The government wants all of the estimated 30,000+ children’s social workers to have undergone an accreditation assessment by 2020. Here’s the essential info for practitioners.
Why is the government introducing accreditation?
Ministers say the process will give employers assurance that children’s social workers have the skills they need to do the job and will also help build public confidence in the profession. The Department for Education (DfE) also hopes the test can offer “a window into practice” and act as a learning tool for practitioners.
Accreditation will be introduced at three levels – child and family practitioners (essentially frontline staff), practice supervisors (more senior social workers with management responsibilities) and practice leaders (assistant directors have been earmarked for this role).
So far the accreditation assessment for frontline staff is the most developed. The answers below relate to this level of accreditation only.
What does the assessment involve?
Three main stages:
- Employer endorsement – your employer’s assessment of your skills.
- A digital assessment based on the child and family practitioner knowledge and skills statement produced by the chief social worker for children.
- A simulated practice observation using role play scenarios with actors. This will include a written assessment component.
A pilot version of the assessment also included an online scenario test in which social workers were gradually given more information about a case and asked how they would respond. The DfE looks likely to scrap that part of the assessment going forward after the pilot found it was too simplistic to capture complex decision-making.
Will I be forced to sit the test?
Technically no, at least not yet. The government has said accreditation won’t be made mandatory, until at least 2020. However, the flip side is that ministers expect all child and family social workers to have had the opportunity to be accredited by then. It is likely that employers will be encouraged to put their social workers forward for the assessments.
A consultation will be launched later by the end of September on whether accreditation should be made compulsory after 2020 and, if so, for which roles.
Has it been piloted?
Yes. Almost 1,000 social workers took part in a “proof of concept” trial of the assessment between April 2015 and March 2016.
How did social workers do?
The government has not released the full results but has confirmed that 20% of more than 200 social workers who took the simulated practice exercise scored below levels deemed acceptable.
This was based on practitioners being rated on a score between 1 and 7, with a score of 3 or below deemed “failure” (whether this pass threshold will be kept for the assessment rollout has still to be decided).
The vast majority (85%) of “failures” were apparently ‘near misses’ who would likely meet the required standards with some extra support or training. The DfE has said social workers performed better on the digital knowledge test.
What will happen if I fail the test?
The government has said failing accreditation will not trigger de-registration so you will still be able to practice. But your options, at least in children’s social work, could be restricted if employers decide they only want to employ accredited social workers.
The DfE has assured social workers they will not face a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy, so anyone that fails will be given a chance to re-sit. A mechanism will also be put in place to resolve differences between the outcome of the tests and the employers’ assessment of their social workers.
How these ‘dispute resolution’ processes will work, what support will be put in place for those that fail, and how many resit opportunities are offered, will be considered as part of the consultation.
Who will sit the assessment first?
Thirty local authorities that have volunteered as ‘phase one’ partners will be the first to have their social workers accredited. These include the DfE’s eight ‘partners in practice’ authorities.
The DfE said this stage will help government assess the implications of assessment and accreditation on workforce development and the logistics of delivering the programme at scale ahead of wider rollout.
What’s the full timetable for rollout?
The current timetable for the rollout of accreditation is as follows:
By the end of September 2016:
- Consultation launched
- Employer endorsement guidance published
- Procurement process launched for a delivery partner to run the assessment and accreditation process (the pilot was delivered by a consortium led by KPMG and Morning Lane Associates)
Throughout autumn 2016:
- Further development of the accreditation assessment
- Delivery partner appointed
- Work with 30 phase one local authorities on logistics of rollout
- Begin employer endorsement in phase one areas.
Between 2017 and September 2018:
- Accredit workforce in the phase one local authorities
- All children’s social workers will have had opportunity to be accredited
Who will pay for it?
The DfE has said the accreditation and assessment process itself will not result in a direct cost to social workers or employers. This will be funded by the government. However, there may be a cost to employers in terms of supporting social workers through training to achieve the standards required. This is one of the issues still to be resolved.
What will the consultation look at?
The DfE has said the following issues are under consideration. It is likely several of these will be considered at consultation:
- Should accreditation be mandatory?
- If so for what roles or functions?
- What are the implications for agency staff, independent social workers and those in third sector organisations?
- How will the system work for social workers completing Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programme?
- What should the system for dispute resolution look like?
- How should the rollout after phase 1 be handled?