The government plans to initially rollout social worker accreditation across “whole workforces” at a select group of children’s services ministers feel are the “best performing” in England, the chief social worker for children has said.
Isabelle Trowler told Community Care the Department for Education planned for all children’s social workers at the eight local authorities signed up to its ‘partners in practice’ scheme to take the accreditation assessments over the next year.
Achieving for Children
All newly qualified social workers undertaking the assessed and supported year in children’s services will also be expected to make themselves available for accreditation, she said.
The move, which will be subject to consultation, represent the first phase of the accreditation rollout and follow an earlier pilot of the assessment with almost 1,000 practitioners.
Trowler said the staged rollout will help government assess the impact of introducing accreditation at scale ahead of a wider expansion, and help influence a decision on whether the tests should be mandatory.
She said: “I think we’ve some way to go before I would say this needs to be mandatory. In the first instance, probably over the next year, we want to roll out accreditation across whole workforces starting with our partners in practice and newly qualified social workers coming into the system.
“We need to see what happens when you accredit a whole workforce because, of course, people are really concerned over whether this will generate instability. There are also questions about what happens if someone doesn’t pass first time, what are the development opportunities for them, and how do you manage that as a practice system?
“So I think we’ve got to go through that process first before we take a decision. Ultimately it will be a decision for government about whether it makes this mandatory.”
The Department for Education said that the partners in practice authorities will be expected to encourage their workforces to gain accreditation and all children’s social workers undertaking the assessed and supported year will be expected to gain accreditation.
The ambition for all children’s social workers to be accredited by 2020 is a key plank of the government’s social work reform programme. Other changes include the introduction of a new regulator for social work, a pledge to give children’s services ‘freedoms’ from certain statutory duties in order to let them “test new ways of working” and an expansion of fast-track training routes. The reforms are underpinned by legislation in the Children and Social Work Bill.
In a wide-ranging interview, Trowler gave her assessment of the reform programme and responded to some of the early concerns raised about the changes. She told Community Care:
- The reforms aim to give practitioners the chance to develop their knowledge and skills and look to improve the practice systems social workers work in.
- The government has still to decide a pass mark for accreditation but the expectation is that “a very, very small group” will fail the tests and re-sit options will be explored.
- Early feedback from the accreditation pilot found most of those who took the assessment “were really positive about it”.
- A consultation on accreditation will be held but the timing has still to be decided.
- No decision has been made on whether the new social work regulator will be government-controlled or independent.
- If the new body is government-controlled it would still have to work with the profession in setting professional standards.
- Social work is “never going to be independent in the way it might want to be” because the profession carries out so many functions for the state.
- Traditional social work degree programmes have “huge value” and there is no plan to get rid of them despite the expansion of fast-track programmes.
- The powers in the social work bill to exempt local authorities from statutory duties are designed to help services “innovate and do things differently”.
- One example of a potential freedom could be in allowing councils to think about how they deploy their Independent Reviewing Officer workforce.
- The independent trust model of running children’s services can help create “institutions that are properly practice-focused” and “social-work driven”.
- The level of risk involved in statutory children’s services work means other providers, whether private or voluntary sector, are “extremely cautious” about it.
- The impact of the principal social worker role in children’s services should be evaluated.
- Ministers “want social workers to succeed” and are investing in the profession through the reforms to “make sure it’s an integral part of public service”.
Asked what children’s social work will look like under the reform programme set out by government, Trowler said: “I could reel off 10 or 15 children’s social care services that I think are really good. I’d want it to feel like that everywhere.
“I want us to really understand how you run an effective practice system and how you support and develop social workers to do effective work. That’s what I think will be different.
“It takes time, I know there are huge challenges, but I think it’s perfectly possible to do. I think over time we will build a critical mass of people that are doing really focused, effective child and family social work and that will be the tipping point. There’s some way to go but I’m very hopeful.
“I think it’s an exciting time for social work. We have got political buy-in, we have resource to do this well. We shouldn’t fight it, we should find a way of working with it.”