Make accreditation tests mandatory for children’s social workers, say directors

ADCS president warns of “two-tier” system if government decides to roll out accreditation tests in a staggered way

Association of Directors of Children's Services president Dave Hill. Photo: Nick Strugnell

Children’s services leaders want the government’s accreditation tests for children’s social workers to be compulsory and rolled out across the country.

Speaking to Community Care, Dave Hill, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said accreditation “should be mandatory and should happen everywhere at the same time”.

Hill said it was clear that skills and knowledge work had to be stepped up, and this needed to run through every level of social work practice.

“I don’t just mean newly qualified I mean newly qualified through to the most experienced, it’s the whole range,” Hill said.

In the ADCS’ submission to the Education Committee inquiry into social work reform, it said the three new accredited statuses has the potential to “improve the consistency of practice”, but raised concerns about the logistics of rolling out the initiative.


Hill warned against a staggered approach to implementing the assessments.

“There has been discussion about whether it’s piloted more and then some bits of the country do it. Our position is we should do it, we should make it mandatory,” he said.

“If we are doing it on a bit-by-bit basis we will end up with a two-tier system where some people are [not] accredited, not because they haven’t got through it but because their chance hasn’t come along.”

Hill said the ADCS was working closely with the Department of Education on piloting the accreditation process, adding: “We’re strongly pushing to get it right but having got it right, have everyone do it at the same time and have it be formal and mandatory”.

Social work reforms

In January, the government pledged social workers “across the country” would be “fully assessed and accredited by 2020”.

The same month, Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, promised a consultation would be launched “within weeks” on whether accreditation should be compulsory or not. Community Care understands the consultation may open this month.

The accreditation process assesses social workers operating at different levels against knowledge and skills statements developed by Trowler.

Frontline social workers who pass accreditation will become Approved Child and Family Practitioners. The process involves an online test, practice observation and scenario-based assessment. This has been trialled with almost 1,000 practitioners and early evidence suggests social workers fared well.

Similar accreditation processes are also being developed for senior social workers. Managers will obtain Practice Supervisor status. Assistant directors, or their equivalent, will be assessed and accredited as Practice Leaders.

Ministers believe accreditation will improve public confidence in social workers. The process is part of a wider package of reforms to children’s social work being pursued by the Department of Education. This includes a pledge to strip local authorities of control of their children’s services if the government deems them to be failing and unable to improve.

Structural change

The government has already transferred control of children’s services in Slough and Doncaster to independent trusts.

Hill warned against seeing structural change as the solution for all problems in children’s services, arguing that building “leadership, good support for people, training and culture” were more important.

“I think we’ve got to be careful not to think if you restructure something you magically transform it, because I don’t think it does,” he said.

He did however describe himself as “agnostic” in his views on what the right structure or provider of services is, having been a part of the team that made the recommendations for Slough to be taken over by a children’s trust.

“I’ve got no personal issue about recommending the right thing but I do think we have to be careful over the next period of sort of saying it’s the structure that is the X factor, I don’t think it is,” Hill said.

“The problem for me with the alternative model is, I look at Slough and I look at Doncaster and it has taken the best part of two years to get them up and running. I don’t think we’ve got 18 months or two years. If somewhere is inadequate I want it to get better within six months to a year.”

Hill took up post as ADCS president last month. He said his priorities in the role would be to improve the public image of children’s social care and boost cooperation between adults and children’s services.


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7 Responses to Make accreditation tests mandatory for children’s social workers, say directors

  1. Tom Hughes May 4, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    Key word there is “should” be mandatory. However I very much doubt that what should happen actually will. Completely agree with his reasoning for wanting it, but to see it happen…well I think there may be quite a bit of opposition on cost grounds and the reality that some local authorities have less well trained staff than others.

  2. Daniel Phipps May 4, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

    I find the suggestions made as undermining to my professional competence and fully undervaluing the current practices in place of measuring social work competencies.

    I am a NQSW and I am finishing my ASYE. I have invested a lot of time into this process, I have jumped through hoop after hoop to evidence my learning, development and competence in my work. To be informed I will in essence have to re-repeat this in another format feels ludicrous.

