Academic body publishes open letter voicing concerns about controversial pass or fail test

Education committee responds to news that accreditation of a new pass or fail test for social workers will be outsourced to the private sector

Photo: Kevin Steinhardt

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.

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments or email

Dear Editor,

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

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24 Responses to Academic body publishes open letter voicing concerns about controversial pass or fail test

  1. Dr. Jane Akister March 25, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    I agree totally with the letter and add my support. The HCPC and the College of Social Work are more than capable of developing further tests of competence, as necessary, in line with the competencies required.

    • Esther Hack March 30, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

      I totally agree. It seems strange when we have good frameworks already that there is a decision to create another, and within a very short time span. This has happened with the ASYE framework which previously used the PCF and now we have new statements with additional, overlapping requirements.
      This seems at odds with the government’s 2010 pre -election statements about reducing bureaucracy and saving public money.
      The biggest problems for newly qualified staff lie in the excessive complex and high risk workloads of the teams. Another framework will not solve that problem.

      Esther Hack ( speaking on my own behalf as a social worker and social work teacher, not for my employer)

  2. Dr. Jane Akister March 25, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

    I completely agree with the JUCSWEC letter. The HCPC and College of Social Work are more than capable of designing any national tests that may be required and are the correct bodies to deal with quality assurance matters. It is very important that all such matters are dealt with by one body in whom public confidence resides.

  3. Sammi Morgans March 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

    This has got to stop! Seriously social workers cannot take anymore criticism or tests or threats to themselves of their profession or professionalism on top of what they already do. What on earth possessed the DfE to even let it get this far let alone contemplate priority to a private consortium above the highly acclaimed College of Social Work that already has this under their control and are achieving the required standards as a result. How on earth is this country to protect our vulnerable when the red tape is so thick no-one is able to penetrate it at this rate. We are losing social workers hand over fist therefore, this ludicrous proposal is becoming more of a indication that, that is exactly what this government want !

  4. Bob Banks March 25, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    What is the connection between the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families and Morning Lane Associates?…….:)

    • Rachel Schraer March 25, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

      Hi Bob, thanks for commenting. While Morning Lane is the former company of the chief social worker, she stepped down and sold her shares before taking up post and now has no financial stake in the company.


      • Bob Banks March 25, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

        Oh thats OK then its all above board!……thanks for clearing that up Rachel I get so cynical about this government nowadays. Two million pounds is also a drop in the ocean of tears that will be shed if they get another term in office.

        • Rachel Schraer March 25, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

          No problem- you’re not alone in asking the question!

        • Jane Leigh March 25, 2015 at 7:55 pm #

          But I don’t think it is above aboard actually- it is something that needs to be looked into further. If an MP left a company and then suddenly that company started receiving lots of funding and that MP was sat on the panel that decided where that funding was being channelled then there would surely be an investigation. So why isn’t anyone bothering about it here? Because it’s social work? Has this story been shared with the media?

  5. alison napier March 25, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi – perhaps it is worth clarifying that this is not happening in Scotland where another article in the same issue of CC praises the support the Scottish Government is giving the social work profession. As a practice educator I heartily condemn the outsourcing of assessment of social workers and support wholeheartedly the content of the JUCSWE letter. Professionals ought to be allowed to carry out their work without external interference. This will only undermine a profession already under siege.

  6. Jazz March 25, 2015 at 7:48 pm #

    Still concerning though, Bob! I think many others share your cynicism; not a government to trust with any welfare state and public services. And deeply concerning that the ‘chief’, Isabel Trowler, social worker appointed by the government believes that private companies (e.g., who want to make financial profit) won’t fragment UK institutions and are better at running services for the citizens of the UK than the citizens themselves through democracy and public ownership! Oh, and that includes the UK further education system it would appear …

    I totally agree with the letter, and all the comments made so saliently.

  7. Anjali Phillips March 25, 2015 at 10:42 pm #

    I completely agree with the letter and commend JUCSWEC for writing it. This Is an extremely concerning development on so many different levels. The KMPG/MLA/ Chief Social Worker connection being just one. It is not about financial gain but about power, influence and cronyism. There is also the question of a pass/fail test. Is this the way to assess professional capabilities in such a complex area of practice? Recent court judgements by the President of the Family Division highlight the ethical and moral issues inherent in the work, as well as the influence of organisational contexts. The impact on the workforce in local authorities already struggling to retain social workers, survive punitive OFSTED inspections and facing further budget cuts could be huge. Has an impact assessment been undertaken? Sadly the ultimate losers are likely to be vulnerable children and families.

  8. Richard Leighton March 25, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

    Hear, hear JUCSWE. There is a wealth of experience within the public sector to support TCoSW design and administration of any ‘testing’, which can be linked to the PCF and ASYE, if appropriate.

    With regard to the KPMG/Morning Lane Asts, no matter that shares have been disposed of and ‘ties’ cut, the historical connection between CSW and MLA should have been warning enough for CSW to distance herself from passing ANY comment. This whole debacle is mired on the whole ‘one hand washing another’ nepotism that is becoming so prevalent in UK politics and business!

    Keep social work public.

  9. Kay March 26, 2015 at 7:49 am #

    The HCPC and College of Social Work are more than capable of designing any national tests that may be required and are the correct bodies to deal with quality assurance matters. SW managers can supervise the workers as long as they are not tied up with red tape and meeting targets. Professionals ought to be allowed to carry out their work without external interference. It is very important that managing SW’s caseloads is dealt with to prevent them failing in overload crisis and stress. Put the 2 million back into training and maintaining the many good workers out there and improving the standards of the rest. Cramming for tests does not leave time for casework.

