Assessing newly-qualified social workers: top tips

Practitioners on the assessed and supported year in employment should learn and develop over the course of the year

This article comprises of excerpts taken from a recently-updated guide on Community Care Inform about managing newly qualified social workers on the ASYE. The guide is written by Trish Hafford-Letchfield, professor in social care at Middlesex University. The full guide covers creating an environment for learning and assessment, involving service users and carers and dealing with problems and issues. Inform subscribers can read the guide on Inform Children and Inform Adults.

The purpose of assessment is to ensure the newly-qualified social worker (NQSW) is learning and developing during the year and is competent in their practice. It usually incorporates collecting evidence from everyday work experiences in a portfolio, with a critical reflective commentary by the NQSW. There needs to be a measurable element whereby the learner and you have a sense of how knowledge and skills are developing against the Knowledge and Skills Statement and/or Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) from their entry to the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), at midway points and completion.

This will require different methods to simultaneously monitor performance and developing the learner’s belief and confidence in their own competence and efficacy.

Transparent and equitable assessment

Both assessor and learner bring to the assessment relationship their own personal values and beliefs about what good practice looks like, alongside external expectations from service users and carers, education providers, professional bodies, the employer and so on. There may be a tension between the supportive role of providing feedback and learning opportunities, and the idea of assessing performance.

It is often helpful to explicitly address possible tensions and power dynamics, and build trust through transparency about the assessment methods and criteria being used.

Visible and invisible similarities and differences (such as race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion and class) should also be recognised and discussed.

Methods of assessment to measure capability and competency may include:

  •  direct observation of practice in planned, intentional contexts;
  • video/audio recordings (made with consent). These may be recordings of direct work with service users, case presentation or supervision sessions;
  • written work (such as case records, critical incident analysis, statutory reports or records);
  • competence checklists (while fairly crude, these are useful for noting specific gaps against the professional requirements to identify where further learning opportunities or assessments need to be developed);
  • oral assessment using question and answer or discussion formats and oral presentations;
  • structured reflective discussion (recorded or notes made);
  • documenting achievements against pre-planned goals and tasks;
  • feedback from others eg service users and carers, peer professionals, managers or members of the interprofessional team (again, consent will be needed to seek and share feedback);
  • self-assessment: usually via a portfolio of evidence such as a critical reflection log.

In deciding whether an assessment method is suitable in a specific context and refining it, consider whether it has the following attributes:

  1. Valid: Does it test what is meant to be tested? For example, before observing the learner’s practice, it is important to be clear about what is being observed and why. It must be valid for the actual role of the social worker.
  2. Reliable: Can it can be trusted over time and agreed by others? This may entail repeating and reassessing certain skills and knowledge in different situations to look at how the learner transfers knowledge from one to the other.
  3. Authentic: Is it directly attributable to the learner and has it been robustly evidenced?
  4. Sufficient: Is it enough to approve that the learner has reached a certain standard and is good enough?
  5. Current: Is it based on current practice experience and relevant to the service they are working in?

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