Social workers often ‘poorly trained and not ready for frontline practice’, says DfE

Parliament's education committee has launched an inquiry into the Department for Education's social work reform agenda

Social workers are too often “poorly trained and not ready for frontline practice” and improving their capability is “arguably the most important issue to be tackled” in reforms to social care across the country, the Department for Education has said.

In a memorandum submitted by the department to Parliament’s education committee, which is calling for evidence on the effectiveness of the children’s social work reform agenda, it outlined the key “problems” it is trying to address in social work.

MPs on the education committee want written evidence on the government’s approach to children’s social work reform. They invited comment on the memorandum’s content, focus, and breadth.

Other key problem areas the department identified were that social workers sometimes “operate in a spirit of defensive, process-oriented compliance” and there can be a lack of innovative and confident practice leadership locally.


“The workforce itself operates in pressured circumstances with sometimes low morale, vacancy and turnover rates that are higher than local government averages and a reliance on temporary staff,” the memorandum said.

It added: “There is, though, a great deal of positive practice within the sector, driven by a core of authorities who have performed strongly over time under a range of different inspection frameworks, and others who have demonstrated a rapid trajectory of improvement in recent years.”

The department also conceded that, while child protection spending was prioritised in local authorities during the 2010-2015 government, “the fiscal position presents some significant challenges”.

Neil Carmichael, chair of the education select committee, pointed to a “recruitment and retention crisis in children’s social work” as a key issue.

Carmichael said: “We want to hear the views of social work professionals and others on the government’s actions on this matter, as well as on the other areas set out in this memorandum.”


The department said it was “overhauling” social work training and education, which will ensure entrants “are fully prepared for the specific demands of child and family social work”.

It said programmes like Step Up To Social Work and Frontline “result in good rates of entrants entering and remaining in social work after graduation, minimising the usual attrition rates into the profession”.

However, the first cohort of Frontline graduates only qualified in September 2015, and the research the department used to make this point refers to Step Up alone and was published in 2013, a year before Frontline began.

Improving the skills and capacity of the social work workforce, streamlining governance and accountability and creating working environments with quality, innovation and efficiency at the centre were the department’s three central aims, the memorandum said.

It added that a clear career path, such as the approved child and family practitioner, practice supervisor and practice leader levels of social work practice announced by Nicky Morgan in 2014, “should help retention rates – providing aspiration and pathways to the next level”.

The deadline for written evidence is 4 March 2016, and can be submitted on the education committee website.


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8 Responses to Social workers often ‘poorly trained and not ready for frontline practice’, says DfE

  1. Tistan Garcia January 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    These claims by the Department of Education are not supported by research findings or current evidence. In fact several robust empirical studies refute the claim that ‘poorly trained and not ready for frontline practice’.

    A recent study commissioned by Scottish Social Services Council ‘Newly-qualified social workers readiness for practice in Scotland’ by Grant, Sheridan and Webb (in press, British Journal of Social Work, 2016) provide a very different picture about newly qualified social workers readiness for practice and shows that by no means are social workers poorly trained.

    Here is the link to the study

  2. Chris Cheatle January 13, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    MP’s need to quiz the media about their lust to shame and humiliate social workers who may appear to have made mistakes. The media has a heavy responsibility to promote truth with compassion rather than speculation with disgust.

  3. james January 13, 2016 at 8:28 pm #

    Where can one present evidence to this inquiry?

  4. Elaine Spencer January 13, 2016 at 10:58 pm #

    one obvious untruth in this statement (Frontline wasn’t even started, but claimed to be effective). How many more? Seems rubbish to me.

  5. Jon powton January 14, 2016 at 4:49 pm #

    Social workers should be made to be foster carers for a year before they can be registered…….see it from the other side…..let’s see how they cope and see if they then understand the realities from the practical side.

    • julia abadi January 16, 2016 at 10:56 am #

      The majority of social workers are parents, so they do understand the pressures and stresses of having children.

    • Hels January 19, 2016 at 7:57 am #

      I think that is an irresponsible comment Jon powton, your cimments degrade looked after children

  6. Mandy Miranda January 15, 2016 at 9:59 pm #

    My gran told me once, ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’