The final report of the Social Work Taskforce, set up to look at the profession as a whole, is published today. There are not going to be any surprises as there has been an interim report already and much discussion of its contents.
The Guardian reports more details about it and it seems to be a very positive move forward for the much maligned profession that has too often been a government pawn. Switched and swapped and chopped and changed to meet the needs of the policies of the political mood of the day, however, I expect a lot of public sector workers can say the same.
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Back to the report itself though, again, Firstly, there is the introduction of a ‘licence to practice’. I haven’t seen too much of the detail about what this might involve along with the registration that already exists but it would mean a year in practice for newly qualified social workers before they achieve this ‘licence’ – presumably involving some kind of ongoing assessment to ensure that a sufficient standard is met. I’ve made my point many times on this matter. I think it is wholly positive as to rely on universities to produce fully-qualified and ‘ready to practice’ social workers has been a consistent failing of the current system. It also puts social work more in line with other professions such as teaching and strengthens the quality of the profession as a whole.
Again, going back to the Guardian article, there will be no cap on caseloads but the introduction of some kind of monitoring system so that caseload numbers are managed. Personally, I think the ‘overworked’ issue isn’t simply a matter of numbers. If there is no effective caseload-weighting, the numbers make no sense. I’ve held caseloads of over 40 and caseloads in their teens – one might not necessarily make me less overworked than the other if the complexities are not equivalent. Everyone working in the area will know that one extremely active case can be as busy as 10 bubbling along smoothly cases and so the numbers game doesn’t really work.
It seems that the emphasis on pay reform is being devolved to local authorities to work out career structure and link pay to training and career development. Although I’m relatively content with my pay, I accept I get paid more than the majority of social workers at my grade (non-management, non-senior) due to the London weighting and the higher pay that is usually commandeered in the Capital (because costs of living are higher – not for any more special or exclusive reasons) and the AMHP supplement – however the pay is a constant issue and whether we like it or not, just because it is a so-called ‘caring’ profession, does not mean that we should have to accept lower pay on that basis. There is an more interesting argument to be had about the traditional ‘female’ professions having lower pay on the basis of responsibility but this probably isn’t the place for it. Suffice to say if pay is to be addressed, that can only be a good thing.
As the article says
Employers will have to work with unions to reform social workers’ pay so that it reflects their career development and progression. Ministers will say that if this does not happen locally the government may introduce a national pay review body along the lines of those already in place for nurses, teachers and the prison service.
There is some mention of a practice-based Masters qualification. I hope that some consideration of the mash that is the current post-qualification framework is taken. It is easier to tie the post-qualification framework to academic qualifications perhaps but there are already routes to Masters’ level courses through practice-based qualifications. More streamlining perhaps and more flexibility. I never really liked that I had to make a choice between Adults and Mental Health as they run two different paths through the post-qualification system. The Foundation Trust have necessitated that I take a ‘Mental Health’ pathway when some aspects of the ‘Adult’ pathway such as ‘Personalisation’ and ‘Safeguarding Adults’ would be equally useful. I would prefer that we weren’t necessarily pigeon-holed. I do need more details on that aspect though.
The other issue brought up is the institution of a National College of Social Work. I know this has received some attention and Balls announced it at the weekend. Personally, I’d like to know what the remit is and how the interplay with BASW and the GSCC will ride with it. If the fees to be registered are to increase as the GSCC demands independence, and the College of whatever form it takes, will, no doubt, demand a fee payment as well as payments to BASW and a Trade Union (I know these are strictly speaking optional but I don’t see them as a choice!) we could be bombarded with costs to practice.
I’m sure there will be provision made for this and I like the idea of the National College but I would like more detailed information about what it is. I expect that might come out as the day progresses.
So generally, it is hard to think of anything negative to say about the Taskforce report – not that I was looking for negativity of course. It seems a fairly broad, positive move to refocus social work. I think there is a lot more work to be done however, including at a ground level.