Black and ethnic minority social workers have disproportionately high ASYE failure rate, figures show

Skills for Care reveals "very concerning" data showing black and ethnic minority practitioners accounted for over half of fails in 2018-19 children's ASYE despite making up quarter of participants

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Black and ethnic minority children’s social workers face disproportionately high rates of failure in the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), Skills for Care figures have revealed.

In 2018-19, they accounted for 53% of ASYE fails, despite making up just 26% of those registered under the programme; white social workers accounted for 47% of fails and 60% of registrants, Skills for Care’s annual report on the 2020-21 programme said.

The figures, which Skills for Care dubbed “very concerning”, provide evidence for longstanding concerns that black and ethnic minority practitioners are disadvantaged through the ASYE process.

In its report, it said its visits to employers during 2020-21, as part of its oversight of the programme, identified examples of good practice in ensuring an inclusive ASYE, including having a focus on recruiting men from ethnically diverse backgrounds and carrying out risk assessments for staff from black and ethnic minority groups.

Less attention on social workers’ lived experience

However, the report added: “Most programmes, however, appear more reactive, offering robust responses when a problem is identified, but not monitoring experience or delving deeply into the causes…There is a sense that the focus is on equipping NQSWs with the skills and knowledge to work inclusively with service users. While this is clearly vitally important, there appears to be less attention given to the lived experience of social workers from BAME backgrounds going through the ASYE and to pre-empting disadvantages where these may occur. ”

The workforce development body, which the Department for Education funds to support employers in delivering in the programme and oversee the quality assurance process, said: “This is a serious finding, and most employers acknowledge that there is work for them to do in embedding proactive approaches to overcoming inequalities and addressing systemic racism.”

NQSWs from black and ethnic minority groups gave a mixed picture of their experience of the programme in 2020-21. Some were positive about the appreciation of their cultural knowledge and language skills, but others questioned caseload allocations and “mistaken assumptions that because a worker is from a particular ethnic community, they are the “go to” expert”.

At least one raised concerns about not feeling able to make complaints about experiencing racism from either service users or within the workplace because of implications for their assessment outcome.

‘Wider challenge in addressing anti-racist practice’

“This is indicative of the wider challenge in addressing anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practice across the whole workforce. It should not therefore be seen merely as a problem within ASYE programme activity.”

The report called on employers to:

  • Ensure that NQSWs and supervisors have the necessary training and support to enable them to call out racist practices.
  • Ensure that NQSWs from black and ethnic minority backgrounds are linked into peer support groups if this is their choice.
  • Encourage “hard to have” conversations, where individuals are not afraid to say the wrong thing and learn from the ensuing dialogue, take place at the outset of the ASYE and keep them on supervision and team meeting agendas throughout.
  • Consider how to capture and analyse data around ethnicity, recruitment, achievement and attrition, and incorporate this, along with feedback from NQSWs, into the quality assurance process.
  • Ask how the ASYE programme can develop an ethos of allyship, and what more action you can take to tackle conscious and unconscious biases that result in black and ethnic minority NQSWs having worse outcomes than white colleagues on the programme.

Skills for Care said it would be undertaking  more detailed analysis of the issue in its oversight of the 2021-22 programme.

Its head of regulated professional workforce, Graham Woodham, said: “We are currently undertaking a further detailed analysis of the protected characteristics data we have for NQSWs and will be developing an action plan over the next few weeks. We have already begun to have some of the difficult, ‘awkward’ conversations about racial inequalities with ASYE programmes.”

‘Diversity matters because representation matters’

Social Workers Union general secretary John McGowan said the findings on the failure rates in 2018-19 were “extremely alarming” and required further analysis and assessment.

Association of Directors of Children’s Services vice president Steve Crocker said: “That BAME NQSWs experience disproportionally higher failure rates than their white counterparts is a serious and worrying finding that employers will be seeking to address. Diversity in the workplace matters because representation matters, this is true for both direct work with families and at a senior level. It is also important for children and young people to see that they too can aspire to a career in children’s services by seeing themselves reflected in the professionals who have such an important impact on their lives.

