Social workers should be individually graded in inspections, says former ADCS president

Alan Wood said the profession was too resistant to the idea some social workers are 'better than others'

Alan Wood

Individual social workers should be graded as part of wider service inspections, former Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) president Alan Wood said yesterday.

He added social workers could learn from models in education in which every school has a record of which staff members are excellent or requiring improvement, and individual teachers are encouraged to learn from the good practice of their peers.

Speaking at a debate on the social care recruitment crisis hosted by recruitment firm, Penna, he said: “We are resistant to the idea some social workers are better than others.

One word judgements

“We should look to have gradings of individual staff members as part of inspections, but not in simplistic one word judgements.”

The director of Hackney’s children’s services has courted controversy before, slamming academics for turning out “crap social workers”.

At the time, he said: “We don’t have a problem with a lack of social workers, we have a problem with a lack of quality social workers.”

At the debate yesterday he reiterated the message social work reform must start with the reform of the education system.

Specialised qualifications

Wood called for practice-based training, a specialised qualification route into children’s social work and more innovation in how services are delivered.

He added: “We didn’t have the courage to see the work around social work practices through. We backed off at the first sign of criticism.”

But he cited Slough and Doncaster, both councils forced to move their children’s services into independent trusts at the direction of the Department for Education, as examples of councils starting to become “more willing to think in different ways”.

Unit model

Wood oversaw the development of the “Hackney model”, where social workers manage cases in units. The unit model has been employed by the Frontline fast track scheme for participants in their first year in local authorities.

Jo Cleary, former chair of the now-defunct College of Social Work, said she agreed with Wood about the need for innovation and stronger practice leadership but disagreed with his views around social work education.

She said: “I would never, never agree on dividing the profession.”

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18 Responses to Social workers should be individually graded in inspections, says former ADCS president

  1. Kelly Burgess October 7, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    Can you imagine the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in this? Whilst in an ideal world, this would be wonderful as there are so many discrepancies in the quality of social workers practising, it seems a somewhat naïve idea, given the stripping of funding to services that social workers are employed in and the significantly high case loads staff are working with. This is the main cause of poor practice and as such, until the cause is managed, the outcome will not change. Get priorities right. When staff don’t have the right equipment, or receive the support themselves, there is no point in rating them as individuals. Isn’t that what staff appraisals and supervision are for?

  2. Jane L October 7, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    I feel that this would be appropriate for Community care workers ( social worker assistants) because we have varying degrees of qualifications and experiance/expertise. In my council there were care managers employed for their nursing qualification and in some cases having completed NVQ 4 in health and social care.I was emplyed as a care manager for 18 years and was on the same pay scale as a qualified social worker – Im not implying that this was right as we hadnt done the social work degree- but this was initailly what our local council contracted us at.
    Three years ago they decided they didn’t acknowledge our qualifications/ years of experiance etc and we -after 2 years protected pay- were down graded to unqualified workers with a loss of £10,000 per year!
    There was an opportunity to undertake the OU SW degree paid for by the council if you were accepted at interview but otherwise it was a down grade.
    Surley there should have been a fairer way to deal with this such as being suggested by Alan Wood for all workers in the social care sector ?

    • YB October 7, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

      How appalling. I have a social work qualification but out of the 2 years I spent on it self funded I would say there was only about 6 months of valid teaching at most. Things dont appear to have improved much either. Given the complex care needs we deal with in adult care, a nursing qualification would be far more useful. Of the recently qualified adult care social workers I have met, only about one in 4 are any good, others tend to have a very inflated idea of their own competence and irritate clients families and other professionals. Illiteracy is rife.

  3. Julia Preston October 7, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    I agree….. as soon as they do the same for Doctors, Nurses, Occupational Therapists , Physios, Police, Fire people, Shop Assistants, Chef, lawyers, Judges, Receptionists , Traffic wardens, Teachers , Admin staff….. Need I go on???

    Why don’t we all get badges to wear with stars on them so that the public can see what rating we are at??
    Does that sound ridiculous? Of course it does much like the initial idea!
    The whole system would grind to a halt!!
    Invest in your staff and you will get the best out of them…. regardless of what their profession is!!

    • Mr Me October 8, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

      Well said. I’d like to see the directors graded for their own merits and all the management structure. Their quick enough to boast about the level of stars and awards that always somehow reflect the difficult jobs they have to do at the top. Forgetting those who really earn the accolades but are quickly disposed of when it comes to ever more cuts.

    • Phil Sanderson October 13, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

      Yes! when we have a gradings and a league table for senior managers like him.

