‘Mixed picture’ on tackling racism on ASYE programmes, finds analysis

Skills for Care report finds disconnect between intentions of senior managers and experiences of NQSWs, in context of disproportionate ASYE failure rates for black and ethnic minority staff

A Black social worker looking downcast
Photo posed by model (credit: digitalskillet1/Adobe Stock)

There is a “mixed picture” in relation to tackling racism on assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) programmes, the latest analysis of children’s services schemes has found.

While there had been a general improvement in discourse around racial diversity and inclusion, there was often a disconnect between the intent of senior managers and the experiences of newly qualified social workers, found Skills for Care’s 2021-22 report on the children’s ASYE.

The issue was thrown into sharp relief by figures released in 2021 by the workforce development body showing that black and ethnic minority staff were three times as likely to fail the ASYE for children’s or adults’ services as white colleagues.

In its latest report, Skills for Care said that employers and ASYE assessors had “taken to heart the need to reflect on the structural disadvantage that may exist within their organisations, what has been missed in the past and what they can do differently in the future”.

Employers ‘must promote open conversations on race’

A Skills for Care survey of 59 social workers in 2021 found that 80% felt comfortable discussing racism with colleagues, while 66% said that senior leaders were approachable on issues of race.

Positive practice included organisations setting up workshops to enable open discussions about race, with NQSWs feeling safer where such opportunities existed.

However, this was not always the case and Skills for Care said employers needed to consider how to “open these conversations in a way that enables everyone to learn and understand what needs to happen”.

Also, 44% of survey respondents said they felt judged by their appearance, while 37% said their organisation did not include anti-racist practices in the ASYE, with 34% saying that it did.

NQSWs also raised concerns about a lack of racial diversity among ASYE assessors and senior managers.

Organisations to report on diversity and inclusion

Skills for Care, which monitors the children’s ASYE on behalf of the Department for Education, said that, in future, employers would be asked to report on the measures they had in place to address diversity and inclusion and to assess the impact of their actions.

It said it wanted employers to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Do you have a robust system for collecting recruitment, completion, and attrition data from your ASYE programme? What do you do with this data? How does it inform your programme development?
  • What is the culture in your organisation? To what extent do colleagues feel able to engage with the “hard-to-have” conversations? What else can you do?
  • Do NQSWs feel supported if they experience racism in any aspect of their work life?

Concerning lack of action on race – BASW England

In response to the findings on race, the British Association of Social Work (BASW) England said: “It is concerning that there are still several employers who are not introducing anti-racist practice and learning tools within the ASYE programme. Feedback from NQSW participants within the Skills for Care report reflects the value that NQSW attach to having an open and safe environment within the workplace to discuss the impact of racism and the importance of promoting racial diversity.

“We would question what has been put in place to revise the ASYE evaluation criteria and what action plans have been put in place to address these concerns?”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said the Skills for Care report raised “important insights into how organisations are promoting anti-racist practice and inclusion so that their workforce feels both supported and safe to raise concerns”.

Rachael Wardell

Rachael Wardell (photo: Phil Adams)

“As employers, we must 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,” said Rachael Wardell, chair of the ADCS’s workforce development policy committee.

“We know that there are disparities in ASYE success rates or in fitness to practice hearings of social workers from different ethnic backgrounds. There is much more we can do in improving anti-racist practice and to create a truly inclusive environment for the whole of our workforce. We each have a responsibility to stand up for change and to challenge ourselves and each other to do more if we are to achieve a fairer, more tolerant and equal society.”

Workload concerns

The Skills for Care report, which drew on virtual quality assurance visits to 13 employers, as well as the social worker survey, found that workload management for NQSWs was an “ongoing challenge”.

The ASYE framework states that participants’ workloads should be equivalent to 90% of an experienced social worker’s, with the remaining 10% ring-fenced for learning and development.

Skills for Care found that, though all programmes aspired to protect workload, “most found it a continual struggle in the face of escalating demand and increasing complexity”.

