The digital test used as part of the government’s accreditation scheme is poor at judging social worker competence, according to a survey of practitioners who have completed it.
Unison surveyed 100 social workers from the almost 1,000 who took part in the Department for Education’s pilot of accreditation.
The accreditation process involves four stages: an online multiple choice knowledge test, employer endorsement, a scenario-based test where practitioners are asked how they would react to different cases, and a practice observation role-play.
While most survey respondents (60%) found the online test used in the pilot was “clear and understandable”, only 16% felt it provided a good way of testing their competencies as a social worker. When asked to explain why, most criticised the lack of relevance of questions to the specific role of social workers.
More than half who responded said they were not given dedicated time off to complete the accreditation pilot, and two-thirds had not received support from managers.
Nearly three-quarters of social workers surveyed said accreditation would not be beneficial for child and family social workers.
The vast majority of respondents (91%) felt the scheme should not be a government priority. When asked what issues should be prioritised instead, social workers called for reduced caseloads, improved staff retention and better training for those in post.
Social workers from 22 councils completed the accreditation pilot. Unison’s survey received the views of social workers from 15 of those councils.
Unison said the findings, which it will share with the DfE, showed the accreditation process needed to be “substantially reworked” before it is rolled out to the wider workforce. It also claimed the government was “failing to address the fundamental problems” facing frontline practitioners.
“A new assessment and accreditation scheme for social workers will do nothing whatsoever to resolve these key issues; a lack of resources and funding, caseloads that are too high, low morale and high levels of staff turnover,” the union said.
A DfE spokesperson said the government was still in the process of analysing the results from the accreditation pilot and was determined to get the changes right.
“This includes listening to vital feedback from social workers themselves, as well as their employers,” the spokesperson said.
In a recent interview with Community Care Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, said early analysis of the pilot findings found that “overall” people who’d been through the whole accreditation process were “really positive about it”, although she acknowledged practitioners felt more able to relate to the scenario-based testing and practice observation than the digital assessment.
Trowler maintained that social workers will be consulted on accreditation, including whether the assessment should be mandatory for all children’s social workers and what should happen to those who fail.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services has called for accreditation to be mandatory and rolled out to all services at the same time.
Trowler has said there’s “some way to go” before she would back mandatory accreditation. She indicated the Department for Education wanted to roll out accreditation in phases, rather than at the same time, starting with the eight councils signed up to the Partners in Practice scheme.