  4. Planet Autism October 7, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    I think it’s a good idea as the poor quality social workers need weeding out to achieve public trust in social care. If members of the public are encouraged to raise formal complaints about social care experiences and naming staff, those complaints can be used against the poor quality social workers in such appraisals to get rid of them. There is no place for dishonest, devious social workers operating in a blame culture to separate families.

  5. Mike Richards October 7, 2015 at 7:35 pm #

    With so many things wrong and Local Authorities having whole teams of locums who are they going to grade. What about capping rates for locums so SW’s need to accept permanent jobs then it will be possible to know who is good at what because lets face it whilst staff come and go as fast as buses arrive how can there be quality.

  6. Blair McPherson October 7, 2015 at 9:14 pm #

    Provided you’re competent to practise I see no value in putting social workers under even more pressure. I think this idea just feeds into the blame culture and encourages the media and politicians to ignore the weaknesses in the system, the impact of budget cuts and the gap between expectations and reality.

  7. Anita Singh October 8, 2015 at 1:35 am #

    Mr Wood, what an absolutely fantastic idea. I think we should invest in expanding Ofsted so they have a huge number of inspectors to come in and assess in detail each social worker’s individual practice. Perhaps we can then have social workers (a bit like schools) with Independent Academy status, who could take over the cases and functions of failing social workers who are in special measures. So that we can blame and sack individual social workers and not whole departments for the mess. Yes another effective way of blame the social worker game. I wonder who would be left to work in the Local Authorities that have consistently failed a decade of inspections?

  8. david phipps October 8, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    Grade directors first, but how would you do this? Endless testing, psychometric perhaps (think Paul Flowers – so perhaps no) or through your peers, colleagues children and families – it’s all very subjective. To be valid it would take so much time and resources, the very things social workers and team leaders don’t have.

    This man seems to court the controversial. If I was scaling him as a ‘leader’ of social workers, I would score him very low. But some of his subordinates and I choose this word in my ignorance but intentionally, because I think it is a word he might use or at least thinks as he seems to suffer from the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    Oh and cut your hair it isn’t maverick it’s just wrong for any man over 60.

  9. Pancho October 8, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    Supervision, performance coaching, apparisals, critical reflection……has this chump never heard of these?

    It is the culture of the various departments that need strict auditing……..if a social worker is “crap”, it shouldn’t take some dopey external inspector to notice.

    • Beth October 8, 2015 at 11:25 am #

      Because a good quality locum delivers a good service! I often pick up the work that has not been completed by permanent staff….

      If I felt that a local authority would be viable long term then I could be permanent but to be honest I think I am far more motivated as a locum!

  10. Jim Greer October 8, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Social workers are already the subject of a staff appraisal system. If this is used honestly and constructively together with good regular reflective supervision then that is the best way of driving forward improvements in individual staff performance. Nobody embarks upon a career in social work to be a bad social worker. Many staff are doing their best under difficult conditions of swinging spending cuts. Good supervision will support those that are trying their best and identify where there is poor performance or developmental needs.
    Individually grading staff in the manner suggested is likely to have all sorts of unintended consequences such as chasing targets rather than concentrating on good practice. There will also be disincentives to covering for sick colleagues or taking on particularly demanding cases in case they interfere with getting a good rating.

    • Mary October 13, 2015 at 9:59 am #

      Totally agree

  11. Simon Cardy October 10, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    Will this be extended to include a grading Directors of Social Services?

  12. Mary October 13, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    The starting point will be for Social Workers to have better on going training, invest in more staff so that Children and Adults can receive a better services. Rating Social Workers good or bad will not achieve anything. Better supervison packages and good quality supervison will achieve better outcome for those using services. Having enough Social Workers to share what is a high case load will see Social Workers doing a better job and having satisfaction from the job we do and want to continue doing.

  13. Issy November 3, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    For the record
    (1) Alan Woods is not and has never been a social worker
    (2) He is paid more than the prime minister (>£160,000 pa)
    (3) He is a FORMER president (elected by his senior management peers) ACDS so why does Community care give his opinions on this subject such prominence and weight?
    (4) He has promoted such divisive policies within education
    (5) Social workers are currently registered and a condition of their registration is to continue with their professional development
    (6) His primary skillset is political animal – this proposal is nothing more or less than a neo-liberal assault on social workers which will add to the blame culture (therefore making practice less safe) and he no doubt hopes it will have the effect of lowering the wages paid.
    (7) Managers currently have the power to supervise, develop and/or discipline every social worker!