Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Top down improvements - doomed to fail

Trying to justify the Government’s ill-starred Assessment and Accreditation scheme for children’s social workers in England, Lord Nash, a junior minister in the Department for Education, told the House of Lords that:

“Almost one in four councils inspected under Ofsted’s current inspection framework has a judgment which indicates that its practice is inadequate. In the light of that startling statistic, it is critical that the ​Secretary of State is able to bring forward improvement activity that she believes will help raise the standard of social work practice by making clear what standards are expected of children and family social workers and assessing social workers against those improvement standards.
“In other professions, we might expect a professional body to undertake that work but, for now at least, there is no such body for social workers. With the distinct regulatory functions that Social Work England will rightly have, we believe the Secretary of State is in the best position to drive this improvement forward. Indeed, she is the only person who can. In doing so, she will, of course, want to work exceptionally closely with the social work profession.”

One thing his lordship failed to mention is that it was the Government which pulled the funding from the College of Social Work, effectively curtailing the development of a professional body for social work in England.

Another thing, that he might like to reflect on, is his totally unjustified assumption that local authorities get poor Ofsted reports because their social workers lack knowledge and skills. Much more plausible explanations for low standards are under-funding of services, shortages of staff, burdensome management practices, poor IT systems and the stultifying impact of the prevalent culture of fear and blame.

And why a politician like the Secretary of State, who happens to be an accountant by profession and who probably knows very little about children’s social work, is the “only person” able to drive improvement forward is a complete mystery to me. Driving improvement forward is something we should all be doing, especially those of us who deliver services day after day. They are the only people who really know what happens at the front line. The idea that a small elite of government ministers and their advisers know what’s best is a naive fallacy, the pursuit of which will only result in failure and despair.