“We must therefore do all we can to not only encourage diversity within our workforce but also to create a culture that allows everyone to reach their full potential.”

He said this continued to be a focus for the ADCS’s workforce committee, which promoted use of The Staff College’s cultural competence toolkit to improve diversity.

Pandemic impact

Last year’s ASYE was severely affected by Covid-19 and Skills for Care said this was likely to have accounted for a 10% drop in staff being registered on the programme, compared with 2019-20.

While employers mostly conformed to the ASYE framework in delivering their programmes, Skills for Care found that “several of the organisations we visited have been challenged to fully maintain previous standards and meet the needs of the NQSWs, especially those who started their employment in the middle of a lockdown”.

NQSWs reported that, in some cases, a failure to prioritise the ASYE had led to them facing increased and more complex caseloads – beyond recommended levels – less supervision, fewer learning opportunities and less priority being given to ASYE reviews.

The biggest issue faced by NQSWs was isolation, while Skills for Care also found graduates lost confidence in their abilities to perform the role and worried about being a burden on their colleagues, as they lost out on opportunities to assimilate knowledge informally in the office environment.

However, the report found that employers had worked hard to prioritise NQSWs’ wellbeing  – including through relaxation sessions, effective use of social media and online celebration events – and to ensure they did not miss out by starting their career during a pandemic.

In some cases, working from home had also provided learning opportunities, such as attendance at court proceedings and being able to shadow a wider range of multi-agency meetings.

Variation in support

On the impact of Covid-19, Crocker, for the ADCS, said: “This year has been particularly difficult for those entering the workforce and employers have been working hard, putting in place measures to help with their development and wellbeing. Being in a team environment can be an essential part of an NQSW’s learning and so in the absence of this it is encouraging to see examples where employers have replicated this informal learning experience, such as through buddying.

“However, we recognise there has inevitably been variation across the country. This is in part because the programme is employer-led and therefore the approaches taken are largely informed by the local context.”

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30 Responses to Black and ethnic minority social workers have disproportionately high ASYE failure rate, figures show

  1. Kolawole Saidu June 4, 2021 at 5:51 pm #

    This is concerning and thanks for this article.
    I think the survey should go further by finding out from the BAME ASYE trainee what they think was wrong from their own perspective.

  2. J Butler June 5, 2021 at 8:46 am #

    Wayne Reid & BASW highlighted these issues months ago ( stating that ‘social work is institutionally racist’, so this article is not a new revelation.

    The real questions are, what are the Local Government Association, ADCS & ADASS going to do about making employers more accountable? When are SWE going to stop hiding behind “looking at equality in the round” and recognising that racial equality is a top priority?

    Social work and social care IS institutionally racist and a lot of national organisations are just sat on their hands… They “talk the talk, but sadly never EVER walk the walk”.

  3. Carlton June 5, 2021 at 7:00 pm #

    What’s the point of BASW having regular meetings with SWE, including at Board level, if it doesn’t change anything?

  4. Truthteller June 5, 2021 at 8:17 pm #

    I think every employers NEEDS practice educators, ASYE assessors and coordinators that have different protected characteristics. Nearly all local authorities are filled with middle aged heterosexual Caucasian individuals. This is alarming especially since we support such a diverse society. Change is required, and it is required ASAP!

  5. Tim maxwell June 5, 2021 at 9:39 pm #

    Well considering that a majority of staff/employers running the ASYE programme are heterosexual Caucasian individuals, this is not surprising. A lack of cultural competency is clear within this field and change is required. The practice development team within local authorities needs to be more diverse!

  6. Daniel Taylor June 6, 2021 at 9:56 am #

    I also highlighted this issue in an article in Professional Social Work online in June 2020 including a suggested action plan for BASW and Social Work England.

