respect the feelings of college members and discussions they are having at this moment.”

The organisation is not closing any doors though. “BASW is keen to hear ideas from college members as to how we can work with them to find a mutually acceptable way forward. BASW has a lot to offer so we want to talk,” Shennan says.

But while the scramble for a professional college in one form or another is well underway, there is still very little news as to what will happen to the extant college’s functions, including housing the professional capabilities framework and the principal social workers’ network, which was facilitated by the college.

Chair of the children and families principal social worker network, Marion Russell says she has no idea what is going to happen to the network.

“In the last year the Department for Education and the Department of Health have already reduced the network meetings. The chief social worker for children has not attended the network this year and therefore we have not been able to ask her the various questions about all the reform matters with regards to accreditation, ASYE and practice leader statuses.

“Given this lack of communication, the network is in a situation where it does not know what’s happening. We are still none the wiser about the practice leader status, how that will link to the principal social worker role, and what will happen to the network.”

PCFs and PSWs

The window for social workers to contribute to the review of the PCF closes today with no more news on who will take on the professional standards.

Responding to the college’s consultation on the professional capabilities framework, BASW makes it clear maintaining these standards are more important than ever now where they are housed is being called into question.

In its response the association says: “It is fair to say this consultation has taken on even greater significance in light of the announcement on 18 June about the closure of The College of Social Work.

“The PCF was of course developed by the Social Work Reform Board, of which BASW England was a partner, after extensive consultation with the sector. Therefore, whilst the College is the custodian of the framework, it essentially owns it on behalf of the social work profession.”

One thing, however, is clear—the College may have been far from perfect, it may require a lot of think on how to move forward, but whichever camp they are coming from, nobody wants the work it has done to be lost.

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