Plans to introduce accreditation tests for children’s social workers risk experienced practitioners quitting the profession, the British Association of Social Workers has warned.
BASW, which represents more than 22,000 social workers, said the accreditation system planned by the Department for Education was “unjustifiably” costly and poorly designed, risked worsening the profession’s recruitment and retention problems, and marked a further step towards breaking the link between adults and children’s social work.
The association urged the DfE to rethink the “flawed and unpopular” plans and work with the profession to develop an ongoing CPD framework for all social workers. The DfE’s lack of sector involvement in the development of accreditation was a “significant failure”, it added.
Ministers want more than 30,000 frontline social workers in children’s services to take the accreditation assessments, which involve a digital test, practice observation and written assessments, by 2020. The scheme will be introduced voluntarily at 31 councils before being rolled out nationally. A DfE consultation on the plans closed this week.
‘Disincentive’ to retention
BASW underpinned its response to the consultation with a survey of 538 social workers. This revealed just 3% felt accreditation offered good value for money, and 61% felt the tests would act as a “disincentive” to recruitment and retention. More than half (58%) felt social workers who already held a post qualifying or advanced practice award should be exempted from the tests.
The association said the proposed system could demotivate some of the advanced practitioners councils most needed to retain. Social workers who responded to the survey complained of “too many hoops to jump through” and “over testing”. BASW said comments from many members showed experienced social workers, and even those at the start of their careers, would leave the profession if forced to take the tests.
The DfE said accreditation was a “key part” of government efforts to boost the skills and professional status of social workers.
BASW said it appreciated the intentions behind the scheme but felt in its current form it was “likely to have the opposite impact to that desired by government”
“It risks creating a two tier children’s social work workforce through a costly and poorly designed accreditation system. It risks reducing the workforce in children’s services if social workers – including some of the most experienced – walk away from a testing regime they do not value.”
The association said the plans also added to wider fears over the way the knowledge base for social workers in England is being developed, with concerns the DfE is favouring profit-making firms over sector bodies and universities for projects that are key to shaping social work.
The department awarded a £2m contract to develop accreditation to a consortium led by management consultancy giant KPMG and social work firm Morning Lane Associates. Global consultancy firms Mott MacDonald and Deloitte have also won DfE contracts to oversee other key planks of social care reform.
“We are clear that this should not be an exercise that is dominated by one government department (Department for Education) and consortia of private companies with limited input from HEIs. This is not comparable to how other professions are treated and defined,” BASW said.
The intervention comes days after the Association of Directors of Children’s Services voiced fears that accreditation offered poor value for money. The ADCS said the estimated £23m cost would be better spent on frontline social work and early help services.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our aim is to make sure all vulnerable children get the expert, high quality support and protection they need, no matter where they live.
“The proposed new assessment system is a key part of our work to strengthen the skills and professional status of child and family social workers. There is a clear appetite from many in the sector to be part of the early roll out of the new system – 31 local authorities have already committed to this.
“Now that the consultation has ended we will look carefully at all the responses.”