The government has published its long-awaited response to the consultation on accreditation tests for children’s social workers.
The Department for Education revealed the responses to the controversial new tests this week, which shed more light on the government’s climbdown over accrediting social workers across the country by 2020.
The government was forced to reconsider the plans, which would have seen 30,000 children’s social workers sit the accreditation tests by 2020, following a mixed response to the consultation.
Just 34% of the 396 respondents agreed with the initial proposal to accredit all social workers by 2020, while 59% rest were split between being uncertain that it would work and flatly saying it wouldn’t.
“Responses identified a number of key issues, but there was overwhelming concern for the effective delivery of [the National Assessment and Accreditation System]. We have considered carefully these concerns and are subsequently revisiting delivery plans,” the response said.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said in its submission that the scheme would be “poor value”, and would only work if it was mandatory and fully funded.
Test authorities to start rollout in 2018
The government had outlined plans to move to a two-phase rollout of test authorities before rolling it out nationally earlier this year.
The first five authorities to deliver accreditation will be Bury, Leeds, Manchester, Oldham and Wigan. These authorities will begin rolling out the tests, supported by grant funding, in 2018. Between twelve and fifteen authorities will complete phase two in 2019.
While the test is not mandatory, the government will review this position following the testing phases and consider whether more grant funding will be necessary.
The response added that while not meeting the standards will not impact on a social worker’s registration, the government expects employers to decide “if the outcome of assessment should form part of pay and reward, or any performance proceedings”.
It said the government would “monitor this aspect of the system closely”.
“It is our hope that local authorities will think carefully about what high scores mean and whether they will wish to incentivise and reward those who do very well with, perhaps, an enhanced role within the organisation.”
The government said all social workers will receive feedback from the assessment. Those who are deemed to have ‘not met’ the standard will get feedback in line with each area of the knowledge and skills statement.
“Employers will then be expected to assist that individual to improve their knowledge and skills in those areas through local support and, if needed, learning and development,” the consultation said.
“As a social worker’s HCPC registration remains unaffected, it is for the employer to decide if the outcome of the assessment will form part of any performance proceedings – as any other evidence collected during the social worker’s employment would do.”
The consultation was published at the same time as the government revealed it has begun recruiting for the chief executive and chair of Social Work England, which will be based in Sheffield when it is established. There is no timeframe for when the regulator will be launched, but the government does not expect it to begin regulating the profession before Spring 2019.
‘Strengthen professional status’
Children’s minister, Robert Goodwill said: “The National Assessment and Accreditation System is a key part of this work to strengthen the skills and professional status of child and family social workers so they can provide this vital support to children who need it.”
“We welcome the constructive feedback we have received and will work closely with the sector and local councils to support them as they start to introduce the new system in 2018,” he added.
The consultation response also raised concerns about how the knowledge and skills statement (KSS) was not being embedded in local authorities. The KSS is proposed to be the basis for the accreditation assessment, but this is currently being discussed with the sector in a series of roundtables, which the government intends to publish a report on in 2018.
“A recent survey by Skills for Care revealed that a quarter of local authorities have still not begun the process of embedding the KSS. And the proof of concept phase suggested a substantial number of social workers do not currently meet the standards set out in the KSS,” the response said.
It added: “We therefore need a way to support employers to use the KSS and align their performance management and training to them.”
Steve Walker, director for children’s services in Leeds council, said the accreditation system had brought a “welcome focus” on how local authorities can support best practice.
“Leeds’ involvement in the accreditation system will provide us with an opportunity to review and strengthen our career development opportunities for social workers and enable us to recruit and retain great social workers, which is what children and young people need and deserve.”