The majority of social workers who responded to a Community Care survey on the future of the profession believe that social work needs a professional college.
However, although 89% of the 252 respondents were supportive of a college in principle, and the majority were upset by the closure of The College of Social Work, only 43% had actually been members.
Many reasons were given for why theoretical support for a college did not translate into paying membership. A typical comment was:
“The disputes preceding the College’s inception undermined confidence in it from the outset; the benefits of joining were poorly explained or promoted; [I] had eventually considered joining but just never got round to doing so.”
Another respondent said:
“I thought the output of the College of Social Work was poor (guidance given to social workers very basic). I also saw no evidence of them speaking up for the profession.”
Others said they already paid for membership of other organisations and to register with the HCPC, and saw duplication between the College and these bodies. Two-thirds of social workers who responded were members of other organisations with 53% belonging to Unison and 50% to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).
Taking on College functions
Our survey asked if another organisation should take on some or all of the College’s roles. Nearly half said this was complicated and required consultation. One principal social worker said:
“Any organisation taking on these roles will need support to develop these functions and none are currently sufficiently advanced to take this on seamlessly.”
BASW was by far the most popular choice to take on some College functions, selected by 60% of respondents. Second was the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), which was only chosen by 17%.
It was announced today that the College of Social Work will transfer some key resources to BASW, because of the association’s “strong independent identity and relationship with social work”. This includes the Professional Capabilities Framework and CPD endorsement framework.
Other College functions such as hosting the principal social worker networks and issuing certificates to adults’ social workers who complete assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programmes have been put out to tender by the Department of Health, to protect their previous investment.
‘A campaigning voice in favour of social policy’
However, there was less appetite for some of these roles among social workers who responded to our survey than other priorities for a professional college.
While just under two-thirds (60%) thought a college should host professional networks, this was seen as one of the least important functions. More than nine in 10 (92%) wanted a college to negotiate with government on policies that concern social work, while 90% felt a college should provide accreditation and endorsement. Providing practice guidance (89%) and sharing good practice (88%) were also popular choices among respondents.
What price membership?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the College’s success was the reluctance of social workers to pay and a perceived lack of value for money.
One respondent said: “I could not see what they could offer me for the cost”.
The cost of College membership was £60 a year but it had given significant discounts to councils who signed up employees as “corporate members” in a bid to boost memberships. However, this was cited as one of the main reason for its financial failure.
Just over half of respondents to our survey said they would want costs of professional college membership to be under £100 per year. 77% would join a college if the cost was not excessive and only 7% said they would pay whatever the cost.
In comparison it costs £196.85 a year to join the Royal College of Nursing. Annual fees for full membership of the College of Occupational Therapy are £285.48; this includes Unison membership which is £207 a year for those earning £25-30,000 a year.
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