DfE to tackle risk of accreditation bias against older and minority staff

Older and black Asian and minority ethnic social workers performed less well in pilot accreditation tests

The government has promised to address potential bias against older and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) social workers during accreditation after a trial found they did less well in the tests than other practitioners.

A report on the accreditation pilot, published this week alongside the long-awaited consultation on the roll-out of accreditation of social workers in England, showed that ‘white’ staff outperformed BAME groups and older staff generally did less well than younger counterparts.

In his foreword to the consultation, children’s minister Edward Timpson said: “The analysis of this phase showed differences in performance between some groups of social workers and this is something that I take very seriously. As the assessment is developed further we will pay close attention to ensure that particular groups of social workers are not disadvantaged by its design or delivery.”

Action to tackle potential bias

In an equalities impact assessment, the Department for Education said it would seek to address this concern by having representative groups on panels drafting questions for the tests and asking psychometricians involved in the question development to pay particular attention to reducing bias for older social workers and those from BAME backgrounds through the language and subject matter of the questions.

The report also found that social workers with fewer years of service did better on digital assessments, and the average score of participants reduced after five years of service. Yet experienced workers were more likely to be highly rated by their employers in the trial. The government said it would explore “the relationship between employer assessments and test performance”.

Elsewhere in the consultation document, the DfE confirmed that a social worker’s registration would not be affected if they did not achieve accreditation. Social workers who failed the test would instead receive a report after the assessment identifying areas for development.

“This will allow them to work with their employers to address the areas identified before they retake the assessment,” the consultation said. There will also be an independent review process for social workers and employers who feel the outcome was incorrect.

How accreditation will work

Accreditation will operate at three different levels: frontline child and family social workers, those in supervisory roles and senior managers responsible for child and family social work delivery defined as “practice leaders”. Under the plans, child and family practitioners and practice supervisors will need to be endorsed by their employers as ready for accreditation before undertaking three assessments: a digital test of their knowledge, a simulated observation of their practice and a written assessment to demonstrate their analysis skills. There will be an expected performance standard for each element of the test and then two independent panels of professionals will agree the pass mark.

A different system will apply to practice leaders, likely to involve an assessment day and a process of drawing feedback from social workers, elected councillors and peer managers. However, this will be developed under a separate contract, yet to be tendered, despite practice leaders being one of the first groups to undergo accreditation.

Accreditation will be rolled out in two phases with all practice leaders in all local authorities, practice supervisors and child and family practitioners in 31 volunteer local authorities, and people who have started their ASYE from November 2014 taking the tests in 2017-18. The remainder of all social workers operating in statutory roles will take the tests in 2019-20.

The DfE will not make accreditation mandatory before 2020 and intends to fund the roll out “to 2020 at least”. However, the consultation hints employers and individual social workers will be expected to contribute after this.

“The National Assessment and Accreditation system will trigger a more focused investment in continuous professional development. Individuals and employers will be motivated to invest in activities that will develop social work practice so that accreditation standards are met.”

During phase one, the government will also consider “when and how a more formal national requirement to have an accredited workforce might be brought into force” and consider how to balance this with the issues council’s face around the recruitment and retention of social workers.

Key questions for sector

The DfE is seeking views on how the accreditation scheme at all three levels should be rolled out across the country, including the roles and functions for which social workers will be expected to be accredited, and when social workers who are undergoing the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) should be assessed.

It also wants the sector’s views on when a social worker who moves into children’s services from other roles, or another country, should be accredited. How agency social workers should be accredited is also covered by the consultation. The DfE said it wanted locums carrying out statutory functions to be assessed and proposed that the pre-assessment endorsement of their practice is done by the organisation where they are working, rather than by their agency.

Whether social workers should be reaccredited periodically, after gaining accreditation, is also considered.

Those who will be assessed in phase one (this year and next year) will include all practice leaders in all local authorities, practice supervisors and child and family practitioners in 31 volunteer local authorities, and people who have started their ASYE from November 2014.

