Child and family social workers will have their performance endorsed by their employer as part of the new system of accreditation being implemented by the government.
An early notification of a government tender, posted on the government’s contract finder website, indicates employers will need to look at service user feedback, reflective dialogue, assessments of written work and practice observation to ensure their staff have the knowledge and skills set out in a statement by the chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler.
The notification follows comments from Hackney director of children’s services Alan Wood last week that social workers should be individually graded as part of Ofsted inspections.
The tender notice, seeking a provider to develop guidance for employers to follow, has been the first mention that employer endorsement will form part of the new assessment and accreditation system.
The three levels of accredited statuses – Approved Child and Family Practitioner, Practice Supervisor, and Practice Leader – were first announced in October last year. A consortium led by international consultancy firm KPMG was awarded a contract to deliver pass/fail tests for each of the levels earlier this year.
Calls for clarification
But managers and academics have called for clarity from the chief social worker on how endorsement will fit into the systems being developed by the KPMG-led consortium, whether accreditation will be mandatory and, if so, for which groups of social workers.
A senior social work academic, who wished to remain anonymous, commented: “How will this fit together with the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) scheme and the Approved Child and Family Practitioner (ACFP) status being developed?
“At the moment, it’s hard to see an alternative to these different horses running simultaneously. The key issue is likely to be forced compliance – if one scheme becomes mandatory, the rest will wither on the vine.”
Mandy Nightingale, chair of the children’s principal social worker network said her interpretation was that employer endorsement would be the first stage of the process towards accreditation to obtain ACFP status. Practitioners would need to ‘pass’ endorsement in order to go through to the next stage.
“My understanding is it would be a four-step process. First, employer endorsement, then the assessment processes that we know are being developed and trialled – a multiple choice test of knowledge, decision-making and reflection on online, practice-based scenarios and role-play exercises involving professional actors.”
One workforce development lead, who also did not wish to be named, said following the sort of framework described would be onerous for employers, in terms of assessor time and completing additional paperwork.
“I wonder if the employer will be required to absorb these costs or if the social worker will be charged for the ‘privilege’ of being assessed?”
Nightingale said she supported the principle of employer endorsement which she felt would be similar to existing appraisal processes and the ASYE framework.
“I am sure as an employer, I would want to be confident that my staff are practicing at an acceptable, agreed level.
“I will be very keen for the [principal social workers’] network to work with the successful tenderer in order to ensure we can share our expertise and knowledge of what good social work looks like.”
Marion Russell, principal child and family social worker for Cornwall, said Wood’s comments about individual grading of social workers might influence the discussion about the prospect of employer endorsement.
“The various ways in which social workers in children and families are assessed, and could be potentially assessed, is perceived by practitioners to be increasing. They now have to qualify, register, complete their ASYE, and be endorsed and accredited. Suggestions such as Wood’s add to the pressure increasingly felt by one part of the profession, given the introduction of Knowledge and Skills Statements at three levels, the unclear position of the PCF, and the different approaches being taken for those working with adults.”
The chief social worker’s office said Isabelle Trowler would not comment on the calls for clarity.
A Department for Education spokesperson said they would consult “in due course” on the details of how the assessment system for accreditation would be introduced.
“We see employer endorsement as an important part of that [assessment process] and this tender is to develop guidance to help them with that.”
An information day for potential bidders will be held on 16th October will also include a workshop for organisations interested in a contract worth £700,000 to £1.4 million to design and deliver a “continuous assessment programme” for the practice leader status.
This will ask providers to develop three strands: “a fast-track route to accreditation, a standard programme, and a talent programme for aspirant practice leaders.” The Department for Education was unable to provide further information at this stage.