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Sir Martin Narey: overhauling children’s social work training

Sir Martin Narey publishes his report, 'Making the education of social workers consistently effective'.

Greater rigour in social work education, a sharper focus on practical skills, and places for only the very best students are among a number of reforms recommended today by Sir Martin Narey.

His report, ‘Making the education of social workers consistently effective’, commissioned by the Department for Education, finds some excellent examples of high-quality courses. However, the report also finds that in some cases, poor-quality students are being accepted onto social work courses, and higher education institutions (HEIs) are working from too many different pieces of guidance on what social workers should learn. There is no single document which lists what children’s social workers need to know by the time they graduate.

As a result, HEIs are not always teaching the right things, there is a lack of employer confidence in newly qualified social workers and new starters are sometimes ill-equipped with the skills they need to protect vulnerable children on entering practice.

Sir Martin Narey said:

Many higher education institutions recruit the very best candidates and maintain the highest academic and training standards when preparing children’s social workers. But standards are variable and many employers, and some academics, are concerned about graduates sometimes inadequately prepared for the challenge of children’s social work.

There is too little clarity on what a children’s social worker should know at graduation - that needs to change, quickly - and there is a question mark over the entry calibre of too many students. We need greater assurance about both the academic standards and the quality of work experience at different universities: we can take little comfort from either of the current inspection regimes. Finally, there is a very strong case for allowing student social workers who want to work with children to specialise at university in children’s issues.

Children’s social work is a massively demanding occupation. I believe that my recommendations, if implemented, will allow the public to have far greater confidence in new entrants to the profession. Vulnerable and neglected children deserve nothing less.

Education Secretary Michael Gove commissioned Sir Martin Narey to review the initial education of children’s social workers and advise him of the extent to which the government’s investment in social work in recent years had impacted on basic training, and whether there were improvements that still needed to be made. The report makes 18 recommendations, including:

  • the Chief Social Worker, Isabelle Trowler, should produce a single definition of what a newly qualified children’s social worker needs to understand and be able to do, and universities should base their curricula on that, not ideological and theoretic concepts
  • entry to university and college courses should be properly audited to ensure only the best candidates secure places - those taking the A level route must have 240 UCAS points (3 Cs) and the quality of access courses and other alternatives to A level entry must be audited
  • the Department for Education’s Step Up to Social Work scheme should be funded further with entry requirements broadened
  • undergraduate trainees should be allowed to specialise in children’s social work within their degree, and be given the option to complete all placements in children’s social care
  • the Health and Care Professions Council authorisation of social work degrees and the College of Social Work’s endorsement scheme for social work degrees are both inadequate and need to be replaced by a single and robust system of inspection
  • the College of Social Work should become the single inspector of social work training courses, and take on a full regulatory role

Welcoming the report and its findings

Lord Laming said:

Society requires social workers to do a tough and demanding job that often entails conflict and uncertainty. Clearly it is in the best interests of us all, especially distressed and vulnerable children and adults, that social workers are properly trained for the task. Currently it sometimes seems they are being provided with what may be termed a general education rather than being equipped with the knowledge and practical skills to successfully undertake this challenging yet potentially satisfying work. This is an important report that should be taken seriously. It has the potential to be a springboard to change the training of social workers. They, and we, deserve no less.

Andrew Christie, Director of Children’s Services for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the City of Westminster and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham said:

Sir Martin Narey has carried out a thorough examination of social work training. He is rightly challenging of many of the ruling orthodoxies, and highlights the serious weaknesses that exist. He sets out a simple and clear agenda for action. As he sets out, this is not about funding - enough money is being spent. It is just not being well spent. We need to follow his clear and simple agenda for action. Those of us who care about our profession, and want to do better by the children we must protect, must hope that the Secretary of State acts decisively on Sir Martin’s recommendations.

Anne Longfield, Chief Executive of 4Children said:

Martin Narey’s report on the education of social workers comes at a crucial time in the reform of social care and wider children and families services. It puts a welcome spotlight on the many gaps and inconsistencies that currently exist in social work education, and highlights what more should be done to support and equip those who enter this vital profession. These issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Notes to editors

Sir Martin Narey

Sir Martin Narey was the Director General of the Prison Service of England and Wales between 1998 and 2003 before becoming the first Chief Executive of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and a Second Permanent Secretary at The Home Office. In 2005 he left the civil service to become Chief Executive of Barnardo’s before stepping down in January 2011. As Director General of Prisons he has been credited with “invoking moral principles rather than security concerns when articulating the service’s priorities”. And at Barnardo’s he led the charity through a period of substantially increased political impact and made it, once again, the UK’s biggest children’s charity.

He is a Visiting Professor at Durham and Sheffield Hallam Universities, Chair of The Portman Group and a Board Member of the Advertising Standards Authority. From 2011 to 2013 he was the Government’s Advisor on Adoption. His recommendations from an independent report commissioned by The Times provided the core of the adoption reform programme which has been so successful.

In February 2013 he took on a wider role, advising the Secretary of State for Education on children’s social care. He has now undertaken a review into the quality of initial training for child and family social workers.

Terms of reference

In his capacity as Ministerial Adviser, Sir Martin was asked to look at the initial education of children’s social workers, and advise regarding the extent to which reforms to social work over the last few years have impacted upon basic training, and whether there were improvements that still needed to be made.

The review was never intended as a formal inquiry in the sense that it required submissions of evidence or held formal hearings. However, it is clear that Sir Martin has talked to a wide cross-section of people in education and employment as well as to students and social workers, both newly qualifying and experienced.


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