Social worker accreditation is getting under way this month at five pilot councils – but practitioners’ main union is advising members to steer clear.
Bury, Leeds, Manchester, Oldham and Wigan are the five ‘phase one’ councils rolling out the controversial tests, with up to 15 more set to follow in 2019.
But Unison is advising its members not to participate in the government’s National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS), which was scaled back in 2017 after a sector-wide backlash.
The move follows a petition it launched a year ago calling on the government to scrap the scheme. A Unison survey of 1,213 social workers uncovered a number of fears, including that the assessments will heap extra pressure on overstretched teams.
Agenda documents for the union’s local government service group conference, which took place in late June, contained a number of additional measures based around organising to oppose NAAS in these councils and more widely.
Unison’s national officer for local government, Gill Archer, said debate at the conference had been “lively” in reinforcing members’ opposition to NAAS.
“These new tests for children’s social workers should be scrapped,” Archer said.
“They’ll take staff away from vital frontline work helping families enjoy safer, more fulfilling lives,” she added, noting a 2017 Unison survey of 1,213 social workers that uncovered fears the assessments would put further pressure on teams while bringing little benefit to staff or families they support.
Unison will be encouraging its members not to take part on the scheme as it is currently voluntary, Archer said, before adding that the union would be seeking the backing of other organisations.
“Social workers already must meet tough standards ensuring they’re fit to carry out their jobs,” Archer said. “More funding is needed, not more tests that add to the pressures staff already face.”
Community Care contacted several phase-one councils for an update on the accreditation scheme’s rollout and uptake among social workers.
A Bury council spokesperson said: “Staff have had the opportunity to discuss the implications of NAAS with the Department for Education directly, and have independently volunteered to progress to accreditation following an endorsement process.”
Thirteen social workers will be assessed this month in Bury.
The spokesperson added that volunteers were “very positive about the opportunity to inform the future development and shaping of the programme as part of the national rollout”. Participants have received locally commissioned, two-day preparation training, including opportunities to discuss accreditation with other volunteers.
In Leeds, a spokesperson said 62 social workers had so far expressed an interest in completing accreditation. That amounts to 13% of eligible staff, the spokesperson added.
‘Skilled, confident and stable workforce’
And at Manchester council, in a statement provided via the Department for Education (DfE), Paul Marshall, the strategic director for children and education services, said the local authority had got involved with phase one of NAAS in the belief that doing so would help build a “skilled, confident, and stable social work workforce that delivers outstanding help and protection to children and families”.
Similarly to Bury, Marshall said that by getting in early Manchester hoped to influence the NAAS programme’s development.
“We have been clear that the NAAS is about strengthening social work practice and that it is much more than an assessment centre,” Marshall said. “We see it also as an opportunity to refocus us on embedding the knowledge and skills statements that underpin good social work practice and to help us identify strengths and also any gaps in skills and knowledge within our workforce.”
He added that more than 30 Manchester social workers, in child and family practitioner and practice supervisor roles, had put themselves forward to be assessed within phase one, with more expected to follow.
The DfE said more than 200 social workers had been involved in the development of NAAS before the initial rollout, and Nadhim Zahawi, minister for children, said the tests were about improving social workers’ skills.
“The National Assessment and Accreditation System is one part of our plans to raise the status of the profession by helping employers to improve supervision, education and training,” Zahawi said.
He added: “The councils that have volunteered are helping to prepare social workers that have put themselves forward to do the first assessments, with some including it as part of ongoing training and development and others offering one to one support. We continue to work closely with the councils involved and I look forward to hearing from some of the first social workers that have taken part.”