“3.36 The General Social Care Council is an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body responsible for the regulation of social workers and social work students in England. It is anomalous as the only professional regulator answerable directly to the Secretary of State for Health.
3.37 We see no compelling reason why the General Social Care Council should remain as an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body in the arm’s-length bodies sector, and we see potentially significant benefits from putting the regulation of social workers on a similar footing to the regulation of health professions. This involves the regulator being funded through registration fees charged to those registered, set at a level to cover the regulatory functions. In this way members of a regulated profession buy into their professional standards, which are set independently of government, and have an incentive to ensure these are upheld throughout the profession.
Therefore, we intend to abolish the General Social Care Council and move the regulation of social workers out of the arm’s-length bodies sector to make it financially independent of government. We believe that in future, the most appropriate model for the ongoing regulation of the social care workforce is to transfer responsibility for these functions to the Health Professions Council, a well established and efficient regulatory body currently regulating over 200,000 registrants from fifteen professions. The Health Professions Council – which will be renamed to reflect its new remit – operates a full cost recovery scheme and currently charges an annual fee of £76 per year, which is considerably less than the likely registration fee if the General Social Care Council were to operate alone on a full-cost recovery basis.
3.39 The Health Professions Council has an existing comprehensive and cohesive system of professional regulation which would apply to social care workers. This differs from the General Social Care Council model in several ways:
• the Health Professions Council is solely responsible for setting standards of education and training for its registrants, whereas it is the Secretary of State’s function to ascertain what training is required to become a social worker;
• unlike the General Social Care Council, the Health Professions Council do not register students, though as part of the approval process the Health Professions Council requires all Higher Education Institutes delivering pre-registration courses to operate a fitness for practice system for students;
• unlike the General Social Care Council, the Health Profession Council does not in practice approve post-registration courses apart from those related to prescribing drugs, although it has the power to do so.
We anticipate that the differences would be explored through a review of social care regulation. The abolition of the General Social Care Council, the transfer of functions in relation to the regulation of the social worker workforce and related changes will require primary legislation. The timing of these changes is dependent on discussion with the Health Professions Council and the General Social Care Council to ensure an orderly transition.
Finally, the General Social Care Council is also responsible for the payment of Education Support Grants, and we propose that if this function is to continue it should transfer to another body.”
There are a number of unanswered questions about what will happen to the other functions of the GSCC including post-registration training and learning. The HPC only approves a “small number” of post-registration qualifications. The GSCC approves all courses offering a formal post-qualifying award and reviews them every five years.
The HPC does not register students, suggesting there is “insufficient evidence” that it is necessary to protect the public. This is an important part of the GSCC’s remit, because social work students can be placed in frontline teams within weeks of beginning a course.
How does this fit with the recommendations of the Social Work Reform Board and the establishment of the new National College of Social Work? As always it is the details, which have not yet been published, which will clarify the government intentions and vision for the future role, remit and regulation of social work.