‘Empowering’ accreditation will ‘instil’ high-quality supervision in children’s social work, government official claims

Social workers will be endorsed to sit accreditation tests following “reflective practice with their supervisor”

Photo: goodluz/Fotolia

The accreditation of children’s social workers is an opportunity to embed high-quality supervision into everyday practice, a top Department for Education official has said.

Speaking at Community Care Live this week, Sam Olsen, deputy director for social work reform, said the practice endorsement element of the accreditation scheme would prompt a “culture change” in supervision and professional development in local authorities.

For a social worker to sit an accreditation test, they will have to be endorsed by their employer as ready to become accredited.

Olsen said this endorsement would have to follow “reflective practice with their supervisor and their supervisor deciding that they are at the right standard to be practice endorsed and that is a critical, most important first step of this”.

Accreditation has been a controversial part of the government’s social work reforms, with Unison calling for it to be scrapped, and children’s service leaders raising questions over the cost. Earlier this year the government said it would change the rollout of accreditation to focus on two smaller stages , referred to as ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ phases. The alpha phase will begin next year, with the beta phase expected to start in 2019, depending on the first phase’s evaluation.

A smaller rollout will give the government more opportunities to provide intensive support to authorities with implementation, Olsen said. She said it was also important to ensure accreditation fit in with existing systems, rather than become them. Part of the programme was ensuring the “foundations” of a performance management system were in place.

Instil supervision

Olsen said that during the consultation phase there was “no objection to the principle” of accreditation, “a national post-qualifying standard that helps us drive the standards of the profession”. However, there were concerns about how it would be implemented.

She said children’s services representatives had told her that in order for endorsement to work, supervision would need to happen systematically, and be embedded in local authority continuing professional development systems and strong performance management. Olsen said this is what the endorsement phase is intended to do.

“If the actual test does nothing else but instil that in the system, that’s an amazing leap forward for us. That would be phenomenal to think that every social worker across the country was getting good, strong supervision, that’s what we want to instil in that first piece about practice endorsement,” Olsen said.

She said the whole process should be “empowering” for social workers, and was seen by the government as a “key step” towards further “professionalising” social work.

Olsen also said there would be a fast track back through the accreditation process for social workers who only “partially met” the required standards through the test.

The support offered by local authorities to social workers who have “not met” the standards would also be “key to the programme’s success”.


In a question and answer session with social workers, Olsen also gave some more insight into how the test would work in relation to agency staff, service users and for local authorities considered to be struggling.

Olsen said endorsing agency social workers would be down to the needs of individual local authorities.

“Certainly in the first two waves what we are unequivocal about is that the local authority will need to practice endorse any social worker going through this programme and we would expect someone to have worked for them for six to 12 months at least, in order to be able to practice endorse them,” she said.

“How an individual local authority wants to work in that space will be really dependent on how it works with its agency workers.”

She added some authorities had told her “they want to use it as a bit of a carrot to encourage people to move from agency on to [working] directly for the authority”.

Service user feedback

She said the government expects service user feedback on social workers to be considered before a supervisor endorses them, and said the department was working with authorities at different Ofsted ratings to see how it can support local authorities in their individual context.

Two of the authorities involved in the first phase, Manchester and Leeds, have different ratings for their services, ‘inadequate’ and ‘good’ respectively.

“I’m expecting Leeds to help me a lot, I’m expecting for us to help Manchester a lot. I need to be able to tailor the package of support to each individual local authority depending on where they are at,” Olsen said.

Also in the session Samantha Clayton, co-chair of the Children’s Principal Social Worker Network, welcomed the opportunity accreditation presented, and flagged the importance of authorities carrying out a social work health check in preparation for implementing it.

“This is a really good opportunity for us professionally to look at what we need and get what we need to be good practitioners,” she said.

“This is about helping people get the necessary skills, knowledge and support they need so they can really excel, because accreditation will identify some really excellent people. This is about your best practitioners doing their best for children and families.”

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12 Responses to ‘Empowering’ accreditation will ‘instil’ high-quality supervision in children’s social work, government official claims

  1. Borstal Boy September 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm #


    Well it is National Poetry Day

  2. Katie Politico September 28, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    The government is no expert on social work and indeed is pretty inept in most areas except in making people who are already struggling struggle more and making its members richer. Already excellent social workers don’t need re-recognition. It is simple: social workers need less cases and more resources for critical reflection and professional development. The government wants to completely privatise social work and is setting the ground through its apparently keen interest. Social work reform, like NHS reform and educational reform, is part of a movement to make individual social workers responsible when things go wrong then Richard Branson et al can cream off all the profit to be made through squeezing services even further without the worry of being financially liable.

