Social worker accreditation scheme ‘poor value’, directors warn

Association of Directors of Children’s Services says accreditation can only work if mandatory and “fully funded” by government

Government plans for children’s social workers to take accreditation tests offer poor value for money at a time frontline teams are under “considerable strain”, directors have warned.

The £23m cost of setting up a national assessment and accreditation system (NAAS) would be better spent on frontline social work and early help services, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said.

The group said if ministers intend to plough ahead with the scheme they must make it mandatory and fully fund it. If this does not happen councils, particularly those in poorer areas, will be forced to prioritise funding on more pressing frontline needs.

The Department for Education (DfE) plans to introduce accreditation at three levels: frontline social workers, supervisors and senior managers described as “practice leaders”.

Ministers want all of the 30,000 frontline social workers in children’s services to take the assessments, which involve a digital test, practice observation and written assessments, by 2020. The DfE is consulting on how the system should be rolled out.

Risks of voluntary accreditation

In its response to the consultation, the ADCS said ministers must make the tests mandatory for frontline social workers and supervisors and fully fund the costs to councils.

Allowing accreditation to be voluntary for frontline staff “posed a number of risks” to services, the association added. These included:

  • Creating workforce “turbulence” at a time councils across England are working to increase the stability and quality of social work.
  • Creating a ‘two tier’ workforce that divides social workers into those accredited and those who aren’t.
  • Forcing social workers to specialise after qualifying and breaking the link between children’s and adults social work.
  • Turning social work with adults into a “Cinderella service” for practitioners who fail to pass accreditation.
  • The government failing to achieve the policy’s stated aim of improving consistency of practice across the country.

Rachael Wardell, ADCS’s workforce policy lead, said: “In a tiered profession, a social worker’s professional judgement could be questioned if they are unaccredited despite there being no statutory requirement for this. This is concerning and will do nothing to help raise the confidence of the profession or consistency across the workforce.

“In the context of austerity and rising demand for our services, the association questions whether the NAAS, at a cost of £23m to the public purse, represents good value for money. Instead, this money would be much better spent on supporting front line and early help services that we know are currently under enormous strain given the deepening pressures on children social care.”

‘Fragmented’ reform agenda

ADCS argued that accreditation for practice leaders should not be mandatory. The pool of social workers able to take on such roles “is not large” and government has failed to consider the impact of accreditation failure among this group, it said.

The association accused the government of pursuing a “fragmented” approach to reforming social work that lacked any “coherent oversight”. It pointed to the split between adult and children’s services policies, with accreditation only applying to children’s social work.

It also questioned  why ministers were prioritising accreditation over work to establish Social Work England – a new body the government wants to oversee social work, including accreditation.

“If the regulator’s objectives are, amongst others, to promote and maintain public confidence in social workers; and professional standards and conduct for social workers, it does not make sense to plough on with implementation of assessment and accreditation before the regulator is established,” said Wardell.

“Social work is at the heart of systems that support children and families, and social workers are central to this work so it’s absolutely vital that we get this reform agenda right.

“This is important not only for our social workers but more importantly for our children, young people and families too. The Association would welcome further discussion with the Department about the points raised in our consultation response.”


More from Community Care

14 Responses to Social worker accreditation scheme ‘poor value’, directors warn

  1. Tom J March 14, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

    So the ADCS suggests that the £23m could be better spent on children and families, whereas the chief social worker Isabelle Trowler implies that it is worth they money as the test is going to ‘revolutionise’ support for social workers, children and families.

    Who is right?

    • Emma March 15, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

      Not Isabelle Trowler.

      • Sallylou March 17, 2017 at 3:44 am #

        Isabel Trowler is a business woman through and through. As we know from her previously owned care company which she ‘ sold’ in order to have no conflict of interest in social care.

        The consideration of 23m and the irony of investing that in paper work is evidential the government are unprepared to listen and support front line sw’s. Not only adding more pressure, but cementing the push towards managerial and prescriptive social work.

        That money aside from other blatantly obvious investment needs in society, if it is aligned forsw, could be used for training or recruitment

  2. Hels March 14, 2017 at 4:33 pm #

    Accreditation within the private sector for example fostering services etc? What’s happening here? Also surely it’s all qualified wiscisl workers HCPC registered

    • Tim March 15, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      You do realise that the independent fostering sector actually has to adhere to regulations and inspection. I’m not saying that this accreditation in this article is a good idea but would suggest that standards in the independent sector will be significantly higher than local authority levels of they simply can’t operate

  3. Hilary Searing March 15, 2017 at 8:01 am #

    The ADCS has apparently forgotten about the Approved Mental Health Professional (formerly the Approved Social Worker) which offers a useful example of how accreditation can work. The creation of this role has been very effective in setting standards of practice and ensuring that certain types of work are only carried out by an accredited professional.

    • Too old for this stuff March 15, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

      But that isn’t the whole of the mental health workforce, it is for a very specific role, unlike the ACFP status

    • Emma March 15, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

      Thats not the context in which this accreditation is being implemented.

      It’s a sad state of affairs when the ADCS is making more sense on this than the chief social worker and BASW

  4. Janet March 15, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    This scheme is a complete waste of time and money and does nothing to address the problems facing social work (nothing new there then) And since when have senior managers in social services departments operated as ‘practice leaders’!!

  5. Roselyn March 16, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    Accreditation is not what the profession need right now, social workers want to take seriously by the government and their employers, we don’t want to be used as a political football because of moral panic going on in society. As a social worker I want to see better out come for all children especially those in care, those with disabilities and those young carers looking after their parents of siblings. We want to see reduce caseloads to free up time for direct working with children and their families, we want to see money spend on better social care services. Social Workers work hard to bring about social changes and social justice, we are trusted by the children and families we served and a piece of paper will not let us be a better social workers.

  6. Anonymous March 16, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    Another stupid scheme!! More wasted money which are best spent with families and social worker doing their jobs effectively

  7. Too old for this stuff March 17, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    ADCS should have been challenging this sooner.

    At a recent event a DfE spokesperson was clear that it will be mandatory by 2020. They have been saying this for a while so I’m surprised ADCS hasn’t picked up on that.

  8. Hels March 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm #

    I completely agree with the point you raise Hilary, the amph process of approval is fit for purpose, this should be considered


  1. National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS) Update | Kensington and Chelsea Unison - March 27, 2017

    […] PS.  The Association of Directors of Children’s Services have today highlighted their criticisms of the system… […]