Unison tells its social workers not to do accreditation tests as rollout begins

Union steps up campaign against contentious government scheme of accrediting social workers, which is being rolled out at five pilot councils this year

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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.

Organising opposition

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.”

‘Positive opportunity’

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.”

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8 Responses to Unison tells its social workers not to do accreditation tests as rollout begins

  1. A Man Called Horse July 17, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

    The Social Workers who are volunteering are either Tories or just plain as green as grass. The problems in Social Work are well known and will not be addressed by yet more training. I put it to any Social Workers reading this do you know what will happen to those who fail these tests? Ask your employer that question? The DFE I believe said it will be up to Employers how they respond. Decoding that statement, looks like they might face capability and possible loss of employment. At best it leads to a two tier workforce those who have passed and those who have not passed, divisive especially as this could well be used in performance pay reviews.
    How about tests for thick members of parliament who are overpaid, under-employed and offer no value to the taxpayer whatsoever, now that would get my support.

    • Darcy July 20, 2018 at 5:21 pm #

      Spot on totally agree. And what about the older social workers if they fail accreditation after years of service; a ploy to push them out?

      • Joe July 26, 2018 at 10:42 am #

        I agree, and can’t understand why social workers are accepting to have accreditation forced on them? I don’t think that accreditation will be anything like a true reflection of a social worker’s ability to do the job and work with children and families.

        Why should social workers have accreditation tests if MPs do not. For instance, there was a recent poll of MPs by positive money that found a worrying lack of understanding of the UK’s money and banking system across the House of Commons. The poll finds that only 15% of MPs are aware of how most money is created in the modern economy and these people are meant to be representing the interests of the public.

        Similarly MPs have voted to continue to have pay rises while public sector workers have had a pay cap and social workers don’t seem to be included in the latest public sector pay rise.

        How can social workers advocate for social justice and positive change in society when as a professional group they can’t advocate for themselves.

  2. Shirley Ross July 18, 2018 at 8:29 am #

    I see nothing in this piece that makes it clear this scheme applies only to England

  3. Mike July 18, 2018 at 10:06 pm #

    Did all those who put themselves forward volunteer? Nonetheless less experienced staff should walk this test, it’s our bread and butter! If this improves practice it must be good! Are all senior managers taking the test to? What’s next after acreditation…….

  4. CB July 20, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    A test alone doesn’t improve practice. Yes, it may highlight gaps but is this being used with a basis of providing training for those who need it or to pay them less. A two tier system, loss of morale and a devalued workforce. Are we going to see other professionals such as health and police tested and accredited too? Where does it stop. Why are they not incorporating the learning they want social workers to have into the social work courses at university rather than testing everyone now? Workers are already stretched and struggling with caseloads

  5. John July 23, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    I would love to know how this accreditation (TEST) will build a “skilled, confident, and stable social work workforce”. From a Sector that struggles to recruit in the first place, I am not sure how further scrutiny on Social Workers will be stabilising. Clearly I am missing something. Not only would this create a two tier system in Children’s what happens for Adult Social Workers?

    • A Man Called Horse July 26, 2018 at 8:56 am #

      The plan is to downgrade Social Workers working with adults and replace with lower skilled cheaper workers supervised by Social Workers. What I would say is that Adult Care Teams are also being swamped with Safeguarding cases so doing this downgrade has its risks.