Pilot results

Between April 2015 and March 2016, almost 1,000 social workers took part in a ‘proof of concept’ trial of the assessment. The full results of this were released alongside the consultation, and the government concluded the current model “is deliverable at a national scale” and the assessment provided “a sound measure of knowledge and skill”.

However, the assessment of practitioners’ responses to digital case scenarios, which was included in the pilot, will be removed from the system, as it was difficult to implement due to the requirements on time and IT facilities. It was also found that the scenarios could have over-simplified work with children and families. The written assessment is designed to test the skills that would have been assessed using the digital scenarios.

Social workers also expressed concern about the difficulty of questions in the general knowledge part of the test during the pilot phase.

“Approximately 50% of social workers rated the general knowledge questions as ‘somewhat or very difficult’, a figure which fell to 40% for applied knowledge and 30% for scenarios,” said the report on the proof of concept phase.

“Nearly 40% of social workers, especially those in specialist teams such as fostering and adoption and leaving care, questioned the relevance of some of the knowledge questions to their job role.”

New career pathway

The DfE said the career pathway for social workers would be more structured as a result of accreditation.

The path outlined by the government is for social workers in children and families to follow the following pathway:

  • Initial training to become a social worker
  • ASYE
  • Assessment to become an accredited child and family practitioner
  • Support and development
  • Assessment to become an accredited practice supervisor
  • Further support and development
  • Assessment to become an accredited practice leader.

Long-awaited consultation

The consultation is long awaited. In January this year, chief social worker for children Isabelle Trowler said a consultation on accreditation would be published “over the next few weeks”.

This followed confusion after a speech by the then education secretary Nicky Morgan stated that social workers “across the country, at every level, will be fully assessed and accredited by 2020”.

The government later confirmed mandatory accreditation would not happen until 2020, after “all child and family social workers have had the opportunity to be accredited”.

Accreditation was one of the key planks of the government’s reform agenda set out at the start of 2016. But it then seemed to fade from prominence as the wait for the consultation rolled on, and the debate over the Children and Social Work Bill’s measures to create a new social work regulator and to allow councils to opt out of certain social care duties began to dominate.

But in her introduction to the consultation, Trowler affirmed that accreditation was “a central part of the government’s reform agenda”.

In a statement, she added: “The National Assessment and Accreditation system will help us to build a more highly skilled, capable and confident workforce, trusted by the children, young people and families with whom we work.”

Timpson said supporting child and family social workers to develop “is at the centre of our plan to transform the quality and impact of children’s social care”.

“Our reforms are raising the quality of social work across the board and … improving training and support will enable social workers to deliver high quality care to vulnerable families and children.”

Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Workforce Development Policy Committee, said: “Social work is at the heart of systems that support children and families in need and social workers are absolutely critical to this, that is why it’s vital that we get this reform agenda right, for our professionals and for our children, young people and their families too. The Association looks forward to the reading the specific details of the consultation and will be formally responding after discussion with our members in the New Year.”

The consultation will run for 12 weeks and close on 14 March 2017.

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16 Responses to DfE to tackle risk of accreditation bias against older and minority staff

  1. MrMoonx December 21, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    The issue is we have KPMG and Morning Lane are all raking in public money for this, how many social workers are employed by an auditing company? It is also concerning that Trowler is connected to Morning Lane, it stinks of dodgy dealing. Simulated situations and actors did not work in prisons and probation as part of their assessment process, its a false environment and completely pointless. Multiple choice questions are also pointless and do not represent the knowledge applied in the complex situations of social work. Leave the assessment of social workers to employers, the government should keep its nose out of our profession and give us the resources to do our jobs properly.

  2. Matthew Morgan December 27, 2016 at 9:11 am #

    A group not doing as well does not mean that discrimination happened at all, The so called solutions usely discriminate against a majority.

