Children’s social workers set controversial pass or fail test to practise

Social workers will face pass or fail tests when assessed for practice statuses, announced by the education secretary in October

pass plates
Pass or fail Photo: Steve Rideout/ flickr

Social workers will have to undergo a pass or fail test before they can work with children and families, it has been revealed.

The Approved Child and Family Practitioner (ACFP) status, announced by education secretary Nicky Morgan in October, will be the first of a three-tier accreditation system for children’s social workers.

A tender document seen by Community Care has shown the new status, which is designed to ensure every children’s social worker in the country meets a minimum level of knowledge and skills, will be awarded following a pass or fail test.

The document stated: “The intention of this contract is not to create new job roles or structures. The intention is to make sure we have a confident national system of social work expertise upon which the public can rely.”

‘Higher stakes’

The contract, up to almost £2m, invites bidders to develop a process of assessing social workers for the status by next March.

Social workers will be assessed against the knowledge and skills statement as laid out by chief social worker Isabelle Trowler last summer. Practice supervisors and practice leaders will also be assessed under the new system.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, cautioned against a system that sets social workers up to fail.

“Newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) and others are really worried that the stakes are being made even higher and, as well as having to negotiate the rigours of the assessed and supported year in employment, this is yet another set of hoops and hurdles they have to get through,” she said.

Coventry’s head of service, Debbie Carter, said any NQSW appointed after December 2014 would be tested under the knowledge and skills framework, but it was not yet clear how this test would be carried out.

‘Undermines degrees’

The accredited practice status will eventually be rolled out across the workforce, but no time frame has yet been specified.

Newly qualified social worker, Greg Reardon, said the test undermined social work degree programmes. “Social work courses are designed to teach a broad range of knowledge and skills to prepare students for the variety of social work sectors out there.

“I do not think social workers who wish to go into children’s services should be subjected to another battle with the Department for Education,” he said.

He continued: “The problem is not the social workers who are entering children’s services. It is the local authorities and senior management who are not supporting their social workers [at all levels] with quality training, supervision and protected time to prevent them burning out.”


Social worker Liane McGovern said the status had created anxiety in the sector. “What would happen should a social worker fail? Will there be opportunities to retake the examination?

“I think a lot of social workers feel that after completing a degree and successfully getting a job, further examination will place more stress on an already stressed workforce,” she said.

She added that, with requirements and expectations on social workers increasing, this should be matched with increased support.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “These new accreditations are part of our extensive programme of reform to further enhance the quality of social workers and ensure they are supported every single step of the way in undertaking what is an incredibly challenging – but vital – job in caring for some of our most vulnerable children and families. 

“We have started work on developing new assessment and accreditation at three levels in child and family social work. We are still considering how this will be implemented but will listen carefully to the sector when deciding this.”

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39 Responses to Children’s social workers set controversial pass or fail test to practise

  1. Philip Measures January 28, 2015 at 11:21 am #

    Words of wisdom indeed from Greg Reardon. Ax a newly qualified social worker I hope that he resists the pervasive and pernicious manageralism which so infects the profession I used to be so proud to belong to. It was never easy to stand up against what was wrong but now it is almost impossible unless you want to see your career ended.

    • Jenni Randall January 29, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

      Totally agree Phillip

  2. Tammy M January 28, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    The only people who’re really going to suffer as a result of these bureaucratic new tests are the service users. I haven’t even finished my social work degree yet but already the red tape and constant battles directed at NQSW in children’s services is honestly making me consider steering clear of working in children’s services and sticking to adult services instead. Very sad indeed.

  3. Sarah January 28, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    Absolutely appalling, misguided and damaging decision.

    We have to pass our degree, including placements, and our asye. Our ongoing learning and training is monitored by the cpd requirements, and I would like to think that poor practice on the part of any social worker would be dealt with if and when it arose.

    Why place another hurdle in front of already stressed, overworked and disillusioned practitioners? Ah, because we want to discourage people from entering our noble profession, I see…

    • Tammy M January 28, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      Yea I totally agree Sarah.