  3. June Thoburn September 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    How much practice experience of the real world of child and family social work does this DfE official have that makes her and her civil servant colleagues know better than the many social workers wh responded to BASW and Unison surveys to say that NASS is at best a waste of desperately scarce resources (cash and scarce experienced social workers to ‘mark’ the on line tests, but likely to result in harm to social work services and those who need them. Some apparent listening, but no evidence of listening to the very real concerns, and a partnership approach between govt and the profession. And when will all responses to the consultation be published? That would at least show willing towards a real sharing of concerns and more effective and cost effective ways forward

  4. Debbie Yilmaz September 28, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

    Utter rubbish Supervision is unlikely to improve until some Social worker leaders in Local Authorities social care services actually know what it is and value its worth, as well as knowing how to supervise people. The business management ideology often adopted in Local Authority social work will prevent such change, sadly its all about ticking boxes. Social workers leave university knowing how to engage in supervision and reflective practice, and its when they get into their first social work employment, which is often in a local authority, that the ability to reflect or engage in supervision ceases. Social workers also need less bureaucratic computer systems, smaller case loads, more time to be able to think about the work and to build relationships which can be effective towards promoting and enabling sustainable changes.

    • Gary irwin September 28, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

      Well said

  5. Anita Singh September 28, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

    What happens if the supervision you are getting is not high quality? So LA’s want to use the accreditation as a ‘carrot’ to entice, or force, agency workers into permanent roles – I wonder how that will work. Many workers have dropped permanent roles in favour of agency work, as not only is it better paid, but if they want to leave because supervision or support is poor, they can easily do so, with a long list of other jobs they can walk into. Would accreditation drive them back to LAs – I doubt it – so you can expect to see not only a drop in the existing permanent workforce but also a drop in agency workers available to fill the gap.

  6. Paul September 29, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    Clearly this official knows nothing about how local authorities work. Borstal boy sums it up well.

  7. LongtimeSW September 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    ” . . . . . . further “professionalising” social work” – PATRONISING OFFICIOUS MORONS – What, so social work isn’t a profession after all? So no HCPC regulating us then!

    Borstal Boy and all the others are spot on with thier comments.

  8. sandy beach September 29, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

    hilarious, the comment – “…the local authority will need to practice endorse any social worker going through this programme and we would expect someone to have worked for them for six to 12 months at least, in order to be able to practice endorse them,” she said.

    “How an individual local authority wants to work in that space will be really dependent on how it works with its agency workers.”

    She added some authorities had told her “they want to use it as a bit of a carrot to encourage people to move from agency on to [working] directly for the authority”…

    really identifies this as a political move for expedience and to control the workforce, likely l imagine to result in more people being unclear exactly what the expectations are in work and to just think why bother, bot only do l have to go into debt to be qualified, then pay a ridiculous amount to a bizzare regulator tha tappears to take on cases that are clearly an in house HR role, it then wants me to have ‘quality supervision’ which will determine if l am worthy of acreditation cant see this being misused in any manner whatsoever? Either everyone is acrredited equally or why exactly are you bothering?

    As for bringing people back into the full time working role on PAYE – well why don’t you make the role reaslistic and with clear management structures that are accountable in ways other than PI spreedsheets and then look to strictly maintain caseloads at a set level meaning you can go home roughly when youre supposed to?

  9. the dude October 1, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Empowering who exactly and for what?
    Words like empowering and progressive are in this context ideological and only have meaning for those in assumed positions of power doing to those with less presumed power. This accreditation crap is so offensively anti strengths model it will leave me in a state of cognitive dissonance.

  10. frustrated October 4, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

    But the LA will only endorse ‘yes ‘ people who will hesitate to speak out because their own careers are their priority. And many of us know that SW is not a fair profession.

    There are very few good quality supervisors in CP social work because there are few positive role models . Anyone that would make a good supervisor with experience does not stay in the role long enough to do so partially because they do not receive quality supervision. A vicious circle!

    • JD October 5, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

      As has been said, if social workers had manageable caseloads, adequate supervision and support we would be able to do all of the things that are required, but this is not the case.
      Also, it would be helpful if the Government insisted on Principal social workers doing what was originally suggested they do by representing the views of sw’s to management then we would probably not need any of what is being proposed. Instead we see Principal sw’s and their representative Samantha Clayton simply becoming part of the management tool. This lot must be in cloud cuckoo land if they think this will solve the problems of professional development and recruitment and retention, but I guess as long as they are all still on the gravy train they won’t care.