  7. Angela Blosch June 6, 2021 at 11:52 am #

    I can identify with the negative aspects raised in this article. I am a black woman and worked in a very very very racist team in south east England. Their treatment towards me, whilst I was studying for a Ba in Social Work, quite literally mentally broke me (whi h they found hilariously entertaining) rendering me incapable of completing me degree. I am still angry about it. Was deeply mentally scared and will never forgive them for what they did to me.

    I’d love to tell my story.

    Sunday, 6th June 2021 | 11:52hrs

    • Linda Homan June 22, 2021 at 7:20 pm #

      I am really sorry to hear this Angela. You should still considerapproaching someone like N+BASW and the Lecturers at the Uni you attended. I will email you offering further support. Best wishes, Linda

  8. Snetta Kumari June 6, 2021 at 12:23 pm #

    BAME social workers are used as scapegoats for councils, as a service user I can see what the bigger picture, usually when one white social worker discriminates against service users senior managers protect the social worker so it doesn’t reflect badly on all white social workers. They then put a BAME social worker in place to scapegoat, leaving the service user stuck with the same issues.

  9. Alec Fraher June 6, 2021 at 3:57 pm #

    For as long as I can remember, which now covers several decades, Social Work has struggled with its white and middle class identity and legacy.

    More tinkering with the data and increased analysis is insulting….when helping isn’t helping SW has to demand more.

    Successive Governments and LOCGOV, both of which are creating the conditions that cause harm, don’t want the duties and responsibility required of them… it’s a shameful position where the dark art of reputation management trumps all else… if Black and Brown workers are failing it’s because the profession is failing as a whole.

    A review of LASSA is long over due.

  10. Imani Faulkner June 6, 2021 at 4:03 pm #

    I am a black student social worker in my very first year of training and this topic seems to be getting my attention more than ever at the moment. In some ways it’s slightly demotivating as we work so hard to become the kind of professionals who are anti-oppressive, and challenge discrimination, but how ironic it is when the organisation you respresent is racist at its core. I really hope that this conversation continues to happen to raise not only awareness but momentum, to put an end to the unecessary hardships many black and ethnic minorities face within the institution.

  11. Althia June 6, 2021 at 7:32 pm #

    Lets set a recruitment bar so middle aged white heterosexual males ( middle class optional), don’t enter the workplace and a cull of those who have sneaked in. Surely this is the only way to fight racism. By dint of all of those characteristics, these men are all racist white supremacists. About time we chose the right kind of diversity. Tough on the white middle aged heterosexual male who might need a service. No doubt their white privilege will compensate for any needs they may have.

    • Alistair June 8, 2021 at 2:34 pm #

      Hi Althia.

      I support the large majority of the comments here, but, as a white heterosexual middle class male social worker, I must take exception to your statement that “these men are all racist white supremacists”. That is simply not true, and rather offensive. I am not, nor have I ever been, a racist white supremacist. I’m not sure what you mean by “sneaked in” either.

      I accept that I have a number of privileges, but without really taking apart your statement, I would like to point to the general lack of diversity in the social work population as a whole.

      Including the lack of male social workers.

      • Althia June 8, 2021 at 4:46 pm #

        It was an attempt at irony in response to other comments here Alistair. I clearly failed. I actually find the whole it’s the fault of stale, pale, old men blame attribution a pointless and empty argument. I also find the whole Robin DiAngelo discourse a dead end. It shouldn’t need saying in a serious discourse but I am not a “middle aged white male.” My black colleagues might attribute other characteristics to me though given I am more interested in class politics than twitter pigmentation spats.

        • Alistair June 9, 2021 at 3:18 pm #

          Thanks for clarifying, Althia. Yes, I’m afraid it didn’t work as a piece of irony.

          I’ve just looked up Robin DiAngelo, as I was not aware of her before.

    • Sara June 14, 2021 at 4:46 pm #

      I find your comments offensive and have no place in a debate about difference and diversity.

      • Althia June 17, 2021 at 5:03 pm #

        Would be good to know whether the offence taken is at a bad attempt at irony or the parody? Taking offence at views one disagrees with but can’t engage in refuting can be construed as offensive in itself. So no offence intended but ofcourse offence can be taken never the less.

        • Billy Vacation June 25, 2021 at 6:01 pm #

          I got what you described as irony Althia, though I think satire is more accurate – don’t go upsetting yourself because some are too navel-gazing to appreciate it!

  12. MHSW June 7, 2021 at 10:25 am #

    As ever with these articles on here, there is never interrogation of why there is a disproportionate number of SWs from black and ethnic minority backgrounds failing. There’s no evidence that people are being failed because of their ethnic background. Without interrogating why this is happening, there will not be an adequate solution. Whilst we jump to conclusions we are only failing these prospective social workers.

    It is not enough for an ASYE worker to simply state that they were not supported because of racism from manager, organisation, society, institutions etc. The overwhelming narrative that is being forced on people is that the reason they fail is automatically because of discrimination or oppression. This is disempowering and creates a sense of victimhood and it has to stop.

  13. Marrianna June 7, 2021 at 10:34 am #

    I am a black social worker going through the ASYE process right now. My supervisor is black, the team is 23% black or other minoritised collagues. A black PE and PSW are about to start in the service. Yet my experiences are very similar to colleagues here. It’s the whole system which lets us down and wears us out. Social work needs to change. We should have a more empathetic, less authoritarian management culture. Robin DiAngelo is the worst thing that has happened to black emancipation. A white woman taking us down identitarian cul-de-dacs is not the way to change structural barriers. We need political action, we need to stand up in unity to change the institutions of social work. Our focus should be on resisting being manipulated to serve the status quo. We help perpetuate social exclusion, we facilaite benefit reliance, living in poor housing, poor educational outcomes, abuse in mental health settings, neglect of older people, the ignoring of people with disabilities. For me that is the battle we should be energised in. Everything here about scapegoating, racism, discrimination and belittling is our reality but this is built on the authoritarian target driven management culture of our services. We will never erase racism in social work unless we challenge this. Until we have equity in the way we deliver services and until we break up the authoritariansm and bureaucracies that turn us into mere state functionaries, racism in social work will continue.

  14. Sophia June 7, 2021 at 11:45 am #

    As a black women I have been a social worker for over 20 years. To read the figures of the number of NQSW from BAME failing in their ASYE is very disappointing. As social workers it as always been our aim to challenge oppressive practice and to promote anti-discriminatory practice in our work. However if the figures are correct then social work practitioner need to evaluate our practice. I think BASW and social work England need to work with Practice Educators and those assessing NQSW to identify what is the cause of this inequality. Black Lives Matter highlighted the issue of racial bias and the impact of systemic racism. The fact is that social worker practitioner are not exempt from racial bias or systemic racism. I think that just like other established public institution as social workers we need to examine the impact of institutional racism. In my opinion until social work practitioner of all race accept that we all have a role to promote best practice, then we will never eradicate the racism and discrimination experienced by NQSW.

  15. Mary Kuye June 7, 2021 at 2:56 pm #

    I am a black social worker going through the ASYE program and l am very interested in this topic. It is something l would like to do a reflective analysis on.

  16. MHSW June 8, 2021 at 3:26 pm #

    Several black ASYE candidates have responded here; are you happy that there is no interrogation of this statistic in terms of WHY the failure rates are higher than others? Surely without understanding the root cause you cannot begin to solve the issue.

  17. Opal lady June 8, 2021 at 4:02 pm #

    I am a black social worker. I have been qualified 17 years.

    As a student SW, I experienced discrimination from a white middle class, middle aged woman who wanted to fail me. It seems one of the main reasons… because I ‘challenged’ her too much..

    I approached the Practice Education Panel (or whatever it was called then). I threw everything back at them that I had learnt during my training..

    I really thought my days in social work had come to a ‘premature end’..

    I won my case. I recall one of the panellists asking “How did you put up with it?”

    My answer, I didn’t that’s why I am here.. The outcome was in my favour.

    There are some vile people in social work who should never have seen the light of day.. Imagine how ‘they’ must have treated vulnerable people/families whilst working in isolation with them?