  4. Tammy M January 28, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    I take that back, I’m not going to steer clear of working in children’s services as I’m passionate about working for all service users. I just think the constant hoops NQSW have to jump through to work and do what they’ve spent three years studying and preparing for is sheer bureaucracy and really doesn’t benefit the most important people here, the service users.

  5. Helen M January 28, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    As a potential ‘returner’ to children’s services this just puts me off. I worked in child protection before moving to fostering and then taking a travel sabbatical. At one time the government promoted supporting mature workers returning to the profession, however this is already extremely difficult as few local authorities have schemes in place to support such workers and many expect returners to take unqualified roles and ‘work their way up from the bottom again’. Adding another layer of qualification just means more of that valuable experience will be lost to a sector of the profession that has always struggled with staff retention due to the high stress levels and difficult practice environments.

  6. Sharanpal Panesar January 28, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    HCPC was supposed to do this

  7. Jack23 January 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    I don’t think passing the proposed test will guarantee quality service for users. Such an idea seems to undermine the work of the universities which have been training social workers. It would have been better to invest more in productive services rather than creating evidence less test programme.

  8. Carmel R January 28, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    As a seasoned social worker working in child protection I think they are, once again, looking at the wrong end of the system. this needs to be examined from the top down. Are senior management being asked to undergo a “pass/fail test” on their management/decision making skills? I agree with previous comments and think this dilutes our hard earned degree. Social work is acknowledged as one of the most difficult jobs out there and we should be attracting people to the profession not putting them off.

  9. a student social worker January 28, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    yes, good idea – because our degrees aren’t hard enough as it is!!!!!

  10. Annie January 28, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    Senior managers and social work managers are often appointed because they are liked and have worked with other senior managers, rather than the skills they bring and the experience they have, lots of very experienced social workers bring a high level of skill to the workforce, understand the importance of good supervision, the importance of reflection and giving a high level of support. However, many of these skilled people are not good at interviews, many haven’t had an interview for years but are excellent practitioners and would be managers, competency in practice should be taken into account when managers are appointed. I have had managers that have made terrible decisions and who bully staff, I have also had managers who are passionate, compassionate and I trust. Please start at the top with training and competence

    • sabine ebert-forbes January 29, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

      I agree with Annie’s statement.

    • Sarah January 30, 2015 at 3:23 pm #

      I completely agree Annie. I have been put off social work due to the toxic, deplorable behaviour of managers and Advanced Practitioners who compensate for incompetency by bullying others. Sadly, many very competent professionals I know have been put off for life, for these reasons. When “reflective practice” is mentioned, to senior practitioners, this unfortunately, often translates as “blame the lowest in the hierarchy and take no personal responsibility”. Please, address the toxic, bullying mentality for those within organisations, before making it harder for those who train and work very hard already.

  11. Stuart January 28, 2015 at 9:29 pm #

    The Dept Ed are going to ‘listen carefully to the sector”!?!? I think not.

    They have a very poor track record in that area and showing themselves up again because if they were really listening they wouldn’t have got even this far with such a flawed idea.

    Poor social workers, and they do unfortunately exist, need to be got rid of or brought up to standard by their employers and managers. Everyone who’s actually worked in the field knows there is no classroom test which will establish how workers actually perform in the real world. That needs to be monitored and assured by good management.

  12. Edna January 28, 2015 at 9:41 pm #

    I fully agree with Carmel; they are again considering wrong end of the system. The social workers will be required to go through the rigorous process; however, is there anything in place for the management and senior management who cannot support and guide their team, who lack in social skills and devalue the workers; shouldn’t there be tests for such managers who are allowed to make decisions that are flawed.

  13. Charlotte Peters Rock January 28, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

    We families urgently need social workers to be tested for common sense. Then perhaps those that remain in the system, having passed that test, will be able to react in emergency, to protect children and families.

    From recent very damaging experience, I can state, that isn’t the case now.