    • Nanbar January 4, 2017 at 10:06 pm #

      Could you explain in more detail exactly what points you are raising please. What also are the ‘so called solutions’ ? Thank you

  3. Snowie January 4, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

    The issue here is not ethnicity it’s the accreditation. Why do we need to be accredited…..as if the process of becoming a social worker is not difficult enough already. I am currently doing my ASYE and if I am forced to have another year of written work, observations and low pay because am not accredited yet, I might as well start thinking of another career option. There is so much pressure on social workers, this just adds to it and shows how under valued we are. People put the emphasis on social workers so much they forget that its actually parents who should be accountable every step of the way for their parenting or lack of it. Accreditation of social workers won’t improve the quality of parents. But it might serve to drive away potentially good social workers such as myself who are wondering when the constant jumping though all these hoops will end! I bet the politicians who come up with all these rules have never practiced a day as a social worker.

    • Hambo January 9, 2017 at 12:48 pm #

      An interesting observation and while you highlight some valid issues in relation to further assessment of Social Workers, you have also added some comments about parents which may not be appropriate or related to the issue, given that many of the families we work with are those subjected to years of abuse and inequality themselves. Parents ‘should be accountable for their parenting or lack of it’ and when involved, we scrutinise this, social workers are accountable for their actions or lack of them and should also be open to scrutiny – just not in this way, which is not reflective of the job or workforce. We are in a privileged position compared to many of those we work with. If we want to be considered professional then we should present as such and be cautious about making value laden judgements about families. This may not have been what you intended, but unfortunately, it is how it has appeared. We are all continuously learning.

      • Stuart January 9, 2017 at 4:52 pm #

        I didn’t read it that way and woudn’t choose to distract from the substantive point made.

      • Ivan January 15, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

        Well said

        • Ivan January 15, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

          That should have said “Well said Hambo”

    • Ivan January 15, 2017 at 11:04 pm #

      Do we want to be respeced like Doctors, the legal professionals, teachers? Well…they have to keep their knowledge up to date. Doctors train for 5 years minimum and then are relatively low paid for their foundation years. I think it’s a good thing. It’s not an easy job and too many people enter the career thinking it’s a breeze when actually, it’s one of the most complex jobs you can do.

      When I qualified 14 years ago, I was literally thrown into the job without support and with only 2 years training. No ASYE, no reduced caseload, no quality supervision, no study days, no focus groups, testing to make sure I knew what I was doing… my colleagues from University had exactly the same. We ALL wish that we had the benefit of the ASYE and the additional education to help us on the job. We had to find our own way. 14 years is not that long ago; in fact, these programmes didn’t even exist 6 years ago. All I hear is newly qualified Social Workers moan about the amount of extra work they have (instead of seeing it as supportive and actually useful) and complaining about ongoing accreditation. Why not see it as a positive in terms of potentially being BETTER at the job and being BETTER managers of the future than a lot of the incompetent staff we have in it now?

      ASYE and accreditation is a good, positive learning opportunity; Embrace it!

  4. Fiona Kingston January 5, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

    Another top heavy, expensive and time consuming attempt to train people in how to deal with increasingly complex social issues. If the social issues such as unemployment, poverty and lack of hope were dealt with by the government of the day, there would be less need to constantly criticise those working with children and families. At the heart of the problem is the quality of those wishing to enter the profession and the initial degree courses that are currently provided by a variety of educational establishments. If a 3 year course, supposedly at degree level, does not produce a well-qualified social worker, surely that is where we need to focus our attention otherwise, what is the point of the degree?

  5. MRM January 5, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

    I’m afraid I will not support accreditation because I think its just another tool to abuse social workers and our profession. I feel the money could be better spent. If undertaking a degree and ASYE is not enough to be accredited as a social worker then the entire educational training system for social workers needs to be reviewed. I would have thought a degree and the ASYE is enough and a sound career development structure and pathway would be more beneficial than a system of accreditation.

