By Andy McNicoll and Luke Stevenson
A government pledge to slow down and scale back the roll out of accreditation tests for children’s social workers has failed to stem sector concerns over the plans.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said key issues their organisations had raised with the accreditation system during a consultation remained unaddressed.
Unison said it maintained its position that the “flawed” and “deeply unpopular” accreditation plans should be scrapped entirely.
Last week the Department for Education said accreditation assessments would initially be rolled out at six councils, rather than the 31 originally planned. A target for all 30,000 children’s social workers to be accredited by 2020 has also been dropped.
Children’s minister Robert Goodwill said the DfE had “fundamentally changed” its accreditation plans based on feedback from the consultation. More than 400 responses were received but the DfE has yet to make the results public.
In its consultation response, BASW, which represents more than 22,000 social workers, said the accreditation system was “unjustifiably” costly and marked a further step towards breaking the link between adults and children’s social work.
‘More conciliatory tone’
Ruth Allen, the association’s chief executive, said the DfE’s change of tack on accreditation offered a chance for ministers to address more of the profession’s concerns.
She said: “A more conciliatory tone is welcome. There are a lot of people with expertise that have concerns about accreditation.
“That’s not because they are being obstructive but because they understand the sector and want improvements in children’s services that have a good chance of success and recognise the challenges facing employers and staff.”
Allen said the lack of details on what a reformed accreditation system would look like made it “too early” to say whether BASW would back the scheme.
“We do not want roll out of the accreditation system that we have seen. But we need to see what changes from the current offer, and for the DfE to continue that dialogue with the sector and build on it much more.”
The ADCS’s consultation response said that accreditation offered poor value for money and the estimated £23m cost of setting up the scheme nationally would be better spent on frontline social work and early help.
The group said if ministers intended to plough ahead with the scheme they must make it mandatory and fully fund it. The test also risked creating workforce “turbulence” and creating a tiered profession of accredited and unaccredited social workers, they argued.
The DfE has said part of the accreditation changes will see more focus placed on supporting local authorities with the process.
Alison Michalska, ADCS president, told Community Care the government had “absolutely listened” to the case put forward by directors.
However, she said accreditation represented an “ongoing” financial burden for councils, not a one-off cost, and said ADCS maintained that any national scaling up of the system after the first phase would have to be “mandatory and happen at pace”.
She said: “Until it is rolled out so that every social worker employed by a local authority has the ability to be accredited, we’re going to have this two-tier workforce.
“That could potentially create instability. There’s nothing to stop the accredited social workers going off and joining agencies and commanding higher salaries. So we’re potentially putting a cost pressure on an already cash-strapped, under pressure sector.
“Until it is universal there are concerns about it pushing up costs, and destabilising social work workforces, which cannot be a good thing for children.”
The government has said the accreditation system will help boost practice standards and the status of the social work profession.
Michalska said councils already had systems in place if social workers were not performing as well as expected, including appraisals and supervision.
“Staff who are struggling for whatever reason will be trained and supported to develop and if it’s not going to work they leave the profession. That happens up and down the country,” she said.
“It comes down to whether people fail the test because of an issue with the test rather than their competency as a social worker. That was a pushback after the initial piloting which is why I think they have now changed some of the style of question and some of the methodology.”
Unison has launched a petition calling on the government to abandon the accreditation scheme entirely. The union’s survey of social worker members found more than 90% did not feel the tests would benefit social workers or the children and families they support.
A Unison spokesperson said: “We think the scaling back of the accreditation plans is a reaction to how deeply unpopular this flawed idea is with the profession.”
He added: “Introducing this test will do nothing to address the fundamental problems that are being experienced across the country. Social workers are overworked, underpaid and poorly supported whilst demand for services grows and grows. The test should be scrapped and the money invested in social work services instead.
“For far too often the views of social workers have been ignored. We hope that the minister can meaningfully engage with the sector and work together to address the deep-seated problems that are blighting the lives of social workers and the communities they work with.”
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