Children’s services leaders’ buy-in is “fundamental” to the success of their departments’ assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programmes, a review on behalf of the government has warned.
The report, the first in an annual series for the Department for Education (DfE) by Skills for Care, found “significant correlation [between employers’] level of strategic investment” in ASYE programmes and the robustness of their offer for newly-qualified social workers (NQSWs).
Most larger employers evaluated by the study, which visited both councils and smaller independent organisations, had used grant money to fund ASYE co-ordinator roles, usually filled by qualified social workers.
“Without the back-up of their senior management however, ASYE leads cannot address the capacity/resource issues that can have so much impact on the robustness of the ASYE programme,” the report said.
‘Pulling their weight’
Skills for Care’s review was based on a range of data sources, including NQSWs’ registration portal and a tool used by employers to evaluate their ASYE programmes, as well as quality assurance visits to 16 organisations.
It found most employers had got to grips with what was needed to deliver the ASYE, with some doing so excellently and many NQSWs feeling enabled to access advice and support. But, the report added, inconsistencies remained, often linked to “organisational ownership” rather than any lack of effort from staff directly involved in programmes.
Despite examples in some workplaces of fruitful dialogue between ASYE leads and senior managers, the study found “far greater evidence that the demands of child and family social work too often mean NQSWs’ workloads become too large or even unmanageable”. Community Care research carried out in 2018 found that half of social workers doing their ASYE did not have a protected caseload, despite their employer promising one.
More about the ASYE
The report noted that excessive pressure on NQSWs was not simply down to mismanagement, with many feeling that a culture of overwhelming work was “par for the course” and they they must unquestioningly “pull their weight”. Different service models could also have significant impact on how well caseloads could be protected, it added.
But to address these interlocking factors, “senior management engagement [in programmes] and support is necessary”, the study concluded.
Acting on feedback
Another related area identified as key for leaders to have their eyes on was around how well NQSWs are able to feed back their experiences of their ASYE programme.
The study found most employers canvassed NQSWs’ opinions by various means and took their views into account when considering major programme changes.
“In several cases however, there was a lack of transparency about the ways that their feedback had been acted upon,” the report said.
NQSWs interviewed by the study team – who were described as “very open and relaxed” about answering questions frankly – also noted some instances of inconsistency between senior managers’ and ASYE leads’ perspectives of programmes.
Within some larger organisations, the study uncovered more “passive” engagement by NQSWs with their ASYE than in smaller counterparts. This linked to variations in more senior staff’s understanding of the ASYE’s workforce development purpose and wider value.
“As mentioned elsewhere, the priority given by senior management on such things as ensuring workload relief, time for CPD and access to supervision, had a profound impact on the level of NQSW engagement and their overall experience,” the report said.
Benefits of visiting employers
Skills for Care’s programme head for the regulated professional workforce, Graham Woodham, said: “As well as collecting data about NQSWs so we can disburse grant, funding our approach has been to encourage a cycle of review, learning and improvement in ASYE programmes.
“We are building up a picture through the ‘organisational 360 review tool’ implemented last year, but by far the most beneficial part of the process was through undertaking a small number of visits to employers. The qualitative information provided evidence which we have drawn on in the report where we can share learning and encourage greater consistency in the support and assessment offered to NQSWs.
“We are confident from the work so far that there is a correlation between the support of senior leadership in organisations and the overall quality of the ASYE programme, so we would encourage all employers to develop this relationship. We will continue to work with employers to identify and share emerging best practice in relation to all aspects of the ASYE programme.”