DfE concessions on accreditation fail to stem social work concerns

Social care leaders say they are glad government has listened to issues raised with accreditation but a series of concerns remain

Department for Education
Department for Education

By Andy McNicoll and Luke Stevenson

A government pledge to slow down and scale back the roll out of accreditation tests for children’s social workers has failed to stem sector concerns over the plans.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said key issues their organisations had raised with the accreditation system during a consultation remained unaddressed.

Unison said it maintained its position that the “flawed” and “deeply unpopular” accreditation plans should be scrapped entirely.

Last week the Department for Education said accreditation assessments would initially be rolled out at six councils, rather than the 31 originally planned. A target for all 30,000 children’s social workers to be accredited by 2020 has also been dropped.

Children’s minister Robert Goodwill said the DfE had “fundamentally changed” its accreditation plans based on feedback from the consultation. More than 400 responses were received but the DfE has yet to make the results public.

In its consultation response, BASW, which represents more than 22,000 social workers, said the accreditation system was “unjustifiably” costly and marked a further step towards breaking the link between adults and children’s social work.

‘More conciliatory tone’

Ruth Allen, the association’s chief executive, said the DfE’s change of tack on accreditation offered a chance for ministers to address more of the profession’s concerns.

She said: “A more conciliatory tone is welcome. There are a lot of people with expertise that have concerns about accreditation.

“That’s not because they are being obstructive but because they understand the sector and want improvements in children’s services that have a good chance of success and recognise the challenges facing employers and staff.”

Allen said the lack of details on what a reformed accreditation system would look like made it “too early” to say whether BASW would back the scheme.

“We do not want roll out of the accreditation system that we have seen. But we need to see what changes from the current offer, and for the DfE to continue that dialogue with the sector and build on it much more.”

‘Workforce turbulence’

The ADCS’s consultation response said that accreditation offered poor value for money and the estimated £23m cost of setting up the scheme nationally would be better spent on frontline social work and early help.

The group said if ministers intended to plough ahead with the scheme they must make it mandatory and fully fund it. The test also risked creating workforce “turbulence” and creating a tiered profession of accredited and unaccredited social workers, they argued.

The DfE has said part of the accreditation changes will see more focus placed on supporting local authorities with the process.

Alison Michalska, ADCS president, told Community Care the government had “absolutely listened” to the case put forward by directors.

However, she said accreditation represented an “ongoing” financial burden for councils, not a one-off cost, and said ADCS maintained that any national scaling up of the system after the first phase would have to be “mandatory and happen at pace”.

She said: “Until it is rolled out so that every social worker employed by a local authority has the ability to be accredited, we’re going to have this two-tier workforce.

“That could potentially create instability. There’s nothing to stop the accredited social workers going off and joining agencies and commanding higher salaries. So we’re potentially putting a cost pressure on an already cash-strapped, under pressure sector.

“Until it is universal there are concerns about it pushing up costs, and destabilising social work workforces, which cannot be a good thing for children.”

The government has said the accreditation system will help boost practice standards and the status of the social work profession.

Michalska said councils already had systems in place if social workers were not performing as well as expected, including appraisals and supervision.

“Staff who are struggling for whatever reason will be trained and supported to develop and if it’s not going to work they leave the profession. That happens up and down the country,” she said.

“It comes down to whether people fail the test because of an issue with the test rather than their competency as a social worker. That was a pushback after the initial piloting which is why I think they have now changed some of the style of question and some of the methodology.”

Unison has launched a petition calling on the government to abandon the accreditation scheme entirely. The union’s survey of social worker members found more than 90% did not feel the tests would benefit social workers or the children and families they support.

A Unison spokesperson said: “We think the scaling back of the accreditation plans is a reaction to how deeply unpopular this flawed idea is with the profession.”

He added: “Introducing this test will do nothing to address the fundamental problems that are being experienced across the country. Social workers are overworked, underpaid and poorly supported whilst demand for services grows and grows. The test should be scrapped and the money invested in social work services instead.

“For far too often the views of social workers have been ignored. We hope that the minister can meaningfully engage with the sector and work together to address the deep-seated problems that are blighting the lives of social workers and the communities they work with.”

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3 Responses to DfE concessions on accreditation fail to stem social work concerns

  1. Anita Singh July 10, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    In a previous article just over a week ago, the government proposed to roll out accreditation, so that it can learn from mistakes and then roll out to more social workers. So what happens to the flawed accreditation of SWs accredited in the first stages of the roll-out, as their accreditation is ridden with mistakes is it not?

    If the government is concerned about professional standards and has got £23 million, why not try spending it on post-qualifying training, perhaps after a couple of years of front-line practise, all SWs can expect full support from employers to provide adequate time off and properly funded post-qualifying courses in advanced social work or further study at a reputable university to complete an MSc or PhD or research in practise? This would act as a real incentive for social workers to remain in the profession and feel valued and supported to advance their skills. Much better rather than the current demoralising and deskilling approach, as it feels as if central government is hell-bent on destroying the social work profession rather than enhancing and supporting it.

  2. Longtime SW July 10, 2017 at 4:57 pm #

    Even more fundamentally is the ‘status’ of social workers (and the perception of social workers generally) is nothing to do with accreditation or lack of it – it is everything to do with lazy media and lazy politicians blaming social work for the outcome of slash and burn ‘austerity’ policies that impact on families.

    I don’t need you Mr or Mrs Politician or Banker or Privateer or Media Mogul or the wealthy 1%’ers telling me whether I am good enough – just give the £23 million to me and I will not take a penny for myself, – I will reopen Sure Start Services; train and employ more Tamhs/CAMH’s workers for a start – oh and I WOULD make the pips squeak for The Rich to pay for the rest – they have had it easy for too many years.

  3. Prof Charles Shaw FRSA FRSPH July 13, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

    Here is another daft idea after the failure of a number of similar programs in teaching, health, care and youth work. Essentially we simply need to focus on sound basic training and good practice supervision.

    More people on the ground and continued finance for good frontline services in the community is the need. If people do not like face to face work helping young people and families let them do something else but don’t create another accreditation industry for them to work in assessing everyone else.

    Social Workers and others do not need the fear of this initiative hanging over their heads when they are trying to help others solve life issues.