It found different approaches to managing workloads, with several employers capping caseloads – mostly to between 15 and 20 by the end of the ASYE year – and others setting them at 10-25% below those of experienced practitioners, with workloads gradually increasing over time.

And while many employers had a formal system for tracking caseloads, with a policy for taking action should they become too high, others had a more informal approach.

Half of NQSWs ‘asked to carry out too many roles’

The report is the latest of a number to raise concerns about workloads for staff on the ASYE. Half (51%) of NQSWs said they were being asked to fulfil too many different roles in their job, when surveyed in late 2021 for the latest (fourth) wave of the DfE’s longitudinal survey of children and family social workers. This was up from 38% at the time of the first wave, for which the survey was carried out from November 2018 to March 2019.

Forty four per cent said their workload was too high in the fourth wave survey, up from 37% in the first wave, while 63% said they felt stressed by their job, a similar proportion to the previous waves.

Of those who felt stressed, a third said the biggest single reason was too much paperwork. While having too many cases was the next most significant factor, this was cited by 12% of those who felt stressed, a big drop on the 30% who said so in the wave 3 survey (carried out in late 2020).

Lack of training and support for ASYE assessors

In its report, Skills for Care raised concerns about the level of support for assessors, whose role is to support NQSWs’ development, provide feedback and assess their progress, determining whether they pass or fail the ASYE.

It found many examples of assessors providing excellent support for NQSWs during the pandemic, including in relation to their wellbeing and caseloads.

However, the report added: “Many of them have done this despite feeling unprepared for the role often through lack of training and support and being under significant pressures in day-to-day roles.”

Where they were also acting as line manager for the NQSW, Skills for Care found that most had not been given workload relief to carry out the assessor function.

“As a result, NQSWs have identified that the support they have received from them has been variable with implications for their sense of well-being within their new professional roles,” it said.

Skills for Care added that employers would be expected to monitor and manage assessors’ performance, with practitioners in the role citing the following as helpful:

  • A career development pathway.
  • Investment in additional support roles for NQSWs.
  • A social work academy model within which NQSWs are supported in their first six months.
  • More time to undertake assessment responsibilities.
  • More training to induct them in their role.

‘Significant recruitment and retention challenges’

For ADCS, Wardell added: “Employers have been working hard, putting in place measures to help with the development and wellbeing of NQSWs, and a well-designed ASYE programme is a good way to do this. The report highlights issues employers have been grappling with such as ensuring their workforce feel well supported and have time to develop their practice by providing protected caseloads and flexible working. However, local authorities face significant recruitment and retention challenges alongside a rise in referrals to children’s social care meaning that this is not always possible.”

The report comes with the DfE due to respond shortly to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which recommended replacing the ASYE with a five-year early career framework, with progression tied to pay, and completion leading to the award of ‘expert practitioner’ status.

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6 Responses to ‘Mixed picture’ on tackling racism on ASYE programmes, finds analysis

  1. Vera Chilly January 6, 2023 at 4:47 pm #

    There is institutional racism in social work practice in general and senior managers and local authorities should be comfortable in discussing diversity and differences in social work team meetings. I have personally created BME Social Workers Group to promote diversity and differences but more needs to be done. Neil Thompson is an expert in this area are we are so glad to have him in our group.

    • The Watcher January 8, 2023 at 2:51 pm #


    • Plain Talker January 9, 2023 at 9:35 am #

      Neil Thompson is great, but he’s not an ‘expert’ in BME diversity.

  2. Rose Thompson January 6, 2023 at 5:30 pm #

    I am in full agreement that “ race ethnicity and colourism” should be considered in the workplace senior management pay lip service to this particular profession for a very long time.

  3. Yawn January 6, 2023 at 11:53 pm #

    Same sh1t, different year.

  4. J.C. January 16, 2023 at 6:50 pm #

    There is a lack of understanding racism in local authorities. Many managers/leaders do not appear to have a good understanding of racism and issues around it. Many teams lack diversity and when there is diversity staff tend to group themselves within their ethnicity.