Social workers fear being ‘unfairly penalised’ by accreditation tests

Unison calls on government to drop 'ill-conceived' plans for accreditation, claiming the tests could drive social workers to quit

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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.”

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8 Responses to Social workers fear being ‘unfairly penalised’ by accreditation tests

  1. Too old for this stuff April 4, 2017 at 11:02 am #

    Unison should have been saying this sooner

    • Stuart April 4, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

      To be fair, I think Unison did but their survey had to take time in order to be of a meaningful standard and you can’t blame them for the time it then takes to be reported in this article.

      Whether Unison’s survey or any of it’s statements or the statements of others in the profession are listened to by government can be guessed at by their claim that there is ‘an appetite from many in the sector…’ Note the term ‘sector’, not ‘profession’. The ‘sector’ includes ‘yes man’ types who see a chance for a bash at a (minor) gong, not people who would have to deal with the realities and above described faults of the test.

  2. Margaret April 4, 2017 at 11:31 am #

    A DIE spokesperson says
    “Our aim is to make sure all vulnerable children get the expert, high quality support and protection they need, no matter where they live” how very refreshing! As if any right minded person would wish to do the opposite!! social Workers are the ONLY ones going out day after day week after week and year after year making this happen by organising services and rounding up professionals skilled in their own specialist knowledge. Setting out care plans, implementing them and keeping them on track. Facing abusers in court, sometimes risking our
    own safety, and keeping children safe from those that manipulate, groom and abuse them. Loosing sleep working way over hours paid and taking abuse and distrust from anyone and everyone who feels like it.
    As a Social Worker we know we are the gateway for children escaping significant harm. We know we CAN NOT GET IT WRONG!
    It is an honour and a privilege to support families through crisis. The impact of our work may not be evident to the families for many years,as its only through reflection one can see the dangers and risks avoided.
    So to the soundbite chaser recommending more tests and more pressure on Social Workers take a walk in our shoes. Hold a child’s hand while their injuries are logged in a hospital room, listen to the long lists of fractures some several years old, your thoughts will not be how to improve your personal practice, but how to help this child, we can only do this if we can Provide more support and services not tests. At that moment you realise the DIE is just a sound bite, away from accusing social workers of being the abusers

    • Ian April 4, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

      Very well said, I agree entirely.

      The problem is, government/DfE don’t really want to know this stuff, they just want to have been seen to do something so they can a. justify their continued employment and b. make sure the blame goes somewhere else next time there’s a major issue in the press.

  3. Maharg April 4, 2017 at 11:52 am #

    The union should of let social worker aware earlier they would have been had even greater raft of people saying this is a pointless exercise.

    There is an assumption that we are failing children services by the fact that everybody keeps stating that all we need to provide high quality services.

    The only time they come low quality is after something seriously goes wrong and everybody has the opportunity to point the finger and justify why it failed and whom is to blame.

    This will not change by making people jump through more pointless hoops, and equally will not raise the profile, because as we know they are only as good as our last disaster, and people only remember when we get it wrong, not the thousands of times we get it right and people are managed safely and appropriately.

    Stop painting the Roses red

  4. Mohammed April 4, 2017 at 5:16 pm #

    Some form of post qualification accreditation for ‘Child Protection’ social workers is very much necessary to help the social worker to mature in their role.

    Specialisms such as AMHPs in Mental Health have to go through a few months of further study, exams, observed practice to be approved.

  5. SBS April 5, 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    We need more resources, smaller caseloads and more time for us to think about what we’re doin going so that we do it well!!

  6. Damo1378 April 12, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    Is there any thought around social workers who may be completed assessments such as AYSE or PQ qualification. How would this new accreditation work along side such assessments?
    Social workers would be under more pressure to ensure they pass assessments leaving less time with service users.