    This is just another example of the government interfering in an area they are not qualified to do so. The Social Work profession is as abusive as some of our most abusive and complex cases we deal with. Being in the profession is destructive to any human being, we work hard, do our very best for children and families or vulnerable adults, we are creative, self motivated, caring and kind people. We go over and above and tend to have a ‘can do’ attitude. However every day we are told by powers above that we are not good enough, crap, useless, need to work harder, faster, disrespected, bullied….everyday social workers are being abused by managers, politicians, colleagues,families…but we keep going because social workers are amazingly brilliant people who have a human heart, with hopes and dreams to make a differences to a child life or a vulnerable adult.

    As much as I love my role as a social worker despite the abuse we put up with everyday, I would rather leave the profession than put myself through anymore hoops to prove my worth. I am already worthy, competent and experienced within my role as a social worker. I simply do not need to do anything more to prove myself. Thus will leave the profession and find new avenues where I am valued….

    • Spotty Dog's mum January 6, 2017 at 11:13 pm #

      You have said what I and probably many others feel. Exhausted and cant give anymore yet still blamed for not being able to manage a complex and impossible workload. Do I stick to my principles and just work my paid for hours but then lay awake at night worrying about what I havent done or do I work evenings and weekends to keep up with the workload and sacrifice my own personal time, wellbeing and relationships??

      The Government and senior management dont have a clue. Nor does the Chief Social Worker, if they think that accreditation is the answer to the problems in the profession. We dont need to be accredited. It wont make the slightest difference to us as Social Workers or to the people we support, except being another pressure that will drive more of us away.

      I would love to hear from any Social Workers out there who think accreditation will be beneficial……….

      • Stuart January 9, 2017 at 4:59 pm #

        I also agree.

        I suggest doing your hours and NOT lying awake at night. Just make your concerns about what you’ve not been able to do perfectly clear in records and in email to managers. Keep a copy yourself (customer identifying info removed of course) and go home.

        Social work is a marathon not a sprint, you are no use to anybody if you burn yourself out. Remember if you have children of your own they are only whatever age they are today once.

        Looking after number one fiist is not selfish, it is the route to longevity.


  6. Lin January 5, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    I totally agree with your comment, such a shame we are ruled by short sighted subjective individuals who are so detached from the real world of a social worker

  7. Anita Singh January 6, 2017 at 1:42 am #

    Not a single reply above is remotely enthusiastic. Just exactly what is the real agenda behind accreditation, since there are already a raft of quality assurance processes through AYSE, CPD portfolios including PPDPs, case audits, team audits, spreadsheet after spreadsheet of targets being constantly monitored by senior managers, IRO reviews and quality assurance, CPR reviews and quality assurance, internal departmental inspections, Ofsted inspections blah blah blah.

    If MRM, leaves because of yet another hoop, how many more will follow? So what happens next? Will it be a move to heavily recruit cheap labour from abroad or opt-out of statutory duties and/or privatise services and then argue that qualified social workers can be replaced with social work assistants who do not need to be accredited or qualified? Just exactly what are the real motives behind this latest brainwave?

    • Stuart January 6, 2017 at 9:17 pm #

      The objective is for the government to be seen to have done ‘something’ to:

      a. prevent yet another media storm over child abuse (Peter Connolly to Maria Colwell and before)*
      [nb. They don’t want to prevent the abuse, they know that can’t be achieved and/or would take far too many resources]

      b. since a. is impossible, to ensure that when it happens somebody else gets the blame.

      We all know who the ‘somebody else’ is/are.

      Ous objective, those of us who are social workers that is, is to carry on doing everything we can to further the aims and aspirations which brought us into this profession despite whatever mire we must operate in and despite whatever ratbags are in government. Don’t let them grind you down, don’t let them deprive you of the opportunity to serve those who need you.

      *sorry adult services staff – you also serve of course, just have not (yet?) had the media baying for your blood…