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BASW: NAO report shows “pressing need” for national improvement strategy

As a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) analysis details an “unsatisfactory and inconsistent” picture of the quality of children’s social work across the country, BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen said there is a “pressing need” for a strategy to enable improvement across all local authorities.

The NAO analysis found that despite a number of initiatives aimed at reform since 2010, spending on children's social work varies widely across England and that neither the Department for Education (DfE) nor local authorities understand why spending varies. The NAO said the picture suggests “systemic rather than just local failure” and finds that good performance is not related to levels of deprivation, region, numbers of children or the amount spent on children in need. The DfE has no data on outcomes for children except for educational outcomes. According to the NAO, this means neither the DfE nor local authorities understand which approaches are most effective.

Commenting on the report findings, BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen said: “The report shows a concerning lack of consistency and quality of services across the country. More early intervention to robustly address concerns rather than waiting for Ofsted failure is a clear message and there is a pressing need for a strategy that enables improvement across all authorities. The current approach appears from the evidence to not be bringing about coherent, whole system change. 

“It’s impossible to focus on the wellbeing of children and young people without due consideration of the wellbeing of the workforce. Given the average length of service for a social worker is eight years, a national strategy on social worker retention is desperately needed.

“We also need to understand why referrals to children’s services are surging upwards on a yearly basis. This reality is under researched and we need to engage the third sector and other providers and children and families organisations to understand this trend. There needs to be investment in research and data analysis, with a strong focus on what produces good outcomes for children. There are other measures apart from educational attainment, such as the emotional wellbeing and good mental health of children and young people.”

Listen to Dr Ruth Allen's interview on BBC Radio 4 Today programme by clicking HERE and sliding cursor to 1:15