Unison has called on the government to drop plans for social worker accreditation, claiming the “ill-conceived” scheme fails to accurately or fairly assess practitioners’ skills.
A survey of 1,213 social workers by the union revealed fears among practitioners that the assessments will put extra pressure on overstretched teams, unfairly punish individuals, and bring little benefit to staff or the children and families they support.
The Department for Education wants social workers in children’s services to undergo the tests, which involve digital and written assessments and a practice observation. Under current plans the system will be tested by 31 councils before being fully introduced in 2019.
Ministers have claimed the move will boost public confidence in the profession and aid social workers’ development. But sector bodies, including the British Association of Social Workers, have said the proposals offer poor value for money and could damage staff retention.
Social workers surveyed by Unison showed little support for the plans. Almost all (99%) said the system would place more pressure on individual social workers, yet a similar proportion (94%) felt the assessments would not assess practice standards fairly or accurately.
More than 90% did not feel the process would be beneficial for social workers or service users and 89% feared the system would “unfairly penalise” individual practitioners. Just 2% of those surveyed felt the accreditation system offered value for money or represented a good use of social workers’ time.
Asked what the government’s priorities for social work should be, most respondents (58%) said more funding for social services, followed by action to help limit caseloads (30%). The introduction of accreditation was cited by 2%.
Heather Wakefield, head of local government at Unison, said: “This ill-thought out scheme threatens to make things worse, not better. It doesn’t accurately assess the work staff do, and could prove the final straw for many experienced employees, who may well vote with their feet and leave.
“Ministers should think again, and instead of making dedicated employees take this ill-conceived test, provide more resources to enable them to do their jobs properly.”
Unison included the research in its response to a DfE consultation on accreditation that closed in March.
A DfE spokesperson said the department would “look carefully” at all the responses now that the consultation had closed.
“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 spokesperson said.
“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 – thirty one local authorities have already committed to this.”