Government scraps NAAS social work accreditation scheme

No more social workers will be tested under national assessment and accreditation system, which will be replaced by scheme providing ‘better experience for social workers’

Department for Education

The Department for Education has scrapped its national assessment and accreditation system (NAAS) for children’s social workers.

It plans to introduce a replacement accreditation programme later this year, designed to be “more sustainable” and deliver “a better overall experience for social workers” that was “more meaningful” for them and employers. This is likely to be based on remote testing, rather than the in-person model delivered through NAAS assessment centres.

The decision to end the controversial scheme was welcomed by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and UNISON, with the latter saying that it had “needlessly piled extra pressure on social workers”.

More than 1,700 accredited

Since being introduced in 2018, more than 1,700 frontline practitioners and practice supervisors have been accredited across 69 local authorities and children’s trusts. This is equivalent to just over 5% of the children’s statutory workforce. As of 2020, the scheme had cost the public purse £24m.

The DfE’s original plan was for all children’s social workers to be assessed by 2020, which it later revised to rolling out the scheme from that year following a series of trial phases.

However, since its conception in 2014 as a means of assessing social workers against core knowledge and skills requirements, it has been beset by a lack of buy-in from sector bodies and lower-than-expected engagement from practitioners. It was also stalled in 2020 by the pandemic.

No more assessments

Announcing the closure in an email to local authority NAAS leads this week, the DfE said it would hold no further tests at its assessment centres. It had already cancelled assessment centres it had planned to operate this month in order to minimise non-essential journeys as part of ‘Plan B’ Covid measures. Social workers booked for January assessments will not be able to rebook.

The NAAS online portal will close at the end of February, after which candidates enrolled in the scheme will not be able to access their results and certificates.

DfE said it would write to candidates to encourage them to download their certificates and results before the February deadline and that the NAAS site’s knowledge hub would continue to be available until 31 March.

Shift to online testing mooted

The department said it remained committed to assessing and accrediting social workers against the post-qualifying standards (formerly the knowledge and skills statements) for child and family practitioners and practice supervisors, as under NAAS.

It indicated to NAAS leads that its decision to scrap the scheme was partly motivated by the challenge and cost of delivering tests through in-person assessments.

In a Q&A seen by Community Care, it said ending the scheme would “allow us the opportunity to develop a new approach and deliver assessment on a more sustainable basis, while offering more flexibility and a better overall experience for social workers”.

“This decision has been informed by feedback from social workers and local authorities, as well as learning from other professions that have moved to remote assessment during the pandemic,” it added.

In developing the replacement scheme, the department said it would “explore the possibility of moving towards assessments that can be taken outside of traditional centres, instead making greater use of digital technology”.

“We will be ending the current model of NAAS to develop a revised approach that takes account of feedback from the sector and learnings from the pandemic, while retaining the same rigour, consistency and user-focus,” a DfE spokesperson said.

The department encouraged the 69 local authorities that had piloted NAAS to continue to embed the post-qualifying standards (PQS) into their learning cultures.

“The PQS remain an important part of understanding the expectations of the knowledge and skills child and family social workers need to carry out their roles effectively,” it told NAAS leads. “Social workers felt that having the mechanisms to evaluate performance against the PQS was one of the most beneficial aspects of NAAS. We would encourage local authorities/trusts who have embedded the PQS to continue to do so, and to build their learning cultures locally.”

It also confirmed that accredited social workers would still be able to use their status.

Mixed evaluation of scheme

In the briefing to NAAS leads, the DfE said that while an evaluation of the scheme published in November 2020 showed some benefits, “it also found that we must do more to make assessment and accreditation more meaningful to social workers and their employers”.

The study, by analytics firm Kantar, surveyed social workers that had been through NAAS. Just under a quarter of those in the first two pilot groups said, before their assessments, that they felt NAAS would improve their ability as a social worker, rising to 36% of those in the third group.

Practitioners viewed assessment against the PQS as the most beneficial aspect of the scheme, while leaders felt NAAS had accelerated the embedding of the standards in local areas. However, while practitioners found assessments a positive experience, they “often felt that there was very little support and reflection from their employers post-assessment for those who had met the accreditation”.

And only between 10% and 17% of practitioners in successive surveys felt that NAAS would have a positive impact on staff morale, with 38% to 55% of respondents saying it would not.

Controversial value-for-money claims

The report also made tentative claims – based on findings from the first five pilot authorities – that implementing NAAS had saved between £2.03-£2.28 for every £1 invested in implementation, through reduced use of agency staff and numbers of children on child protection plans and in care. It said this potentially overestimated the impact because the analysis did not control for the impact of other interventions that might have generated the same results.

Last year, social work lecturer Robin Sen raised concerns with the UK Statistics Authority about the DfE’s subsequent use of the value for money claims in correspondence with stakeholders as “indicative early findings”, but without the caveats set out in the evaluation.