    This isn’t a knock at good social workers, but against the stupid and the ill-intentioned, whose actions give social work a bad name, and prevent the safeguarding of vulnerable children. The sooner those currently working within the system are filtered, the better.

  14. Sam January 29, 2015 at 5:08 am #

    The same financial resources could have been used to employ more social workers to ease the number of caseloads that a SW has to deal with. Why not tackle the problems which exist already instead of creating new ones. Have these decision makers not looked at the percentages of depression amongst social workers? Or the fact that a lot of them quit soon after becoming a SW. Ridiculous

  15. Cheryl January 29, 2015 at 8:18 am #

    It never ends!! Experienced social workers and managers are having to still prove themselves via tests that money could be put to better use, like on resources for our families!! Doncaster children’s services are paying actors to act out a role as a despondent social worker with staff being observed by heads of service, Omg!! Knowing Doncaster culture, this won’t be to support staff in an authority that struggles to function because of the lack of managerial leadership and organisational structure but rather to scapegoat staff for the lack of progress. Just saying!!

  16. Kath January 29, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    Why do people who have no real idea what it’s like to work in child protection, carrying far more cases than the Munro report advised, think that a Social Worker (capital letters) who can pass a test can also manage to deal with families who can be aggressive, violent, threatening, manipulative, controlling, deceitful etc etc etc when it comes to said Social Worker (with capital letters) knocking on their door because there is a huge concern that their children are being neglected and abused? How about putting more money into Social Care so a high level of support can be offered and case loads reduced with appropriate training in university to manage the reality of dealing with someone who threatens you on a daily basis?

  17. Adam M January 29, 2015 at 9:35 am #

    Yay, Yet more reasons for children’s social workers to go locum in what has been a subtle privatisation of the sector. Why would you do a job in which you take continual abuse (now including from the DoE) for peanuts? where your running caseloads of 60+ (approximately working out at one child every 30 minutes).

    Put simply those willing to put up with this nonsese in full time posts are saints. But frankly until you put the money into enough full time posts to protect children, families (not social workers) will continue to recieve a limited service in the best case resulting in poor support and in the worst abuse and infanticide.

    For the rest of us there’s always adults or practice education I guess…

  18. Fi January 29, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    I have practised for several years, both in Adults and Childrens and agree, yet again, let’s have a go at Social Workers. Rich coming from the Department of Education, when only last year there were items in the news that the majority of Teaching Staff weren’t up to standard, although there were very good practitioners, as in any service or profession. So what are they doing about this? Will all professionals be treated in the same way and have to undergo tests, or again, is it lumped on SW’s.
    Managers should be made to undergo the same testing as suggested above.
    Also, is there a test to see how well ‘you can bully’ those below you.
    The profession is already struggling to recruit and retain.
    I am thinking of quitting the profession, as I have learnt over the years that the better you are or the harder the work, this appears to be the only profession where you get rewarded with even more work and pressure.
    I have worked in many areas in different LA’s and the bullying is already rife and very bad and I have seen SW careers destroyed, especially if you agency.

    • Rachel Schraer January 29, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi Fi,
      Thanks for commenting. As far as I understand, the practice leader and practice supervisor statuses are designed for managers/team leaders and these status will be tested in a similar way. How/when is still very vague though.

      Workforce journalist- Community Care

    • carys January 29, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

      I totally agree about the bullying that goes on within higher management. Its rife where I work, and unless individuals cover their back 3 times or more, basically you are done. The demands of the job you sign up for, but the bullying and atmosphere and oppressive practice that goes on within the office is disgusting. I do believe its not necessarily the work, its the snobbery that managers and seniors that have towards social workers and support staff impact the most.

  19. Sarah January 29, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    Well said Everyone…

    I really hope DfE are reading these posts…

  20. Heather January 29, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    It is really quite simple but hey lets put in a test to ignore the real solution.

    1) stop giving newly qualified workers Cp and courtwork. We all know it happens but for the purposes of cqc its under a managers name (just in case you don’t know).

