The Department for Education’s proposals to introduce an additional test for children’s social workers, and subsequent news that accreditation of the test will be developed by Morning Lane Associates and KPMG, has been met by consternation in the sector.
The Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee has written an open letter voicing their concerns about the move.
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We are very concerned about the proposals from the Department for Education (DfE) that social workers in children’s services will be required to sit an additional national test after qualifying in order to demonstrate their capability.
We note with further disquiet the news published in Community Care (19.3.2015) that the £2m contract to develop the national test has been awarded to a private sector-led consortium comprising KPMG and Morning Lane Associates.These proposed tests are being introduced at a time when many local authorities are experiencing serious difficulties in recruiting and retaining social workers, as workload pressures grow due to increased demand and cuts in budgets.
Moreover, they are being introduced into an already existing and established quality assurance system without proper attention paid to either the principles of good system design or research evidence. There is a serious risk, therefore, of complicating and bureaucratising the system at very considerable cost to the taxpayer and furthering the flight of social workers from an already fragile and increasingly complex sector.
Currently, all practising social workers are required to maintain their registration with the Health and Care Professionals Council and demonstrate continuing professional development, while Ofsted carry out increasingly demanding inspections of services.
Social work students are also assessed and either passed or failed during and at the end of their social work degree and during their first year of employment, with practice-based agencies central to all aspects of decision making. It is not clear how a new test will work alongside and improve these existing systems.
It is also of considerable concern that the DfE has in effect outsourced an aspect of the quality assurance and education system to the private sector in an area of work that demands the utmost accountability and transparency. It is all the more puzzling that it has outsourced this work at a point when our professional college, The College of Social Work has recently been established with the key role of promoting and enhancing social work standards in England.
Why, then, is money being distributed to the private sector for the outsourcing of the accreditation of qualified social workers whilst simultaneously essential public services, which seek to serve local communities and safeguard children, are being cut at an alarming rate?
Moreover, the unfolding tragedy of child sexual exploitation underscores the importance of having a publicly owned and publicly accountable social work profession that can work confidently and authoritatively work with children, young people and their families. It remains unclear how a ‘pass or fail’ test, outsourced to the private sector, can contribute to building the profession and the skills and knowledge needed for such work.
As levels of need continue to increase and our vulnerable children, families and communities face increasing hardship, JUCSWEC would welcome meaningful dialogue with government to utilise our knowledge, skills, research and evidence in maintaining and promoting only the very best standards for the social work profession.
Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee