An overwhelming 91% of social workers think the introduction of the new assessment and accreditation scheme should not be a priority for the social work profession.
A survey of 100 social workers carried out by public sector union UNISON found that social workers would rather the government focused on funding, training and reducing caseloads.
“The Government’s reform agenda for social work is clearly out of step with the wishes of the workforce,” said Heather Wakefield, UNISON’s head of local government. “Social workers gave their own views on what the priorities for the profession should be. From the answers that were given some clear themes emerged. They were a need for social work to be resourced and funded adequately, for more training to be provided for the workforce, for caseload levels to be reduced and for more to be done to retain staff.”
The assessment and accreditation scheme was due to be introduced earlier this year but the government is currently analysing the results of a pilot scheme before moving forwards.
Under the scheme unveiled by chief social worker Isabelle Trowler, social workers will face a four-stage programme. Initially, employers will endorse social workers to take the test, based on observations of their practice and written work. Social workers then face an online test which will be followed by a scenario-based online assessment of their critical reasoning and decision-making, applying competencies set out in the knowledge and skills statement. Candidates will be observed in three practice simulations and also submit an essay of their reasoning behind decisions and actions.
The Chief Social Worker said she was extremely keen to hear the views of UNISON members who have taken part in the trial, which was piloted between December 2015 and February 2016 at a number of local councils.
UNISON carried out a survey in March 2016 for social workers at the councils where the scheme was being piloted and 100 social workers from 15 different councils completed the survey.
The findings include:
While the DfE said participation in the pilot would not be mandatory, 84% of social workers said that they were not given a choice.
66% said they were not given any support by their managers in the process.
52% of social workers were given dedicated time off to complete the assessment.
54% said social workers will not have enough time to undertake the full assessment and accreditation scheme when it is rolled out. A further 28% said they didn’t know enough about the full assessment and accreditation scheme to answer.
On a positive note, 60% felt that the digital assessment testing process itself was clear and understandable once they undertook the process.
However, the survey revealed that:
Only 16% of social workers felt that the digital assessment scheme provided a good way of testing their competencies as a social worker.
84% did not feel that it provided a good way of testing their competencies.
73% thought the assessment and accreditation scheme would not benefit children and family social workers.
One respondent said: “It [the scheme] did not take account of specialism and was too generic thus stripping us of our unique skills. Demoralising as a result as questions were broad and in fields non specific to my role”.
Another added: “[There should be] more emphasis on asking social workers to talk about what their thinking, what ideas influence their thinking. Surprisingly there was little or no investigation about theory of change and what ideas or theory we draw upon in thinking about change oriented social work.”
Ms Wakefield said: “UNISON believe that the findings of the survey highlight how the Government is failing to address the fundamental problems facing social work. A new assessment and accreditation scheme for social workers will do nothing whatsoever to resolve these key issues; a lack of resources and funding, caseloads that are too high, low morale and high levels of staff turnover.
“The findings also reveal that the Assessment and Accreditation scheme itself has shortcomings, not all of which are linked to the wider challenges facing the workforce. The majority of social workers who responded to the survey stated that it does not test adequately test their key competencies. The scheme needs to be substantially reworked and improved before it is rolled out to the rest of the workforce,” she concluded.
UNISON shall be sharing the results of the survey with the Department for Education.