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.”
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.
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.”