‘Don’t accept this narrative of failure – the college achieved a lot’

The College of Social Work faculty chairs reflect on their work as the organisation winds up

By Ruth Allen, Brigid Featherstone and Gerry Nosowksa- chairs of the mental health, children’s and adults’ faculties of the College of Social Work

Now that some weeks have elapsed since the shock announcement that the College of Social Work (TCSW) is to close, as chairs of the three faculties—children and families, mental health and adults—we think it timely to offer our reflections on its achievements and legacy.

We feel a degree of urgency about this task for two reasons. Firstly, a narrative is emerging in some quarters that is focused on the “failure” of TCSW.  We think it is vital, for the future of our profession and its morale and effectiveness, that we don’t accept a story of failure when much has been achieved. Secondly, our faculties are continuing their work and we want to maintain that momentum – and let members and others know what we are doing.


Let’s remind ourselves of some of TCSW’s achievements, some of which are well known, but others less so. The recent review of the Professional Capabilities Framework showed that it is widely used and making a real difference to practice and professional identity.  TCSW developed, promoted and supported its implementation across the country. It is increasingly recognised the PCF provided a really helpful framework for the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment in particular. The chief social worker for adults’ knowledge and skills statement links to it, and new statements for practice supervisors and leaders clearly reflect its domains and levels, even if it is not explicitly acknowledged.

Profile in policy-making

We gave social work a new profile in policy-making. TCSW members were in key national policy-making forums and contributed effectively to many consultations on behalf of the profession. In the Care Act, we now have a law for adult care and support that specifies social workers in its guidance, in part because of the work of TCSW. The new Code of Practice for the Mental Health Act includes many TCSW contributions particularly greater emphasis on family and carer involvement.

TCSW was unique in that students, practitioners (new and experienced), service users, carers, managers and academics (over fifty volunteers in all) worked together regularly in faculties and the Professional Assembly to pool evidence from research and practice to reach considered judgments on a range of matters.

This included taking a clear position on the importance of generic social work education and opposing the outsourcing of child protection services, the mandatory reporting of child abuse and the criminalisation of social workers.

Volunteer members acted as media spokespeople, wrote blogs and tweeted, and contributed to important, national news stories, such as the approved mental health practitioner (AMHP) leads network contribution on the state of mental health services.

Qualifying programmes

The vast majority of social work qualifying programmes committed to the process of endorsement, a process which was entirely voluntary,  in order to further develop excellent social work education. Still more universities, companies and individuals took up the College’s CPD quality endorsement scheme.

Overall, our experience of TCSW has been of extremely committed and able people, working hard and making a difference – employed staff, people who have used services and their carers, trustees, elected and other members alike.

Steep learning curve

So does this mean we got everything right? Of course not!  TCSW was a very young organisation – just four years old—and the current faculties had only existed in elected form since January 2014. It was a steep learning curve for us all and, of course, there are regrets. Perhaps we didn’t capture the imagination of enough social workers. We could have done more to promote practical change in day-to-day practice, such as manageable caseloads, excellent supervision and dealing with ethical dilemmas of working within austerity. We needed to work ever more closely with service users, carers and families to promote excellence through co-production. And we needed to develop a more truly independent, empowered and valued membership.

Overall, we feel we were just getting into our stride in a period of policy churn and scrutiny. TCSW in this form ran out of time. But proof that it was, and is needed, remains.

Continuing work

The faculties are continuing to take professional work forward. We are developing a conference for children’s social work that offers an alternative to current policy directions, co-producing a resource to improve social work with younger adults and launching new resources to take forward the Role of the Social Worker in Adult Mental Health Service guidance with the chief social worker for adults.

The response from social workers at the loss of the college was to call for a new body to represent the profession and to lead practice – the continued mission of the college. Active groups like the Social Workers Assembly have grown up and other social work organisations are joining their voices.  There is real optimism for a strong future for the profession.

The college played an important part in all this, much has been learnt and its members will continue to build better social work for a better society.

Take our survey and tell us what you want for the future of the social work profession

More from Community Care

5 Responses to ‘Don’t accept this narrative of failure – the college achieved a lot’

  1. Terry McClatchey August 10, 2015 at 11:48 am #

    It’s indisputable that TCSW engaged in some activities as the the authors say.

    What is missing form this article is any analysis of what was delivered per tax-payer pound of expenditure or per voluntarily subscribed individual member.

    If the ambition is to “develop a conference” or “co-produce a resource”; are those activities not within the skill-set of the HCPC, BASW, Universities, Community Care itself or any of a number of independent organisations that could deliver them without a need to “call for a new body”?

    • Brigid Featherstone August 10, 2015 at 4:58 pm #

      Indeed the ambitions that remain can be pursued by others and I am involved in working with others to do so. I am a member of BASW and proud to be so. But the questions remain- why was a college considered necessary in the first place and then what changed to render it not necessary?

      The main point of the article was to contest a simple assumption of ‘failure’ on our part – that is neither fair nor accurate. Indeed it is more accurate I would suggest to say we failed and were failed!

      In terms of cost effectiveness could I point out that most of us did all the work we did without being paid in any way – we held time jobs too, most of us!

  2. Jim Greer August 10, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    I was proud to serve as an endorser with the College. The endorsement process was robust and the PCF was a framework which the whole profession United behind. It is disappointing that the College did not receive longer support from Government for it to grow and thrive.

  3. John Ramsey August 11, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

    I think that the original conception of the College, as merged with BASW and with a special link to UNISON, would have led to a very broad based and powerful organisation. Shame it didn’t come off that way.

  4. Tammy M August 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    As a first year student I’m new to the profession but I can say that the PCF has been a huge inspiration to me by putting on paper exactly what I already felt inside – the ethics and advocacy and more. I will continue to refer to the PCF throughout my future career and I’m sad that the college hasn’t been allowed to develop further. The blame game, for me, is pointless. Those who worked long hours at the college under much pressure and from very little to no personal payment at all, should be proud of what they have achieved and this article was much needed to remind many of us of those achievements.