Next steps for accreditation – what social workers need to know

Community Care looks at the key questions surrounding the government's assessment for child and family practitioners

Photo: SkyLine/fotolia

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:

  1. Employer endorsement – your employer’s assessment of your skills.
  2. A digital assessment based on the child and family practitioner knowledge and skills statement produced by the chief social worker for children.
  3. 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

By 2020:

  • 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:

  1. Should accreditation be mandatory?
  2. If so for what roles or functions?
  3. What are the implications for agency staff, independent social workers and those in third sector organisations?
  4. How will the system work for social workers completing Assessed and Supported Year in Employment programme?
  5. What should the system for dispute resolution look like?
  6. How should the rollout after phase 1 be handled? 


More from Community Care

9 Responses to Next steps for accreditation – what social workers need to know

  1. get me out of here July 13, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    I am confused, what exactly does KPMG & Morgan Lane Associates know about Social Work? How do they actually decide what Social Workers need to know? I thought Social Work courses for graduates gave them the basics for the job? Who is giving advice to KPMG on what Social Workers need to know? Why is there no consultation at all with Social Workers on this? All I see is a big stick and no carrots at all. Who seriously would want to do this job now? Hostile Government, poor pay, with almost no pay rises for years, vilification by the press it goes on. At least bankers get well paid for their deserved vilification, we on the other hand suffer abuse at the hands of our Employer. Who speaks for Social Workers not the chief Social Workers that is for sure. How can we put forward a vote of no confidence in the chief Social Workers, any ideas out there?

    • Kerstin T July 13, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

      I agree. I understand the government want quality social workers but they would rather enforce regulation and a blame culture than up standards of work in other ways. Such as decreasing work loads and increasing work related support, reprimanding the media for vilification etc. This would have a greater impact on quality of service than some, excuse me, bullshit, added test on social workers.

  2. Kim July 14, 2016 at 6:45 am #

    A shame that the funding so easily found to devise and implement such a scheme cannot be used to employ and support social workers, decrease caseloads and provide resources for vulnerable families. As one who qualified in 1985 and is now considering the best way to approach retirement this news is telling me that rather than continue to work reduced hours it’s time to go. I wonder how many others in my position will feel the same way?

  3. d Jackson July 14, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    Iv been a social worker for 13 years and gave my notice in 2 weeks ago . Did I really want to … no. I cannot cope with high case loads, no time spent with the children, all day spent on laptop. The reality is that the focus is on ‘making sure everything is on the system’. Yes!! Everything should be recorded but this is impossible if social workers have unmanageable high case loads.. It’s impossible …. you either spend time with the child and concentrate on co ordinating all necessary work for that child/family but you then get behind with recording or you do become desk bound and record for a high percentage of your working week and the children/families get a poor service and no quality social work intervention.

    There is poor staff retention in a lot of local authorities , therefore no consistency in workers for families and social workers are leaving the profession disillusioned because they are ‘burnt out’ and are not being listened too. Government and the likes are trying to ‘make things better’ merely by ‘stabbing in the dark’…. at what they think will improve services…. This latest idea will only help in making sure more social workers leave the profession.

    When will the powers that be and the misinformed folk who are making these decisions actually come onto the shop floor, in order to that they can then make fact based decisions following actually being on the frontline, only then will they open there eyes , perhaps, to what the pitfalls are and why there continues to be vast nationwide problems within Children Services.

  4. Tanua July 14, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

    In an already very stressful job, this just adds more stress. Why don’t teachers, doctors, police officers or nurses have this level of scrutiny. After 16 years of social work, I’d happily walk away tomorrow! Time to go which is a great shame.

  5. Wendy July 16, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    When is this nonsense going to stop.after accreditation,what next?after 30years working in different roles and seen and experienced the many changes in social work . When I throught it time to retire,the goal post has change I can access my pension at a reduced rate or wait for another couple years,.I take the reduced pension.

  6. Anita Singh July 20, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    BASW, UNISON where are you – why have you not intervened to challenge this government agenda and the complete lack of consultation of social workers working at a grass roots level and whether they even support this process?

    • Lynn McShane July 21, 2016 at 8:11 pm #

      If all social workers refused to take the test then there would need to be a rethink. Could unison called a boycott? I would support this as a form of passive resistance against an unnecessary test and against a massive waste of money when we are so desperate for more money to fund interventions and resources for families.

  7. Grace Easie-Edgar July 25, 2016 at 5:45 pm #

    Having read the comments, I am saddened once again to see the role of social work coming down to a test. With the ongoing cuts to Learning and Development where are we to gain the ongoing training needed to keep up to date on the changes in social work to then sit these so call accreditation tests?
    I agree with all the comments made. I am an Independent Social work manager and will gladly look to leave the service if only the goal posts for retiring would stop being moved.