The government has scaled back plans for the first phase of its controversial testing programme of social workers after facing a backlash from sector bodies over the scheme.
Accreditation assessments of children’s social workers will now be initially rolled out at six local authorities, instead of the 31 councils the Department for Education (DfE) had promised would run the tests over the next year.
The DfE told Community Care it still intends to eventually roll out the scheme nationally but targets for at least 8,000 children’s social workers to be accredited by December 2018, and all 30,000 to be accredited by 2020, have been dropped.
Children’s minister Robert Goodwill said the department had “fundamentally changed” its plans for accreditation after analysing the results of a government consultation.
Writing in The Guardian, Goodwill said: “Rather than having a system focused on the numbers of social workers assessed, we will focus much more on the support that local authorities and individuals will need.
“Where we initially proposed working with 31 pilot authorities, we now plan to start work with six. National rollout will follow, subject to and informed by the findings in the early phases.”
The DfE has said the tests, which involve digital and written assessments and a practice observation, will boost public confidence in social workers and improve the consistency of practice. But the plans have faced fierce criticism from social workers and sector bodies.
Goodwill said the government received more than 400 responses to its consultation on accreditation. The DfE has still to release the results but several organisations have published their consultation responses.
In a highly critical submission the Association of Directors of Children’s Services questioned the accreditation scheme’s value for money at a time when frontline services are stretched. The British Association of Social Workers said the “unpopular” and “flawed” tests could drive social workers out of the profession.
This week Unison launched a petition urging Goodwill to scrap the accreditation plans entirely. The union said a survey of its social worker members found more than 90% did not feel the tests would benefit social workers or the children and families they support.
Goodwill said the DfE wanted to make sure all children received high quality support.
“So we have set clear expectations for child and family social workers, and will work with them to make sure they get the training and support they need to meet these standards,” he said.
“That’s why we are introducing a system of assessment and accreditation to ensure standards are consistent, as well as giving the profession more confidence in the work they do.”
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