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Historic decision for BASW to develop a College of Social Work

In a historic move BASW is calling on social workers to vote yes in a referendum of its members on launching an independent College of Social Work across the UK to raise the status of the profession.

A ‘vote yes’ campaign is now underway, urging members to vote in favour of the new college, which will build on BASW’s extensive knowledge base and strengthen social work as it faces new challenges in adults’ and children’s services.

The College of Social Work’s mission will be to raise standards of practice, champion the profession, and ensure that there is an effective career structure for social workers.

BASW’s UK Council voted at a meeting on 24 February to support the immediate move to establish a UK College after determining that deliberations taking place within the Social Work Reform Board fell well short of the breadth and independence needed to properly take the social work profession forwards. The Reform Board is working on plans for a college confined to England alone and BASW has been sharply critical of its independence from government.

Chief executive Hilton Dawson said the Council decision meant BASW was now “offering the constitution, organisation, experience and resources of our organisation to enable all UK social workers to have a College which is accountable to them”. He described it as a “momentous and historic decision”.

Mr Dawson said: “Quite properly the final decision on this will be taken by our members in a referendum. We are acting now to take back our profession and to ensure that social workers ourselves are in charge of setting standards, improving our career structure, challenging employers about the way they treat social workers and ensuring that CPD is effective.

“Unlike some parts of the UK, where we have seen a degree of support for social work, the Westminster government has failed to listen to us and to understand the extent of change needed to assure social work of the public understanding that it requires.

“Its vision of a college is inadequate. We want to transform the status and standing of our profession. BASW is an international social work organisation which works to the highest standards of ethical social work practice. We are calling on all social workers to join us to create the social work profession of the future, and on all trade unions and social work membership organisations to affiliate to our campaign. Across the UK people deserve excellent services from social workers. Now we want our members to take charge to ensure that these are provided.”

Entirely independent of government, the move for a referendum on a BASW college marks the Association’s leadership’s frustration with separate plans for a national college, within a strand of the Social Work Reform Board’s work, which it sees as too susceptible to political influence. Work on the national college is being overseen by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, a non departmental organisation which receives most of its funding from the government.

“Frankly we’re sceptical of the national college ever getting off the ground, given that we’ll have a general election shortly and massive public spending cuts are on the way,” Mr Dawson added. “Our college won’t cost the government anything and it’ll be purely owned by social workers themselves.”

Mr Dawson stressed that the college would have a distinctive identity and would not be dominated by BASW. Other organisations representing social workers will be invited to join in setting up the college, including Unison, Aspect, Unite, NIPSA and the Emergency Social Services Association. Service user organisations will also be asked to take part.

“We’re bringing in accountable membership organisations rather than quangos because we don’t see them as having a legitimate role in running a college of social work,” Mr Dawson said. “But it’s not about BASW taking over the college either. We’re offering ourselves up to be the vehicle to take this forward.”

BASW sees the college as having an important role in setting training standards for the profession, leading on continuing professional development, and establishing a national framework for the supervision and support of social workers in the workplace.

The college, which would also take charge of proposals for a social work career structure, would need legislation to acquire some of its responsibilities from the General Social Care Council for its activities in England, which currently sets training standards and monitors CPD. The need for legislation is likely to vary for other parts of the UK, however.

The membership vote closes on 21 April and the result will go to a BASW Council meeting on 28 April. If the college gets the go-ahead, it could be formally unveiled at BASW’s 40th anniversary conference and AGM on 20 May.

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