  10. Pol March 26, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    Neither the DoE nor Isabelle Trowler can hardly be surprised at the consternation arising from the decision to contract out this work to the private sector and then award this contract to Morning Lane Associates: it is inevitable and predictable. The decision to carry on regardless rather typifies the arrogance and disdain towards social work that is regrettably becoming the defining characteristic of this CSW’s reign.

  11. Lorna Fitzpatrick March 26, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Instead of ‘assessing’, why not focus on teaching and supporting?

  12. Trevor McCarthy March 26, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    Intellectually lazy measure revealing a failure to understand the profession and its training. Not surprising but profoundly depressing. Competent systems don’t ‘outsource’ their key responsibilities. Ideologue fantasists who insist only ‘markets’ work drive the de-nationalisation of important services.

  13. Claire Bevan March 26, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    I completely agree and support this open letter. HCPC and existing assessments are more than adequate.

    • Chris Penney April 14, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

      Agreed this bureaucratic approach will not strengthen the profession. Building a competent, respected and supported workforce is crucial.

  14. Sam March 27, 2015 at 5:51 am #

    Lets cut to the quick. Tax payers money (Trowler) to the private sector (Trowler). Yes her ‘partner’ is Goodman. Oh what does he say? A few years of this, money in his pocket, political ambition financed, job done!

    Social work (vulnerable children and adults) used and abuse for personal gain.

    Oh and by the way, CSE is a brilliant issue to use to make the case for change. Inspectors go forth and find the gaps! It doesn’t matter the we are being dishonest about the fact that all including the Inspection regime didn’t focus on it enough. Go out and flog them. Then yes case for wide scale change made. What’s the change? Oh yes more money in the bank of Trowler and Goodman.

  15. Julie Wilkes March 27, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    Once upon a time, practice assessors made the final decision. The sw degree in 2000 unfortunately put a stop to that. It is well known that reclaiming sw requires high standards, and that the full Reclaiming model (not reclaiming lite!) requires a review and the departure of people not up to the task. Given the variable standards of practice found in research such as Hunt 2003 I dont see these objections as valid.

    • Jazz March 27, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

      Just an observation prompted from Julie Wilkes’s apparent opinion: The majority of commentators appear to feel it is valid to object to such pass and fail testing of social workers. We do have some say don’t we? Otherwise the UK is now not a democracy but a right wing dictatorship. Since 2003 – 2009 the DipSW was gradually replaced across the UK by a compulsory degree to qualify as a social worker. There have been massive cuts to further and higher education budgets. Social workers have paid an awful lot of money to become qualified and since 2005 compulsorily registered professional social workers. Reclaiming Social Work (RSW) has some good ideas but they’re not necessarily relevant in all LAs because truthfully, not all consist of failing systems and failing professionals – where such would not be employed or promoted in the first place! What a cheek for the inventors of RSW originally hailing from a LA that, unlike many others in the UK, had serious failings in practice, support and supervision of staff, to essentially tell these social workers that effectively their degree courses are valueless without a prescriptive test set in apparent isolation from and without the approval of UK universities or professional bodies such as the Universities, HCPC and BASW. Do not lump all LAs together the same as Hackney from whence the RSW model sprung. Necessitated because that LA had serious problems. Not all LAs had or have such bad practice or practitioners as Hackney or such serious failings in practice (of all agencies) leading to the infamous cases of Victoria Climbie and Baby P. I seem to remember vilification of the professionals involved then. Who have now been shown to be clear. Who were shown to have been working in a less than supportive environment (e.g., name and blame). Reclaiming Social Work is a new model of practice, invented by LA staff, then taken out by those that invented it, and now being marketed back to central government and sold to them and LAs for profit. In 2000, practice assessors did not exist they were still called practice teachers. Teaching and learning then continued on the job with full investigatory powers in child protection (e.g., sexual abuse/sexual exploitation; physical injury) only being given to those qualified (and who had been inducted, supervised and appraised along the way) after 2 years. And where has joint child protection training gone? Achieving Best Evidence training with the police and SSD working together? (Oh yes – both have had debilitating financial and resultant emotional cuts!). It is the law that Joint s.47 investigations including DVD (video) interviewing are undertaken by the police AND SSD. But there is no continuity. It would be more to the point for the government and their Chief Social Worker to be occupied in ensuring that all police forces and LAs train together and work together not in isolation. Not frightening an already disillusioned workforce with tick- box testing. Can we please go back to basics and not waste any more public money – let’s follow the recommendations by Laming and Munroe whose sound reports were an investment of public money, whether spent for us by Labour or Condemn. Not line the pockets of private companies and their shareholders. There are and always have been excellent professionals and excellent LAs across the UK who don’t have to be preached at or demeaned by those springing from a LA that was evidenced to have such huge problems. Such huge problems that actually caused more bureacracy such as unwieldy forms on ICS being created in the first place and taking the ‘social’ (person) out of the social worker role!

  16. Pat Curran April 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    I totally agree with the contents of the letter and it shows the government’s ignorance in the safeguards already in place to ensure a high standard of social work practitioners in children’ s services. it makes me so mad that this 2 million pounds will be spent in this way at a time when practice educators have had no pay rise for 8 years and had to take a 33% pay cut this academic year. Is it it no wonder that highly experienced practice educators supporting social work students are voting with their feet!

  17. Soupy April 14, 2015 at 8:34 pm #

    This is typically scape goating social workers instead of taking reasonable steps to ensure social workers maintain a healthy well being and balanced lifestyle. Reasonable steps would be to actually CAP caseloads and put this money back into needy families that social workers lose sleep over.