    Many times I have seen ‘karma in action’ (both good and bad).

    I know it gets tiring but we need to keep fighting the fight. As Bob sang “Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight”.

  18. Craig June 8, 2021 at 4:51 pm #

    When is SWE going to investigate the report from BASW that white managers witheld PPE from black workers but provided it to white workers?

  19. Jenny Green June 8, 2021 at 7:37 pm #

    I am a black social worker who facilitates ASYE programmes to support NQSWs. I have been in the social work field for years and have also worked with NQSWs since 2008. It is interesting to note these debates that come round periodically, same debates but different names. There were the debates about black people who could not even get their feet in the social work door, so access courses were created. Then as that began to change there were the debates about high numbers of black students failing courses, particularly black males. Then more recently the indicative figures came out about how older and ‘BAME’ social workers are also failing the NAAS process (National Accreditation Assessment System). Now it is the ASYE process. There’s nothing new here. This has been going on since BAME people entered social work, many of us thinking you needed to be on the inside, to effect change. I’m not suggesting that means it should be accepted and clearly the last year has truly highlighted the role of institutional and systemic racism in setting up the parameters for an environment where the failure rates of certain groups are responded to with a knee jerk reaction.

    Following the death of George Floyd, so many companies and dare I say it, SWE, BASW, local authorities etc made their statements about the unacceptability of racism and how they were going to tackle this and renew their commitment to anti-racist practice and now the new buzz words – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Next move set up groups for people who look like each other and maybe BAME groups of people to talk to their white peers and managers or to write about their experiences of racism. Why now? Those issues have always been there. Certain people have always known the pain of dealing with racism but have had ‘put up and shut up’ within their organisations as a survival mechanism and those that did not, would be faced with the type of micro aggressions which labelled them as ‘trouble makers’, angry, aggressive, anything which made it hard for them to speak their truth OR they would be met with platitudes and ‘sympathy which really didn’t make a difference…. all whilst trying to process their own anger, grief and frustrations about just how hard it is to have a voice and not be negatively labelled. Who looks out for their pain, their tiredness about always having to justify anger and their existence or to explain away their own experiences which just opens the injury further, layers it with more hurt but they do it anyway in the naive hope that hearing these things will bring about some kind of lasting (not temporary) change. Next move? employ people to take on these EDI roles, usually one individual with a huge brief for a whole organisation. Am I beginning to sound cynical yet?
    Next move, ask that one individual to come up with plans for ‘real’ change. Except that the brief is too large, they are having to speak for too many groups of people and if their starting point is ‘race and racism’ they also have to consider all of the Equality Act (2010) protected characteristics, which even that whole organisation hasn’t got their head around! but…if they do not figure out how to ‘be all things to all people’ and figure out how to make the intersectional links, they will be accused of working in the interests of one group only and ignoring the others…

    So this is an age old story of social work and society. The systems as they stand set us all up to fail. However on the question of what led me to respond to this debate is a couple of observations I have made over the years. As a black woman trying to provide coaching, mentoring and other support to NQSWs and other staff in social work, I am constantly struggling to continue working, to be regarded as relevant. The old boys and girls networks are alive and well. but the things we fought for are now used against us i.e we can’t take you on to do x or y, we have to ensure equal opportunities…so far so good, only we all know of the times this is veered away from for other reasons or to make the case as to why A, B or C does not have to be held to that standard or you’re simply told you did not do enough this time, despite having done the job for the same organisation without questions arising re ability or capability. Exceptions are made when it suits. I have lost work where I carried a situation and then seen that offered to someone who does not meet the standards based on the feedback I’ve received. Sour grapes? No I’m used to this sort of thing, you just get on and try to prove your professional ability and worth.

