Torbay Council children’s services launched the Learning Academy in September 2020 as part of our recruitment and retention strategy. At the heart of the strategy is our aspiration that Torbay will have permanent, fully resourced, qualified and highly skilled employees who will invest in achieving the best possible outcomes for our children, young people and families.
Since the launch we have welcomed 16 newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) onto our ambitious assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programme where all NQSW benefit from protected allocations, receive high-quality teaching and learning and not only gain support from each other but also from our experienced social workers. The Learning Academy and our frontline colleagues are working in partnership to ensure our NQSWs receive the best experience at the beginning of their social work career.
As part of our strategy we created the advanced social worker role. Not only does this provide a highly skilled, knowledgeable and experienced social worker who will manage complex work and support and develop their colleagues, it also creates a sustainable career pathway within a smaller unitary authority. We have also created an advanced social worker development programme to further enhance the role and its development and to ensure these practitioners feel valued as colleagues.
In the past eight months, we have significantly increased our permanent workforce, including within our management structure, and have reduced our reliance on agency staff. We pride ourselves on ensuring all colleagues receive an induction and orientation that welcomes them, helps them settle in and ensures they have the knowledge and support they need to perform their role. Our induction programme starts on their first day, with a welcome from the Learning Academy, receiving their full kit and orientation and training, and then continues with their manager, providing support throughout the probation period.
We’re particularly proud that our recent Ofsted report singled out our emphasis on training, reflected in our ambitious learning and development cultures. The visibility of our senior leadership team was also praised together with the support we have given our staff throughout the pandemic. Together, with the successful introduction of our new service model, these factors, the report states has “helped to accelerate the pace of change over the past six months”.
All colleagues have access to high-quality learning and development, whether this is attending training facilitated by experts in their field or practice improvement forums, sharing learning across the different services, attending longer programmes with our partner universities or, more recentl,y undertaking an apprenticeship as part of our grow-your-own career pathways. Learning is also identified through our robust quality assurance processes and service development plans, which are taking an ambitious approach to challenging work.
This being said, we are far from complacent. There is still much to do, which is good news for dedicated and focused social workers who want to be part of developing our service, as well as their careers. We think the two go hand in hand. Again, Ofsted noted our success in attracting new staff and creating a supportive environment. Our need to further develop our services is therefore matched by our desire to hire quality people to help us do so.
Rachel Setter, head of the Learning Academy, says: “It has been an exceptional eight months for us in the Learning Academy to have the privilege to support and develop our inspiring colleagues who are working so hard to deliver the best outcomes for our children and young people, during an extraordinary time throughout a pandemic. It really is an exciting time to join us in Torbay with our attractive and vibrant offer.”
This was highlighted as highlighted in our recent Ofsted focused visit which noted:
“Despite the pandemic, the progress made in improving services for children in Torbay, noted at the previous monitoring visit in January 2020, has continued. The local authority has worked effectively with partners to continue to identify, and provide support to, children and their families, to maintain essential services and to develop virtual services. Structures and strategic partnerships are now more firmly embedded, and positive steps have been made towards delivering the authority’s children’s services improvement plan.”
Find out more about our attractive offer including a generous relocation package.