    2) let them have time to really work and shadow experienced workers. They need time to learn, not cram in as many visits and reports as humanly possible. Remember few social workers can get their work done in their official working hours.

    3) stop rediculous case loads, they are back to the levels which Lord Laming warned against. social workers aren’t robots, they can’t spend the time needed to really work and accurately assess the cases that are complex.

    I don’t think there is much more to.say.

  21. Nanbar January 29, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

    An article in today’s Guardian describing the candidates of Frontline bringing a much needed professionalism and academic ability to the profession, future leaders. Now after already undertaking a degree social workers will have to undertake a test on fitness to practice.when will the profession stand up and say no more! Rampant managerialism is running the profession into the ground. This fitness to practice test, alongside ‘leadership’ programmes that interestingly do not appear to include many working class and non white candidates,strongly suggesting that the rest of the profession is rubbbish and incompetent, needing upper middle class candidates who instead of banking or law can rescue the underclass.

  22. Leah P January 29, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    I have completed my AYSE in the last month and it was a complete waste of time and had no relationship with the work I was doing day to day. I see little point in a meaningless ‘test’ it is just a means of scapegoating us at the bottom and lining the pockets of some consultancy firm (wonder who the share holders are ?)
    I totally agree- start at the top and by that I mean central government policy makers – I bet most of them no jack about the reality of CP work

  23. sw January 29, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    I strongly feel that all social workers should be positive that this change will improve the service to the public. It is important to bear in mind missed opportunities that commonly occur. There have been too many cases of disguised compliance, abuse that has been missed. The effects upon those working in children’s services has been devastating. So Actually it it supporting social workers. All should simply want to work towards improving the safeguarding and protection of children and not resist.

  24. sw January 29, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    I am appalled at the amount of resistance above and change is something you can not avoid it is part of life. Children’s services are evolving, embrace it and learn. Our society is changing and a robust system is needed. Too many children and parents have been let down – this is the reality. I have my own expectations of the impending change to hold accountable those who miss indicators of abuse, disguised compliance & reduce the number of serious case reviews.

  25. LG January 29, 2015 at 4:05 pm #

    I’m a NQSW in adults. I started my degree without the reform board and then there was a licence to practice. I started my job as a NQSW, yeah I think, another year to prove. Now they want a new definition to Section 61 of the Care Standards Act 2000 –

    I meet with professionals that are not social workers, not all have a degrees and yet, they still provide social care. Now ministers want more. Once SW I met said they saw LA paper work and said nah.

    In reality, what sort of work force will this lead too without clearly defined pathway to be at the standard. PCF seems worthless with the next minister in power and what would be the point in making it master level with shortages. It is supply and demand. Social Services are set up with a purpose, hence the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 –

  26. Patch January 29, 2015 at 4:35 pm #

    “The intention is to make sure we have a confident national system of social work expertise upon which the public can rely.”

    Is this the closest poor abused so called ‘service users’ – usually not being ‘serviced’ from choice – will get to an admission that the system is broken? I see in the comments many social workers complaining bout the stress of too many caseloads and little support, but however bad it is for the social workers, it is far more stressful for the families who are its victims?

    I agree with the comment that the hcpc is supposed to monitor fitness to practice but it doesn’t do so effectively. More often it is letting people off for breaches of ethics that are bad, but not bad enough to merit the use of their limited resources for a proper investigation. Too often social workers are unaccountable for sloppy assessments, and inaccurate record-keeping.

    I don’t think an extra test will be resolve a system that is fundamentally flaws; it is impossible for the same person to be conducting both a forensic investigation into whether or not a family should be able to keep their children, and at the same time offer care and support. The two are incompatible. That is why Social Workers are met at the door by such hostility; what is remarkable given their behaviour, is that they seem surprised that they are not loved by communities.

  27. sabine ebert-forbes January 29, 2015 at 6:40 pm #

    Do Dof E ever give a hoot about what social workers say? I wonder if they would agree to being tested that way to ascertain if they could or should be allowed to do their jobs. Could be extended to politicians as well!

    Yet another example of diversion from the root of the problem: workplace stress, lack of consistent support, etc.

  28. Sean January 29, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

    I have just finished working in Birmingham. I have worked in a number of other local authorities. Good, effective and safe practice at all levels is unfortunately not the norm. There are only pockets of good practice and huge gaps in knowledge across the board.

    Senior managers/team managers have responsibility for literally thousands of cases and sometimes end up hand holding workers who have capability issues without being able to address issues of poor practice effectively because of sometimes inappropriate union intervention. In the private sector, if you can’t do your job, you are given few chances before you are sacked. The same is not true in local government what is a crying shame.

    Having worked with some fantastic staff over a number of years, good practice is less prominent than poor and lazy practice. Some social workers ‘carry’ others and little is done to address it. The service is on its knees, crippled by cuts and overwhelming volumes of work. Some referrals are inappropriate and allocated because support services are too scared of a bit of risk; this creates extra demand on a stretched service.

    I welcome this move. I’d rather have confidence in all of my colleagues than just a small number and for the people who are complaining about being newly qualified and having to jump through hoops, at least you will be the future senior managers who will be able to do the job properly! Take the opportunities and make the service better instead of moaning!

    • Sue January 31, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

      Think you have raised some very good points Sean, other professions such as nursing and medicine require post qualifying training and observations to make sure that they are up to standard. Quite rightly so, the actions and decisions they take have lasting consequences for those they treat. I entered children’s services very unprepared after finishing a degree qualification and would have welcomed a structured and assessed training programme to see where I needed to fill learning gaps. Masked compliance and abuse is extremely complex and needs a trained professional eye rather than an old school ‘nobody’s fool’ approach. Having undergone excellent training (which has involved written and observed testing) in the last few months in adult probation services I feel like a different practitioner. Feedback was supportive and constructive and feel like I am improving all the time.

  29. Philip Measures January 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Sean (see comment above) seems to miss the point of how much employers should be held responsible for on-going training.

    Schemes like ‘Frontline’ which fast-track the more academically able – and what evidence has there ever been that the brightest academically make the best Social Workers? – disguise the need to ensure that Social Workers should build up experience and expertise through carefully managed Supervision, Training and objective assessments (including Client Feedback).

    It is really sad to have witnessed social work in its quest for so-called ‘professionalism’ take up all the negative elements of the cut-throat world of industry and commerce.

    Social Workers deal with those whose life experiences are largely around issues of Attachment, Separation and Loss. But, Government and senior managers have also become the oppressors of Social Workers who have had to try to devise strategies of their own to try to survive the managerialistic forces at work.

    The Chief Social Worker; College of Social Work; BASW etc. ought to combine and dedicate themselves to seeking to rediscover what social work should be all about. It is not about Career progression but about being there to enable; support; advocate for; help and encourage those whose needs they are supposed to serve come first.

    Remember the old BASW Publication ‘ Clients are Fellow Citizens’ – well, are they really?

    A really huge “thank you” to Community Care and Rachel Schraer for raising this issue – it has clearly touched many ‘nerves’ as seen from the number of responses to date.

  30. samantha angela Thompson January 30, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    I’m already stressed, haven’t even qualified yet!

  31. Sarah February 1, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    I personally would love to embrace change in children’s services… Eileen Munroe suggested many changes which echo what frontline practitioners have been saying for years, though sadly I have not seen many of the changes we were so positive about come to fruition.

    I agree that there are practitioners who have gaps in their knowledge… But surely this is something that, as in all professions, develops with time, support and growth. I have seen many nqsws being supported by and learning from more experienced workers, but never being carried by them.

  32. Imelda Hall February 2, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Yet another assault on social workers!! So does this new testing extend to our colleagues in other parts of public service – police, fire, NHS?? Or is it just social workers who have to ‘prove themselves’ (as if they haven’t already!!) AGAIN!!!