‘We are recommending the establishment of an independent national college of social work. This will articulate and promote the interests of good social work. It will give the profession itself, strong independent leadership; a clear voice in public debate, policy development and policy delivery and strong ownership of the standards to be upheld.’ – The final report of the Social Work Task Force 2009.
I remember – not so long after I first read of this aspiration – it was announced that The College of Social Work (TCSW) was to be born. I had just embarked on my journey as a Practice Educator. I admit that I did indulge in some fanciful visions of me lecturing at an actual University, dedicated solely to the education of all social worker wannabes in the UK.
This university would develop a workforce of staff which would strive towards and assist with maintaining the key values of Social Work; and I saw myself working there. For the first time we, as a collective group of people who held a “professional” qualification would get the recognition that our counterparts in health and law enjoy getting. Maybe we would even manage to get the same 10% discount which is offered across the country to employees of the NHS, police and fire service, as our actual worth may be finally recognised. Clearly, it never got to the point of an actual university opening its doors, nor was it ever intended to be that sort of a college! But what did it actually achieve?
I can really only go by my own experience of TCSW for the purposes of this post and I would say that aside from co-producing the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), which I have found very useful, I don’t really think it achieved much. To answer my own question “Is the closure of The College of Social Work an omen of doom?” I would have to be saying, no it is not. Had this been the only virtual source of support for social care staff then my answer would certainly be different; however, if I ever needed to research anything for my daily practice, this was not in the first ten places that I would have ever gone for answers.
With regard to the process for the implementation of the Care Act 2014, does my answer change?
The Guidance now states that “Local authorities must ensure that assessors are appropriately trained and competent whenever they carry out an assessment. This means ensuring that assessors undergo regular, up-to-date training on an ongoing basis” (emphasis* added from guidance paragraph 6.86). This is not a ‘should’ – or a ‘may’ – it’s a must, which means that the local authority cannot pick and chose if it provides training to enable continuous professional development of its assessment / care planning work force – they need to know the law, the regulations and the guidance, and if they don’t get retrained in that material every year, what does that mean for councils’ governance?
I don’t know how TCSW was funded, but I expect that it could have been saved, and the failure to do so is what should be explained. The closure of an institute, whose mission was to “act as the source and guardian of the highest possible professional standards at every level …” at a time when legislation is enforcing the necessity for ongoing professional development, indicates a lack of regard for the profession, by the government.
However, I don’t ever recall TCSW providing me with an education which would ensure that I remained competent to carry out assessments.
The PCF framework provides excellent benchmarking tools for assessment of competence but in my opinion TCSW never went further than this. At the point of the press release about its closure, beyond the Professional Capabilities Framework, which gave a ‘flow chart’ as to where I would progress throughout my career, there was never any substance as to how I could progress – a road map or blue print for Continuous Professional Development (CPD) was not something that I ever got from TCSW. And the curriculum validation standards for the qualifying degree for entry into the profession were not reviewed for the Care Act until this year, whereas it has been on the statute book since 2014. I think the Health and Care Professions Council offers more in terms of being a “source and guardian of the highest possible professional standards”.
So I do not think the closure of TCSW is an omen of doom. It is sad that it has happened at a time when the Care Act attempts to re-inject a bit of professionalism back in to the role of Social Workers but there are a lot of on-line resources that offer a place to gather for social care professionals who want to indulge in a little feather ruffling and debate.
When I reflect on what TCSW actually achieved for me, well, it’s my opinion that it was not that much. It did provide very cheap professional indemnity insurance and was useful during the transition between different occupational standards which had to be met by my students. Aside from this, well, I am struggling to think of anything.
Jo Cleary, chair of The College, is quoted by Community Care to say “This is a very dark day for social work and for the people that social workers support” but is it really? It is a very dark day for social work when central government trails further cuts to already starving social care budgets but I can’t think that the closure of the College, by comparison, will really have much impact on the profession of Social Work.
So, for now, it might be time to hang my imaginary Hogwarts social work professor’s cape back up, in my imaginary professor’s wardrobe. I’m thinking that the better thing to do from now on might be to promote legal literacy as my personal Patronus, instead of looking to institutions to light the way.