One fifth of social workers failed accreditation pilot role play

DfE reveals 20% of social workers scored below acceptable levels in simulated practice observation but majority of those were ‘near misses’

Department for Education
Department for Education

One in five children’s social workers who piloted a key plank of the government’s accreditation test failed it, it has been revealed.

Department for Education officials announced the result at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services conference in Manchester.

The government wants all children’s social workers to be accredited by 2020, although it has said its intention is not to make the assessment mandatory. The pilot version of the assessment was trialled by almost 1,000 social workers and comprised four components:

  • A digital assessment of knowledge and skills, completed by 954 social workers.
  • A simulated practice exercise using role play that was undertaken by 204 social workers.
  • Employer endorsement – where local authorities rated their social workers.
  • Practice observation.

Role play failure rate

Social workers who completed the role play and digital tests were given an overall rating between 1 and 7. Around 20% of those who completed the role play scored 3 or lower, a score deemed “failure”. However, 85% of those who failed were ‘near misses’ who scored a 3 and could likely be supported by employers to reach the required standard, the DfE said. Social workers did much better in the knowledge assessment.

The failure rate was higher than employers’ own assessment of the quality of their social workers, the DfE said. The government has said failure of accreditation will not trigger de-registration, and a consultation will be launched on what support should be in place for social workers who fail the test.

Almudena Lara, the DfE’s deputy director for social work reform, told delegates: “The assessment was very rigorous. Social workers were ranked between a one and a seven. One, two and three were deemed below the skills requirement. So 20% of the social workers who took part did not meet the required standard but 85% of them scored a 3.

“I think it’s worth reflecting on that and what the system response is to help social workers achieve that level. Because those that scored 1 or 2 are probably not very good social workers and there is a question as to whether they should be in the system in the first place. But those who are a three, sometimes it’s a judgment that is quite nuanced. I think the message that sends is that employers need to work with those social workers to help them reach the standard. I think simulated observation opens a window to practice.”

Tribunals concern

The failure rate triggered some concern among children’s services directors at the conference. One asked if directors should prepare for employment tribunals if the pilot results meant that 20% of their workforces could fail the assessment.

Speaking on a panel at the ADCS conference, Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, said she was “not surprised” by the failure rate.

She said: “I think is it is going to give us a push to make sure the social workers that we are employing, and continue to employ, are doing a really good job.

“One of the pieces of advice we’ve had recently on the simulated observations, which is the most contested space, is that we’ll video all of them and where there is a dispute between the employer and the body that manages the accreditation, then we can have a good debate about whether what we have seen is good social work or not.”

The accreditation pilot was developed by a consortium led by KPMG and Morning Lane Associates.

In perspective

David Reeson, KPMG’s director of infrastructure, told delegates the failure rate had to be “put in perspective”

He said: “I just want to put the issue of failure rate in perspective. As Almudena said, yes, 20% failed the simulated observation. We did do some moderation of sampled, by agreement, videos of those. Those findings were endorsed by some of the principal social workers network, care leavers panels, family rights group panels and so on.

“The point was, that Almudena was saying, is that 85% of the failures were near misses. I know that I fairly represent the views of the independent social work experts who did the observation when I say they believe these people were certainly capable of practising, not that they were people who would be summarily dismissed. So I think you need to put that perspective.”

The DfE said it will be consulting on accreditation by the end of September. The department is refining the accreditation process in light of the pilot finding and plans to drop scenarios included in the digital assessment as these simplified “complex practice decision-making”.

This article was amended on 8 July to correct inaccuracies in the original.

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6 Responses to One fifth of social workers failed accreditation pilot role play

  1. Tina K July 7, 2016 at 10:26 pm #

    Nothing changes. Blame the SW.

    A good hard long look need to be taken at the system. Let first start with decisions made based on need (not budget), streamlining the over-reliance on paperwork, the lack of front-end preventative support services, and unrealistically high caseloads. Allowing more time, with families/service users and for training, would not only put more confidence back into the system but also benefit those working in and with the system.

  2. Daniel Fletcher July 8, 2016 at 12:22 am #

    Another attempt by the state to transform the social work profession into an instrument of social control. Social work practitioners are skilled in communication & intervention theory, aswel as upholding BASW code of ethics.

    I understand a minority of registered social workers lack required knowledge to practice, but isn’t that an issue in every profession !? But I don’t see Lawyers or Doctors being degraded, scrutinised or undermined in the way social workers are.

    Dep for Education needs to listen to frontline social workers and to implement changes accordingly for the best interest of children & families.

    • Elliot Jones July 8, 2016 at 11:55 am #

      I agree with you about the level of knowledge there, put it this way lawyer does not knew every single law known so it would be ridiculous for their profession to expect that of them.

      This is the polar opposite where you are expected to know more taut what you need to know its a farce.

  3. Elliot Jones July 8, 2016 at 11:53 am #

    As a person who wanted to be a social worker but is now working happily in the third sector as a manger for a national charity, I find these tests absolutely disgusting. There are good people in social work who have had to work really hard to get the qualification and for the DFE to turn around and provide this test for people along with all the other things that social workers are required to do is shameful.

    I can see in five years there being hardly anyone wanting to be a social worker, I started my training and I am quite glad that I have ended up in the third sector as a manager as I can do the work that I came into this line of work to do, plus I go home at a sensible time now!

    No supprise in the rise of independents really as why would you for a LA at the moement? Would you really put yourself and your health at risk when the government just see you as a wiping tool for failure? I really feel sorry for social worker as I think they have had there good will to help people exploited by the government, nurses and doctors do a similar job but the don’t get the crap that social workers get.

  4. Anita Singh July 8, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    LA’s had better prepare for a significant shortfall in their already depleted workforce, as the statutory sector are already haemorrhaging a sizeable proportion of the workforce to agencies for locums. Even if LAs try to support their social workers to re-take the test, what impact do you think this is going to have on the morale of 20% of their workforce? If they are already losing so many social workers without this accreditation process in place, what is going to happen to this 20% when they do put it into place?

    LAs are going to be in dire straits when SWs who have failed the test leave because they feel totally demoralised. Many will not want to face the anxiety, humiliation and stress from failing. This is further stress that adds to their already stressed out working lives. Are they really going to want to put themselves through the process a second time? If they were nervous the first time round, they will almost certainly be more so the next time – hardly a recipe for success.

    I think this government is hell-bent on destroying the social work profession. Where are the Unions in all of this – we have not heard hardly anything from UNISON in the press or community care about it. Why are they not calling their social workers to consider what industrial action they should take or how they are going to support failed social workers over this?

    Many social workers who passed the test did not rate it that highly. So why has no-one made any kind of alternative proposal that tests out a social worker’s ability in a much more accurate way, such as continuous assessment, where every worker has a portable portfolio of their work. This would be more accurate than a random test, which does not evidence the work that a social worker is capable of throughout the year and accurately reflect real case-work and not some artificial test of a knowledge base that is flawed in it application in the first place. Such a portfolio could also record other factors such as the caseload of any one worker at any one time, so that also gets factored into the equation when assessing the social worker’s capability. A portable portfolio could just as easily be applied to agency workers as well. This would also enable LAs to recruit professionals on much more accurate data reflecting the social worker and the quality of the work that I would be getting.

  5. Stuart Holmes July 8, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

    Would someone other than a government apologist or morning lane employee (assuming there is a difference) please give us a clear explanation of what goes on in these ‘simulated’ scenarios AND how participation in one can give a reliable understanding of how someone performs in the real world…