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.”
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.
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.