Social Work England – all you need to know about the change in regulator on 2.12.19
Kingston University invited academics, practitioners and students from the Teaching Partnership to attend an evening Q&A with Colum Conway, the CEO of Social Work England, on 1 November 2019. This was a very timely visit given that Social Work England (SWE) takes over as regulator of the profession from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) on 2nd December. This means they will be responsible for registering all social workers, ensuring they carry out continuing professional development (CPD), regulating social work education providers and handling fitness to practice concerns. You can find an overview of the topics discussed below.
*Please note that in recent weeks, there have been two additional SWE sessions attended by the Teaching Partnership, so in some cases, the information provided has been supplemented by additional information gained from subsequent sessions in order to give the most comprehensive overview or to provide clarity.
There is a need for more coherence from regulation, particularly when something goes wrong (serious case reviews etc.). The current trend is to reduce the number of regulators, so for the government to introduce a new regulator is unusual. SWE has been established as a non-departmental body, so they have a level of independence with their own Board etc. This is unique in the health professional setting in England, but mirrors the model seen in other jurisdictions.
SWE is based in Sheffield and Colum Conway has been in post as CEO since September 2018. There were four key elements to the initial plan:
- Recruit 160 staff / 200 associates
- Build new Customer Relationship Management system
- Transfer data from HCPC to SWE safely and effectively by 2nd December (complex as HCPC doesn’t have 16 different systems for the 16 professions they regulate and there are ongoing live cases in fitness to practice process etc.)
- Consultation with the sector to develop a set of standards (as a specialist social work regulator). They wanted to collaborate and engage with people as much as possible.
Underpinning all this was engagement with the sector. A team of Regional Engagement Leads (REL) was established (divided into 8 regions). Each REL is a qualified social worker. Importantly, there is a vacancy for the Regional Engagement Lead in one of the two regions that the Developing Together Social Work Teaching Partnership spans (London) (https://socialworkengland.org.uk/jobs/).
It is recognised that although a significant amount of work has already been done, there is still a lot to do. However to sustain momentum and implement the much sought after new regulator as soon as possible, the approach taken was ‘continuous improvement’ as opposed to ‘delayed perfection’.
It is understood that professional development has been difficult in the profession of social work. SWE is keen to highlight that they see regulation as only one element of their contribution. They are willing to understand the breadth of their contribution by engaging with the profession and will not have a narrow view of what regulation can / cannot do. There are strong things that are already happening that can be built upon, such as the work of Teaching Partnerships. They will be open, transparent and talk with and engage with the profession on an ongoing basis.
Processes / Standards
Some key successes so far are the development of a new set of Professional Standards (Social Work England standards and associated guidance) as well as robust education and training standards that will take effect from late 2020. They are also particularly proud of their new Fitness to Practice process which is fair and proportionate and underpinned by social work principles and values. It is hoped that the different ways of intervening will set the standard for how this is dealt with in other professions.
Social Work is a relationship based and reflective profession, so this needs to form the basis of CPD. SWE wants to work collaboratively to build a framework of supervision, reflective practice and CPD linked to an ongoing career. It is recognised that CPD is a broad process and it happens whenever you reflect on your practice, whether that’s attending an evening seminar or reading an article etc. SWE has some initial thoughts about CPD and a significant amount of work will be done on this over the next 3-5 years.
The current approach to CPD compliance is to tick a box confirming CPD has been completed and a small sample is assessed. The new approach will be to ask practitioners to upload their evidence directly into their SWE account as standard. All current HCPC registrants will be contacted directly to open a SW England account after 2nd December when SWE has access to social worker’s email addresses etc. Guidance will be released in the next few weeks about how to approach CPD and evidencing CPD.
As a general rule, SWE is not being prescriptive about the amount or type of evidence that is uploaded at this stage. For example, a certificate of attendance or a reflective piece could be submitted. A good place to start when uploading for the first time is to look at the standards and try to evidence against each, as fundamentally the CPD needs to reflect the professional standards. However this could be achieved with a single piece of evidence. Over the next year, SWE will look collectively at what has been submitted then report back findings with suggestions as to how to enhance the process. This will take a few years to become more prescriptive as there will be an extensive consultation process. There is no need to upload retrospectively from 2nd December (unless you want to!); the suggested approach is that you upload as you go along. There will be no individual assessment in the first year but in terms of information governance, the usual rules apply (redaction of identifiable information about service users etc.).
SWE aims to be understanding when CPD is not evidenced e.g. if someone is having a break from practice. However, whereas HCPC has a deferral process, SWE will not adopt this process, and instead will have a conversation. There is the need to ensure social workers on the register are demonstrating their competency. As much as employers support CPD, it is the social work professional who is responsible for their own CPD.
It is hoped that it will be quicker and easier for overseas practitioners to obtain registration as the whole registration will be automated from start to finish. The lack of paper forms to complete should speed up the process and it is expected that it will all be online and automated from March 2020. Anyone halfway through the application process with HCPC will rejoin the process with SWE at the same point they left off with HCPC.
There will be ongoing consultation about fees, but they won’t change in the next year. The government has subsidised SWE’s costs, as the current fees don’t cover the costs of their role as regulator, and the consultation with the profession is likely to include a conversation about whether SWE should be completely independent of the government financially or whether the government should continue to subsidise.
More information will be requested from Social Workers because SWE wants to be able to paint a better picture of what Social Work looks like in England for data/workforce analysis etc. Currently, there is too little quantifiable data available, policy sits across two different bodies and there isn’t consistency between data collected in adult social work and children and families social work. SWE will be very clear about where information that is requested will be published and there are no plans to include more information about social workers on the open register.
SWE will contact employers to notify them that there’s a new regulator. This will be through directors in the first instance, but it is recognised that there are many social workers who aren’t working for a local authority and independent social workers, so all social workers will also be contacted directly, providing the information on record with HCPC is correct.
There isn’t the current legislation to require students to register with SWE but it is recognised that the sector might favour this approach. Although it wasn’t included in the legislation for SWE, it is very much seen as the direction of travel and will continue to be discussed. This approach works extremely well in other jurisdictions and it is recognised that 50% of the qualifying course involves practice settings. Therefore it is key to establish links to the regulator as soon as possible. If this were to develop, it would not be an onerous process and there is every chance the process / fee would be different for students.
It is in every profession’s interests to have a well established relationship between the regulator and professional body. BASW has responsibility for the PCF and there is a good opportunity for the profession to bring constituent parts together and develop a systems approach. It’s important that there is a system in place to support the profession into the future and both SWE and BASW have roles to play in that.
There are no current links between SWE and the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS), which is aligned to the DfE. From SWE’s perspective, social work is one profession – there may be specialisms but it is a single profession whether it is children’s/adults/etc.
There are certain standards that are being regulated and upheld by SWE and the standards for admissions will apply irrespective of the entry route. The biggest challenge is consistency when there are a number of different access points to the profession. SWE is open to the range and diversity of entry routes as the social work profession should reflect the demographics of the environment in which they work. The more diverse the profession, the better. But standards have to be delivered in the same way and SWE will be very robust in terms of that.
Community Care has also published an article on the key things social workers and social work education providers need to know about the transition happening early next month.