    I see the ways in which local authorities follow each other like sheep. Signs of Safety, Systems working, Re-evaluaiting Social Work now the buzz word is Social Work Academies or Universities taking on ASYE programmes. Who says that’s the only way to provide these services and all the while the systems are squeezing out small black led companies like mine because we can’t compete. I have only ever supported the failure of one black male and one white female NQSW but I have had to fight with organisations who appeared ready to undermine and threaten NQSWs with failure, nit picking at them and wearing them down on occasion. I have had to teach them how to fight back but also to really challenge them to examine their own shortcomings and to put those right if they believe there are things which they could do better.

    Equality has long been part of my battle within social work but when you are up against a system which perpetuates itself, it is not the equality champions that survive, when they go, the things they fought for unfortunately go with them, so the system reverts back to its status quo! Having spent my social work career, practising then years working with social work students, on other schemes to support so called BAME people trying to get their foot in the social work door and remain there (I so dislike this term!) …and supporting NQSWs. One thing I’ve learned is that the failure rates have to be investigated but in ways, that really interrogate what the real issues are and dare I say, they are not solely to do with racism. It does play a part but there are real allies out there who have tried to also make a difference, let’s not dismiss them. There are also others who I would kick out of social work in a heart beat because some of them whether BAME or white are just about furthering themselves and do not give a damn about what is going wrong. They will make a lot of noise but when all is said and done and they get the promotion on the back of all this, they actually forget what they should be challenging or the systems as they are just simply swallow them up and make it so hard, they often give up and go into survival mode. Our systems need dismantling but as Audre Lorde said, the master will never dismantle the master’s house! That doesn’t mean we don’t try to change this but it suggests we need a much more surgical and precise approach than has been successful to date.

    So now I want to dare to be controversial and tell it as I see it. I’ve been in the business of educating social workers in various guises for a long time, so I know we also have to face the fact that social work programmes don’t always get it right. There is no point in being so ‘liberal’ and ‘right on’ that you make excuses for people who in my view should have failed their social work training or not even got onto the programme in the first place. It doesn’t help those individuals when they get out there to practice barely knowing how to string a paragraph together and you find yourself asking how on earth did they pass the degree. And that is not only about BAME social workers. It goes right across the board but I do know of Practice Educators who don’t feel comfortable make a fail decision so it becomes a pass by default and of course for many when it is about a BAME student that becomes even worse because they are afraid of being accused of racism!

    So I am saying we need to do a precision examination of what is going wrong at every level. We need to understand how hard and exhausting it is to keep fighting for equity when all you want to do is your job. Those of us from certain minority backgrounds and communities have to face the fact that not all these failures can be attributed to racism, although a good percentage might be. We all need to be prepared to say when something or someone is not good enough. All the mudslinging in the world won’t change the fact that Britain is a racist society with people in it, who do want to see and will fight for change. These issues are too complex and multi-layered to be slugging it out on these pages without a way or the will to find ways forward. This unforunately is not going to be the last time these issues rear their head and become polarised, that is something which has periodically come up every 5-10 years then it’s back to the status quo. Let’s put our energies into finding real strategies for change at all levels of the social work systems and organisations. Great if I’ve lit a fire, let’s talk…

    • Neil June 9, 2021 at 9:39 am #

      Ofcourse big companies will try to gobble up the little companies. It may be racism but it definitely is capitalism.

    • Stanley June 9, 2021 at 11:32 am #

      Sadly it’s not possible to have an honest and nuanced discussion when the orthodoxy of the only way is this way sloganeering shuts out nonconformist views. As someone who is constantly ‘reminded’ that white supremacy is more palatable when spouted by the not the right kind of black person like me or indeed more offensively, I suspect you deviating from the prescribed narrative will invite opprobrium too. Believing that true liberation only happens when all the oppressed and vilified are liberated denies racism is real apparently.

  20. Alan June 8, 2021 at 10:37 pm #

    Right on cue, Marriannas comment is validated by the public voting for a dance routine referencing BLM as the years television must see moment. Solidarity versus identitarian individualism parroting white supremacy racism tropes.Time social workers learnt the value of unity and comradeship. Trinidadian if it matters to you.

  21. Susan Baker June 8, 2021 at 11:40 pm #

    I wrote a blog exploring the underlying reasons for this last month: