JimKenSir Martin Narey’s recent report for the Education Secretary put forward radical proposals for the reform of the education of children’s social workers and suggested there is too much variability in the quality of social work education. CareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy asks just where is social work in England heading?

Firstly, the Narey report deals only with the education of children’s social workers – that’s clear from its subtitle – but I think the way the report is written, and some of the DFE material published in its support, fail to maintain this distinction. I had to go a long way to find any reminder that a similar exercise had been commissioned through DH, and is yet to report.

That failure to be clear that there are two major drivers on social work education, with possibly different implications for training has certainly led to some non-specialist media reporting that might make Joe Public think that the Narey report is the end of the story.

Secondly, the report expresses the view that the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the wrong body to regulate social work education. Instead, it recommends that the Social Work College be given that role.

However desirable as an end-point, this raises a number of issues about the practicality of the College taking on that role. This includes questions such as whether the fee-income involved would be sufficient to ensure that the College could do a better job than the HCPC, and whether the College (and its structures) have the capacity to drive the greater consistency which lie at the heart of Mr Narey’s concerns.

It will be interesting to see whether the report on the education of adult care social workers will come to a similar conclusion, both about the effectiveness of the HCPC, (which is, of course, a creature of the health service) and the future role of the college.

All of this concern about consistency and quality in the approval arrangements for social work training courses comes into sharp focus when you read what the Narey report has to say about the limited tests apparently applied by both the HSPC and the previous regulator, the General Social Care Council, to social work training providers.

It seems to me that the current situation is partly a product of the shift away from a tightly regulated and closely monitored Government system (through CCETSW) towards a much lighter central touch.

Whether the proposals for clarity of purpose, greater expectations of student quality and much improved consistency in courses can be delivered by what looks like a further step away from Government involvement, I’m not sure.

And, as a final point I wonder whether the Narey report does or does not make it more likely that we will eventually see a greater separation of training for staff in the two broad services for adults and for children.