    I am completely for having levels of practice evidenced but it feels as though these processes are in place and are tested rigorously through the ASYE process. As for practitioners who have been qualified for several years who may not have had these assessments I may appreciate that evidence is required, however again these will be indicated via work references and ongoing CPD processes.

    As to improving public image, I would suggest renegotiating with government as to how to address practice areas, promote and highlight the practice that is effective but is not voiced in the public domain due to the nature of the work unless it’s a serious case review or child death.

    I am not against improving standards, I am very much pro, but the whole agenda feels like a publicity stunt by the Tories to say ‘we are making a difference’. Where in essence they are just rebrandishing a system that is already in place.

    I am only 2 years into my career and already feel exhausted with government shaming, blaming and revamping to show they’re changing the face of social work. If they for once were to work with current methods and give credit to university qualifications and current work practices then improvement could be assessed. Instead of the yo-yo methods of changing measures every 3-4 years.

    If more regulations were placed on agency staff or address the serious issue of agency employment, ie ban its use in social care, then maybe that would improve retention, standards of social workers by ensuring CPD and the professional reputation by improving the length of service and reduce the level of staff changes with families. Surely this is a more direct approach? And another way of improving how resources, finances, are used by councils instead of agency companies and staff taking much needed money from frontline services.

    It just feels focus is placed in the wrong areas and there are clearly other ways of improving ‘public image’

  3. Lee bravz May 4, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

    Hopefully pays will increase average social worker is earning 30k no way is this good enough.

    Then you have your old school seniors who are on almost 37-40k but prefer to drink coffee do shoddy assessment’s not all but there are many.

    Them you have issue of ‘if you’re face fits’

    From experience if you’re female good looking and you’re willing to suck up you’re promoted

    Then you have the issue of young ones becoming seniors over nite these don’t have a clue and become obsessed with power.

    You then have you’re amazing classic social worker purely down to earth works there backside off and is paid standard salary works hard does training helps out. Simply amazing

    You have you’re senior management who walk around with high heels clutching to their prada hand bags haven’t a clue what’s going on.

  4. Andrea May 5, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    Daniel – was in agreement with you until you got to the current apparently allowed behaviour of agency worker bashing – the reason for so many going to agency is because of all the points that you have made – you’re exhausted with Govt game playing after 2 years – try 20+!!
    How many of the social workers involved in serious case reviews were agency?
    Financially agency workers are NOT paid more that perm staff who have paid bank hols/paid holidays/paid sick leave – up to 6 months full and another 6 half pay/paid dependency leave/paid pension/2 or 3 months notice period/death in service grant.
    Agency staff get paid only for the hours they work and can be let go with one weeks notice – they take the chance also that they do not get a job immediately after leaving one – that’s why they get a higher hourly rate but when all of your permanent benefits are factored in they are NOT paid more.
    Don’t fall into the trap of turning on your own!

    • Daniel Phipps May 5, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

      Andrea – I take some of your points, but we are only looking from our own perspectives. I think there are pro’s and cons. My own experience is I have met some great locums, but have met more poor quality locums. Majority I have met have been honest stating they can earn atleast £5k more a year, hence why they moved from permanent to agency.

      I know this is only some agency staff. I just feel that the work force should not be split in this way and there should be some consistent employment in the sector. Also as I said ensuring a more consistent work force with service users. Further to this there may be a more consistent approach to casework allocation, instead of the ‘dumping’ that can take place which predominantly happens to locums.

      If there is an abundence of social workers then why should agency companies gain money through exploiting staff shortages?

  5. Helena May 5, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    this feels very much like yet another hurdle for us to jump to prove our worth . Accreditation would be a positive move of course but the dust never settles in our world .
    Many are working so so hard to cope with ofsted demands and re structure, this will make many feel deflated because of the difficult conditions and heavy work loads placed upon us.
    Many local authorities have to cut costs of course and agency staff is part of that but without these staff at present many teams would not have an effective front line leaving children open to dangerous situations ‪,that’s the reality .
    So accreditation I am sure will happen at some stage ….. We will tackle it like we do everyday of the week efficiently effectively and professionally, I am proud of my profession but would appreciate it if our leaders in government would be too .

  6. Andrea May 5, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    Lee – wow angry! Its men who are promoted above their abilities actually – and I’ve never seen a social worker at any level in Prada.