The Department for Education (DfE) will award a fresh contract to complete the initial stages of its controversial scheme to accredit children’s social workers, which the government has revealed has cost £18.4m to date.
This week the DfE published an invitation to tender for the completion of the second phase of the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS), which 51 local authorities have now joined, adding to the five phase-one councils who account for most of the social workers assessed to date.
The second phase, which is due to be followed by a national rollout of the programme next spring, was originally meant to be delivered in full through a £3.6 million contract with international consultancy firm Mott MacDonald running up to March 2020, and see at least 900 social workers accredited within just 12 to 15 local authorities.
That contract also covered a conclusion and handover phase, including an evaluation and final report to be prepared with research partner Kantar.
A DfE spokesperson said Mott MacDonald had met all its obligations. However, recruiting 36 more local authority partners than originally expected – each of whom have been paid grants to support their participation, in addition to associated costs such as administering test centres – meant the value of the original contract had already been met, necessitating a new tendering process to enable the work to be completed.
Separately, Nadhim Zahawi, who today was reshuffled out of his role as children’s minister, has provided details of NAAS spend to date in response to a written question from former shadow children’s minister – and ex-social worker – Emma Lewell-Buck.
Zahawi said £4.6m had gone on preparation costs and £4.1m on introducing assessments up to June 2018.
A further £3.7m was paid to private consultants running assessment centres between July 2018 and May 2019, while £6m went in direct grants to local authorities, to support NAAS-related activities, during the 2018-19 financial year.
The government has never set out an anticipated cost for the full rollout of NAAS and the DfE did not provide one in response to this article. In 2017 the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) estimated it at £23m, which it said did not represent good value.
The cost of the new contract will be made public after it is awarded, with the bidding period closing on 26 August 2019.
Payments for participation
NAAS is due to be rolled out nationally in spring 2020 but critics have been concerned that too few practitioners will have been accredited in time to enable a proper evaluation of the scheme.
More on NAAS
In May Community Care reported that only 300 social workers were due to have been assessed by the end of that month – leaving the government with work to do to reach its target of 1,200 to 2,300 accredited across all early-adopter councils by 2020, even allowing for the expanded pool of participating authorities.
At the time, some phase one councils had assessed or were on track to assess around 20% of their social workers while one, Leeds, said it had only assessed 1.5%.
Meanwhile phase two authorities, some of which are paying social workers up to £1,000 to take part in the voluntary scheme, had just begun accrediting staff or were still in the planning stages.
Earlier this month Rachel Dickinson, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), warned that low take-up of NAAS was because social workers had not yet been convinced of the scheme’s benefits.
The association has argued that the programme must be mandatory in order to avoid creating a two-tier workforce, a perspective echoed by social workers we interviewed in May.
‘Hard to predict the eventual national cost’
In response to the figures produced by Zahawi, Rachael Wardell, chair of the ADCS workforce development policy committee, said it was “difficult to predict what the eventual national cost of NAAS” might be.
“However, in the context of austerity and rising demand for our services, ADCS continues to question whether the £18.4m the government states it has spent so far represents good value for money,” she added. “Instead this funding would be much better directed at frontline and early help services which are experiencing a real strain on resources, and in the retention of social workers.”
In a statement, Zahawi said: “NAAS is key to providing the best possible service for disadvantaged children, setting a clear benchmark for assessing and accrediting child and family social workers to ensure those in the profession have the right knowledge and skills.
“[The new] contract will help meet the high demand from councils that want to take part. We will continue to work with social workers and use their feedback to shape the future of the system and deliver for children in care.”
This year’s Community Care Live 2019 boasts over 30 free learning sessions to equip you to face the key challenges in social work practice today. You can also sign up to any of our eight legal learning sessions to help ensure you have the legal literacy your role requires. Register now to ensure you don’t miss out.