In response to Sen, the UK Statistics Authority said that the limitations of the methodology underpinning the cost saving claims should have been made clearer by the DfE.

Directors welcome programme’s scrapping

In response to the decision to end NAAS, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said it had “long held reservations about the necessity and value for money” of the scheme.

Rachael Wardell, chair of ADCS’s workforce development policy committee, said the DfE’s decision to end the scheme offered an “opportunity to invest in other parts of the wider children’s workforce that equally need our attention, such as early help services, and to think differently about further development of the social work workforce”.

“Many local authorities will have their own CPD offer in place to support social workers and it is important that they are given the financial means to continue or expand these offers,” she said.

“We also know that retaining enough experienced social workers is a big challenge and ADCS urges the government to use this opportunity to develop a national recruitment and retention strategy to encourage more people into the profession, and crucially to want to stay. We look forward to working with the department in the coming months.”

‘Millions wasted on unnecessary scheme’

UNISON national officer for social work Gill Archer said: “NAAS needlessly piled extra pressure on social workers already straining under their huge caseloads, and removed them from frontline work.

“Millions of pounds have been wasted on an unnecessary scheme when robust systems were in place to ensure standards. What’s really missing is proper funding and resources.

“This closure is welcome and UNISON will be having discussions with the Department for Education on a new approach.”

The department contracted consultancy Mott MacDonald to deliver the NAAS and will not renew its contract when it expires at the end of March.

A spokesperson for Mott MacDonald said it was “proud of our work and the progress achieved by the NAAS programme”.

Call for ‘transparent evaluation’ of scheme

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said many of its members had not supported NAAS and questioned the government’s investment in the scheme.

“We welcome the ending of the current model of NAAS and expect a full and transparent evaluation of NAAS up to 2020 including financial investment and impact and measurements of success,” said a BASW spokesperson.

“Prior to any future proposals about a revised approach to additional assessment and accreditation of children and family practitioners and supervisors the sector and trade union movement should be consulted and heard.”

Details of new scheme unclear

Apart from a suggested focus on digital assessments, there are no other details of how the scheme replacing NAAS will differ. It is also unclear how other government policy commitments tied to NAAS will be fulfilled.

The government’s autism strategy, published in July 2021, stated that, in future, social workers going through NAAS would be assessed on their knowledge of practice with autistic children.

And a report for the government in June 2020 said that social workers carrying out assessments for private law proceedings should be NAAS accredited to tackle significant weaknesses, particularly in relation to domestic abuse.

DfE could not confirm whether the new programme would take on the role assigned to NAAS assessments in these reports.

9 Responses to Government scraps NAAS social work accreditation scheme

  1. Alec Fraher January 14, 2022 at 2:22 pm #

    réal time direct observation and feedback from colleagues works then… who’d have thought, eh!

  2. Tom J January 14, 2022 at 2:55 pm #

    For £1 spent on NAAS it saved between £2.03-£2.28!!!! I am willing to call bull on that claim. It very much reminds me of the ‘study’ below showing that for every £1 a person spends on Jammy Dodgers they save £3.

    JAMMY DODGERS STUDY: £3 saved for every £1 spent.

    ”I myself have done some impressive calculations that show that if I eat a jammy dodger today, not only will I have saved money by eating a jammy dodger rather than some beluga caviar, but that the additional sugar content of the jammy dodger will mean that I have a reduced life expectancy, which means that I won’t need to set aside money for my retirement, an impressive saving.

    Additionally, eating the jammy dodger has a 5% chance of assisting me not to take up smoking, and as I might otherwise smoke for the next twenty years, that’s a cost saving that I need to factor in. The time I spend eating the jammy dodger might be time that I otherwise spend on my Playstation on the Hitman Beta, and thus there is a chance that there might be medical savings to be recouped from the potential in years to come of carpal tunnel syndrome.

    My dog might benefit from any crumbs I have dropped, meaning a saving on dog biscuits. I do have to offset for the additional electricity that the hoover will consume to pick up any crumbs that the dog misses (but knowing my dog, that is quite unlikely). It is also quite plausible that if I had not had the momentary high of the chewy jamminess of the biscuit that I might eventually end up trying to compensate for this by taking up an expensive hobby such as hang-gliding with associated start up costs – the NHS could save substantially by not having to treat the broken leg that I could notionally sustain.

    All in all, it emerges that every pound I spend on Jammy Dodgers results in a saving to me of £3”.

  3. Stuart Mackenzie blakeston January 14, 2022 at 3:03 pm #

    £ 24 million pounds wasted

    • William January 17, 2022 at 3:57 pm #

      ‘spaffed’ is the word you are looking for.

