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BASW England and SWU respond to Government’s consultation on Social Work England: secondary legislative framework (Regulations)

BASW and SWU have delivered a joint response to the Department of Education and Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on Social Work England (SWE): consultation on secondary legislative framework - the Regulations that govern the detail and delivery of the Regulator created in the ‘skeleton legislation’ of the Children and Social Work Act.

BASW and SWU remain concerned that the detail of how SWE will operate through Regulations has not been made available through the current consultation - and will not be subsequently subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny.

Whilst the consultation document contains 39 pages and the draft social worker regulations are 33 pages in total, there is a distinct lack of detail, making it extremely difficult for members and others to respond meaningfully, without the full information on proposals to be put before Parliament being made available. 

The Government is deploying a Statutory Instrument to pass the Regulations and while these will need to go through both Houses of Parliament for affirmative assent by MPs and Peers, this process is not full scrutiny and is essentially a ratification process.     

We recognise that the Regulator will be required to consult the public and ‘representative groups’ on further rule making (the next level of governance below the Regulations) but there are some opt outs on this. The Regulator itself determines if consultation is ‘inappropriate or disproportionate’ - and this doesn’t involve Parliamentary scrutiny.

Member feedback

To address the difficulties regarding both the length and complexity of the documents, compounded by the absence of detail, as well as encouraging completion of the DfE’s own online consultation, BASW and SWU selected the crucial elements of the proposals and devised our own survey for our members to help them better understand both the content and the implications of the proposals.

The survey ran from 23 February – 14 March 2018 and elicited over 400 responses, a good take up in the time allowed.

BASW has members with a great deal of experience and knowledge in the development of social work regulation - a number have occupied key roles in previous regulatory bodies for social work and for other disciplines.  This places us in a strong position to analyse what has worked well and not so well in both the past and the present so that Social Work England (SWE) does not find itself in the position of having to re-invent the wheel and so that it can benefit from this knowledge in the sector.

Managing efficient transition

The transition process itself from the HCPC is going to be a huge task i.e. the registration of all social workers in England including those who have qualified overseas, those who require re-registration, the setting up of fitness to practice systems and a system for accreditation of providers of qualifying education. Therefore, BASW and SWU think that these fundamental responsibilities must be embedded properly prior to any consideration being given to adding specialisms to the register. 

We think it is imperative that SWE does not overburden itself with additional tasks and so favour a staged approach that ensures that the core functions of the regulator are first and foremost, firmly established and properly costed. 

Annotation

We think that there are real issues with the regulator trying to exercise both the role of Registrar and decision-maker on CPD and at this point, BASW and SWU do not support the annotation of additional qualifications, specialisms and accreditations by SWE. 

We do not consider this to be the role of the Registrar and we consider it to be an extension of SWE’s role which goes way beyond its remit.

It is suggested AMHP and BIA qualifications should be viewed differently, more as a special case. They are statutory roles defined in primary legislation rather than post-qualifying roles or training attainments arising from current policy.  As these roles can be undertaken by people who are not social workers, the Registrar will need to determine how and whether this is recorded as those professionals will not have a social work registration.

Conclusion

It is imperative that the new regulator has the co-operation of the profession; the way this has been imposed on social workers in England has not been helpful and has left the profession feeling unsettled.

The Government must continue to involve BASW and SWU, and all stakeholders in collaborative and best practice, drawing on previous positive and sector led approaches such as the SWRB (Social Work Reform Board).  Many of our members currently tell us that this feels like an exercise of being ‘done to’ as opposed to ‘with’. We need the Government to properly engage, work with and listen to the sector.

It is our view that SWE needs to focus on the core issues of regulation i.e. public protection and come back to post-qualification issues and specialisms at a later stage in the process and do this in a way that is acceptable to the sector including full consultation. 

Moreover, our members have clearly stated that they want a sector led approach to PQ education and training that is independent of Government.

Additional notes

  • BASW England and SWU has consistently raised questions about the lack of the new regulator’s independence from Government. To gain wide confidence and to be effective, independence of operating needs to be evident in the running of SWE and its operating principles and rules.
  • BASW England believes that there needs to be a clear distinction between regulation and improvement activities. The former is the primary role of the Regulator. As a wide based profession with multiple specialisms, improvement and post-qualifying attainment should largely be promoted through the professional body BASW, the education sector, employers - and a culture of wide ownership of quality improvement by the whole sector.
  • A guaranteed freeze on registration fees should be affected from point of transfer for a substantial time period.
  • There should be integration of the PCF and BASW Code of Ethics into all regulatory standards, aligned with the KSS.
  • 50% of the SWE leadership and Board representation to be made up of Social workers.
  • In the future, students should be regulated and registered with SWE