The government is best placed to set and assess social workers against a new range of “improvement standards” for the profession, the schools minister has claimed.
Lord Nash said social workers lacked a professional body capable of leading the scale of improvements needed to work with children and families. He said almost one in four councils inspected under Ofsted’s single inspection framework was rated ‘inadequate’.
“In the light of that startling statistic, it is critical that the Secretary of State is able to bring forward improvement activity that she believes will help raise the standard of social work practice by making clear what standards are expected of children and family social workers and assessing social workers against those improvement standards,” he said.
“In other professions, we might expect a professional body to undertake that work but, for now at least, there is no such body for social workers.”
The minister was speaking at a House of Lords debate on the Children and Social Work Bill last week. Peers passed a government amendment to the legislation that will give the education secretary powers to set and assess practitioners against “improvement standards”.
Nash said these standards will be distinct from the professional standards social workers are required to meet for registration and will instead go “over and above” to define specialist standards of practice, including requirements for the accreditation and assessment system for children’s social workers planned by the Department for Education.
The government originally planned for improvement work, including accreditation, to be overseen by Social Work England – a new regulator being set up next year. But ministers have decided to take direct control of the improvement standards after bowing to pressure to establish Social Work England as an independent, rather than government-run, body.
“With the distinct regulatory functions that Social Work England will rightly have, we believe the Secretary of State is in the best position to drive this improvement forward,” said Nash. “Indeed, she is the only person who can. In doing so, she will, of course, want to work exceptionally closely with the social work profession.”
Last November, children’s minister Edward Timpson invited social workers to submit proposals on how a sector-led professional body could complement Social Work England’s work.
Timpson’s intervention came just a year after The College of Social Work, a professional body established by the government, closed due to a lack of funds. The College’s closure was partly triggered by ministers’ refusal to hand the organisation more functions, including a £2m contract to develop an accreditation system for children’s social workers.
The accreditation plans have been met with concern from sector bodies, including the British Association of Social Workers. A consultation on the scheme’s roll out closed last month. Nash said the government received almost 400 responses.
“There is a great deal of support for the aims of the new system but there was a wide range of comments about how its rollout can happen in a way that minimises disruption to the social work workforce. We are considering these comments carefully, and ministers will announce their decisions on the way forward later this year,” he said.
The Children and Social Work Bill has almost completed its passage through parliament and will be rubber-stamped when the Queen grants the legislation Royal Assent.