Bucks hopes to shore up recruitment problems with social work academy

Vulnerable children and their families in Buckinghamshire are set to benefit from a major new training scheme for social workers which was launched last week.

The initiative, called the Social Work Academy, is a formal partnership between Buckinghamshire County Council and Buckinghamshire New University.

The Council hopes this move will help to overcome the serious national shortage in frontline social workers for children and families by allowing it to recruit and retain the best staff for the county.

The academy consists of regular masterclasses for students, new social workers and more experienced staff – giving ongoing up-to-date training for whoever needs or wants it.

It was launched at the university in High Wycombe last week and the first session was attended by a mix of Council staff and university students at the Owen Harris Lecture Theatre.

“I am really excited by this idea,” said Lin Hazell, County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services. “We know nationally and locally there is a worrying shortage of social workers and the lack of staff – and too much reliance on agency workers – was a factor in the Ofsted outcome rating last year.

“We are well on the way to improving our services, but cannot really be totally successful until we have ensured we can recruit and retain the very best staff to work with our county’s vulnerable children.

“And we can only do this if we give them incentives to come here to work, and then to stay here. The value of regular training simply cannot be underestimated in terms of staff morale – and is also a fantastic recruitment incentive.”

There is no cost to taxpayers, apart from staff time in setting up the academy which will hold at least four masterclasses a year.

Academics at Bucks New University will develop and lead the sessions which will feature guest speakers who are experts in their field. In return, the university will be guaranteed placements at the Council for a number of its social work students.

Sinclair Coward, Head of Academic Department, Social Work and Integrated Care at Buckinghamshire New University, said: ”We’re delighted to be working with Bucks County Council and support their aim to develop a first-rate team of children’s social workers equipped with the latest evidence to apply to their practice.

“I’m confident that the masterclasses, led by leading academics at Bucks New University, will sharpen the skills and knowledge of social workers in Bucks and contribute greatly to improving the quality of services to those that matter most.”

The key speaker at the launch was Niki Clemo, Service Director – Children’s Social Care of Cambridgeshire County Council. She spoke about the dramatic improvement journey for her council which turned an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report for its children’s services into a ‘good’ one in less than two years. She said: “I am delighted to be part of the launch of the Social Work Academy. Investing in the professional development of social workers is key to ensuring that we continue to improve social work practice.”

Carol Douch,  Buckinghamshire County Council’s Interim Service Director for Children & Families (Safeguarding), said: “It was fantastic to have someone of Niki Clemo’s calibre and expertise who has been on the same improvement journey to speak and to tell the audience just what is possible with good practice and the right social workers.”

She explained: “The idea of the new academy is to improve and support learning opportunities for experienced social workers and managers. We want to embed the learning culture and encourage our social workers to continue to link theory with practice.

“This investment in our social work professionals will support our improvement journey and our key goal of achieving better outcomes for children in Buckinghamshire.”

Jason Schaub, senior lecturer in Social Work and Integrated Care at Buckinghamshire New University, said: “The Social Work Academy is a clear demonstration of Buckinghamshire County Country’s commitment to the professional development of its social workers.

“We are proud to share our expertise to help social workers manage the sustained changes for children’s social care policy. Bucks New University is recognised as a leading institution for the provision of first class teaching in social work, integrated care and safeguarding.”