Submission from Social Work Scotland to NES consultation: 15 November 2023
Social Work Scotland is the professional body for social work leaders, working closely with our partners to shape policy and practice, and improve the quality and experience of social services. We welcome this opportunity to comment on the opportunity to feedback on the NHS Education for Scotland, Learning and Education Strategy 2023-2026 (DRAFT).
The NES Strategy 2023-2026 sets a clear direction and three areas of focus: People, Partnerships and Performance. It is noted that NES seek to ‘promote and uphold human rights through education and training and provide challenge where these are not being upheld’1.
Social workers understand that a human’s rights are relational; they exist in reference to another human being’s actions and rights. Our profession must often operate in that liminal space between two people’s ‘rights’, assisting in the adjudication of which right takes precedence, e.g., the right of a parent to care for their child, balanced with the right of the child to grow up safe from harm.
We understand that rights do not exist in a vacuum; other obligations abut them, such as a public duty to keep individuals and communities safe. An individual may seek privacy and exert their right to live in whatever manner they deem fit, but if those decisions put their health and wellbeing significantly at risk, or the health of others, society empowers social workers to intervene on its collective behalf. This context is important when considering the opportunities and challenges for our profession within their daily practice and what they need in relation to their education and training.
Is there anything in the principles that we may have missed?
The seven principles noted appear to underpin the vision for the NES Learning and Education Strategy 2023-2026. Principle 3 is focussed on enhancing coherence, reducing duplication, and driving efficiency which is welcomed. Supporting a multi-professional approach where shared system, organisational or workforce needs identified span sectoral, professional, or occupational boundaries. Learning interventions are where possible developed using a once for NES/Once for Scotland and discipline neutral approach. There is discussion about the development of ‘uni-professional’ learning where necessary or to meet professional regulatory requirements.
Social Work in Scotland faces a growing set of challenges in meeting increasing demand for services at a time when budgets are under pressure through cuts in public expenditure. Building and maintaining a robust, confident social work workforce is a key priority in responding to identified challenges. However, social work, in common with other public services, faces major difficulties in recruitment and retention, particularly of qualified social workers. The Setting the Bar for Social Work in Scotland report of 2022 identified key workforce issues. Along with an ageing workforce where 19% of social workers are nearing retirement, data indicates that at least 25% of newly qualified social workers have left the profession within six years of qualification. As a result, pinch points exist both at entry and exit stages of the workforce, and in combination with high demand for services, leads to increasing pressures on teams and individual social workers2.
Within social work we currently have a system whereby there are 33 different approaches to learning and development, pay, practice standards and improvement across social work. There is no single body tasked with oversight of social workers professional development, policy development or improvement which results in the inconsistencies in provision across the sector.
Each profession will have their own unique needs and challenges and it is important to consider these when developing ‘uni-professional’ learning and development opportunities. This may avoid the risk of non-engagement from groups who do not see themselves or their needs identified within the learning and development opportunities provided.
Is there anything in the Priority Themes that we may have missed?
Social work, in common with other public services, faces major difficulties in recruitment and retention, particularly of qualified social workers. Regarding, Theme 1, the social work workforce currently experiences a great deal of inconsistency in relation to their learning and development. Theme 1, seeks to enhance consistency for learners and create and ‘ecosystem’ that embeds learning and education principles, supporting NES to develop as a learning organisation.
As noted earlier, within social work we currently have a system whereby there are 33 different approaches to learning and development, pay, practice standards and improvement across social work. There is no single body tasked with oversight of social workers professional development, policy development or improvement which results in the inconsistencies in provision across the sector.
Although greater consistency is welcomed and there are many benefits to multi-professional learning each professional group will likely have learning needs that are unique to them. The strategy appears to provide enhanced opportunities for joint learning whilst recognising that diversity of needs will exist within each profession.
For further information, please do not hesitate to contact:
Head of Policy and Workforce, Social Work Scotland