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Gove appoints Chief Social Worker in bid to overhaul profession

Education Secretary Michael Gove has taken on the teaching profession - now it is the turn of the social workers.

He is introducing a fast track programme to attract high-calibre graduates and says he wants to improve the status of the profession, empowering teams who already do a difficult job protecting some of most vulnerable families and children.

He has also appointed a chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler, who has sound credentials for the role, having worked as a social worker for many years including transforming children's services in Hackney.

She promised me: "It has to get better, and it will."

Her plans to lead and reform the profession and champion best practice are timely.

It has not been a week of glory for the profession. Social workers in Oxford stand accused of failing to halt the sexual exploitation of girls who were sold for sex by an organised gang.

On Tuesday, seven defendants in Operation Bullfinch were found guilty at the Old Bailey of more than 50 Crimes including 23 rapes involving girls aged 11 to 15.

Most were in social care, yet the abuse continued for eight years.

Two of the three care homes involved have been closed but only one member of staff has been sacked.

Some 155 social workers were tasked with keeping youths in Oxfordshire safe alongside a further 50 family support workers.

Failure is the only way to describe the "oversight". The girls were too often not seen as vulnerable children, but as wilful teenagers - beyond help - making poor life decisions.

If anything has to change because of this case, that attitude has to be eradicated.

Isabelle Trowler pictured speaking to Penny Marshall. Credit: ITV News

Michael Gove added to the pressure on Oxfordshire County Council's chief executive Joanne Simons to resign by telling me that all involved should "examine their consciences" but added that it was not up to central government to intervene.

But Ms Simons believes she still has a job to do: raising awareness nationally of the hideous crime her team now understand.

She says the courts, the police, health workers - as well as social workers - are all struggling to deal effectively with child sexual exploitation.

"I have absolutely examined my conscious but my priority, my absolute priority, is to keep children safe in Oxfordshire," she told me.

"Our social workers care deeply about children." Challenged, she said she had absolute confidence in her team.

Isabelle Trowler has confidence that things will improve. She begins her job in the autumn and wants to ensure better information sharing between those involved in child protection, and to ensure that the vulnerable child always remains at the centre of good team practice.

Most social workers have welcomed the creation of this new role and some I have spoken to who worked with Isabelle when she ran things in Hackney have high praise for what she achieved there.

But there are some concerns that the training scheme could put inexperienced social workers in positions of authority too fast.

And there are the usual concerns about finite resources and cuts undermining good practice.

But at a time when some of our most vulnerable children are being failed, these reforms should be welcomed.Calling for resignations after abuse has taken place isn't as effective as training staff adequately before it happens so that they can keep our children safe.