  4. Anne-Marie Marshall January 14, 2022 at 3:13 pm #

    Seems to me that professional social workers do not need an ill conceived accreditation scheme. We are after all professionally qualified practitioners ( I wonder what barristers, doctors or even chartered accountants would say if such a scheme was imposed on them ).

    What we do need are adequate resources and realistic caseloads so that we are enabled to carry out the vital service we all endeavour to provide.

    It’s about time this hopeless government got something right.

    Good riddance NASS.

  5. Fed up Social Worker January 14, 2022 at 4:07 pm #

    Didn’t many of us say this right at the start?! A total and shameful waste of money and resources. Just a suggestion D of E, maybe try talking to and listening to your Social Workers about what we may want and need, rather than wasting money on unnecessary and unwanted scemes such as this. And they wonder why they can’t recruit and retain staff!!

  6. Hilary Searing January 15, 2022 at 9:18 am #

    This notion of remote testing is totally inappropriate. The idea of lifting standards of practice requires a much better understanding of the role and task of Children’s Social Workers. The profession is facing a crisis of confidence and should therefore be doing much more to raise public confidence in social workers’ professional judgements. I wrote about the Approved Child and Family
    Practitioner Status in 2014 in my article which can be seen at https://radical.org.uk/barefoot/approvedsw.htm

  7. Simon Cardy January 15, 2022 at 5:53 pm #

    The headline is a bit misleading as the article goes on to report that NAAS is not so much scrapped but ‘revised’.

    Let’s face it:

    NAAS has been poor value for money. £24 Million has produced 1700 certificates of attendance at 14K per head. The Government’s official evaluation of NAAS misleadingly claimed that it provided savings ‘of between £2.03 and £2.28 for every £1 spent’ and even reduced admissions to care. Following a challenge by academic @robin_23_99 and correspondence with the UK Statistical Authority about the research methodology, the DfE accepted that the data had flaws. See:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/19h-rEGQRpmY9l9qYfg9ZnVNyAwyVjWqi/view

    NAAS is not universally supported by social workers. Many feel they have undertaken a long process of university study followed by a probationary period and an ASYE. The lack of enthusiasm led to several authorities introducing financial incentives to encourage take up funded out out of the NAAS grant see:

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/national_assessment_and_accredit_10#incoming-1535775

    NAAS does not address unmanageable workloads and the need for caseload ceilings, a measure that would increase standards.

    NAAS contracts have been handed to private companies whose shareholders and directors have been the main beneficiary as I pointed out here:

    https://sw2020covid19.group.shef.ac.uk/2020/04/08/is-it-time-to-wind-up-the-national-accreditation-assessment-system/

    NAAS is a limited short-term career opportunity. It does not address the need for continuous professional development or help with retaining experienced social workers beyond the average 8 year career span. It may well be the long term plan that social workers may have to re-take NAAS every 3-5 years. If that is the case, we need to be told.

    NAAS does not and has not raised standards any more than any other measure: its impact has been marginal.

    NAAS, as a one-off 11 plus like test, does not take account of differential learning styles and mirrors the current government’s victorian approach to education. Concerns were also raised as to its discriminatory affect on black, ethic minority and older workers. It was never clear as to how these concerns were resolved.

    NAAS does not address the fact that basic social work professional standards cannot be established and maintained over time without critically thinking creative knowledgable skilled supported practitioners.

    In terms of the way it appears that the DfE have little intention of consulting having already taken ‘feedback’ they claim.

    The West Midlands Teaching Partnership put together a reasonable attempt at what CDP looks like in the region. It shows how fragmented PQ has become:

    https://www.wmteachingpartnership.org.uk/cpd-framework

    If there is a window of opportunity we should argue for a restored and expanded PQ framework led and develped by the sector rather than KPMG, under the principle of ‘continuous’ professional development across the career span with options for more practitioner specialisms with awards that are accredited accademically.

    The problem we is the fact that the the current government’s objective is to sideline the role of employer/higher education partnerships and give away contracts to private sector consultancies and companies who have no interest or commitment in social work. Until this changes expect NAAS mark 2 in much the same arrangement.

  8. Dee January 15, 2022 at 7:16 pm #

    1.700 out of how many registered social workers over 98,000?out of which there must be at least 50% work in either children’s or adult services.

    Here’s a thought, why not work with Social Work England to streamline the process of assessing social workers knowledge, skills and ongoing professional development. Reflective pieces can now be linked to feedback with a peer or other professional and a wide range of learning opportunities can be considered in a creative manner.

    Let’s encourage and enhance professional curiosity, openness and meaningful engagement with colleagues across services. A social worker working with adults, who have a family, must be able to identify risks and respond just as must as a counterpart working within children services must be able to identify risks when a parent have a physical or cognitive disability that places not just the children at risk but the parents as well.

    I say st risk, as too many colleagues continue to refer to adults as “vulnerable”! This is no longer the case in law as the care act is clear in this. I digress 😄

    This is an opportunity!!

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