What is the NAAS? Why is it problematic in both implementation and intention? Two pieces by SWAN members that you must read.
Firstly, an urgent and essential critique of the new system, written by a SWAN member who is also in Unison. Share widely.
"Important - Especially For all Child and Family Social Workers.
The government are bringing in a Child and Family National Assessment and Accreditation System. Although in a consultation period, at present 31 local authorities have signed up to the first phase to implement the system. This includes all of the Greater Manchester authorities.
The government has made clear that by 2020 all frontline social workers will need to have passed the tests for approved Child and Family practitioner status, and managers at every level must obtain practice supervisor status.
The system has been criticised for being unworkable and potentially put social workers health and safety at risk. It will create both extra work in an overstretched service and could create emotional stress, especially for people who do not like tests and a workforce who is not used to 'yes' or 'no' answers.
- The system is based on observation of your practice in different contexts and the quality of your written work.
- Online tests: the questions will have a 'yes' or 'no' answer, to test your knowledge such as legislation/child development and procedures.
- Online scenario–based assessment: how do you apply knowledge and skills in practice? Video and multimedia simulations will be used to test decision-making in practice situations with a right and wrong answer.
- The final stage is direct observation of your response to three scenarios with actors, followed by a written exercise and discussing your response with assessors. This is expected to take place in an assessment centre.
The system has been set up by KPMG who won the contract, and Morning Lane, a training company.
Whilst this article was written by a practitioner and Swan member, Unison has some serious concerns and have sent out a questionnaire to union members, asking for feedback in part on the following points:
- Videos are 3 mins in length and reflect the idea of a single solution, or to be precise KPMG single solution. We feel social work and the people we work with are more complex than one solution.
- When being looked at, social workers found the outcomes were too narrow and specific especially around the legal and medical questions.
- The accreditation system is based on quasi facts and what KPMG thinks they can measure, that is not related to social work on the ground.
- The new system's focus is upon the social workers who are good at passing exams and those who fit the criteria for Frontline. There is a concern that older and more experienced social workers could be disadvantaged by the system.
- When the system was being piloted, at least 20% social workers failed the tests.
- Unison feels the national assessment accreditation system is looking to find 'failing' social workers and blame individuals, rather than seeing cuts, a lack of resources and high case loads as having a role.
- “The failure to approach the subject on a systems basis and place in an appropriate context are the overarching and strategic criticisms by BASW”. (Consultation response by BASW). Unison's concern is that the focus of blame will also be put on families - not looking at issues around discrimination or poverty, or taking inequality in to account.
- Unison are concerned that social workers will be so pre-occupied with the tests and passing or failing that the natural learning process, especially for new social workers who gain knowledge from their peers and through supervision, will become secondary.
- In addition the process adds another work task to the already onerous workload carried by social workers and managers. This adds unnecessarily to an already pressurised workforce.
- How does the scheme fit with existing social work training and supervision?
Unison have organised a meeting, designed to inform and encourage debate on this topic has been organised in Salford for MARCH 7TH @ 12.30pm at the Council Chamber.
Secondly, read 10 questions that need answers if we are going to cooperate with NAAS? written by Simon Cardy, Unison activist and SWAN member:
The Governments’ National Assessment and Accreditation System (NASS) consultation document ‘Confidence in practice: child and family social work assessment and accreditation system Government Consultation’ closing date for final submissions ends on the 14th March. The first question as social workers we might need to ask is; is there any point in contributing to the consultation?
Peter Beresford from ‘Shaping Our Lives’ said recently that he very rarely gets involved with consultations because all it does is ask for our views and ‘that’s where it can stop’ (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaZp6qM-fd4). That is not to say that all consultation is a fait accompli or, as Peter says, that consultation is not necessarily being dishonest if it makes it clear that is all it does is to seek views.
The truth is, as many of you know this is part of the Government’s on-going narrative that social work services, social work education, and social workers are ‘failing’ and its latest policy is a simple pass or fail that incidentally even its own equality impact assessment found discriminatory (see https://consult.education.gov.uk/social-work-reform-unit/naas-consultation/supporting_documents/NAAS_EIA_WEB201216.pdf)
In the forward to ‘Confidence in Practice’ the government minister makes no effort to invite either service users or the social work profession to participate in the consultation. The document assumes everyone is in agreement with NAAS and all it wants to do is ask us what colour would we like to paint the walls? In any event, as if there was any doubt about it, the government has pre-empted any meaningful consultation by rolling out the scheme to 31 local authority pilots. Pilots usually come after formal consultation not before. In short the government have not only made up its mind or want to listen to alternatives - it has already begun the process and in that sense, is deeply dishonest.
If individuals wish to submit a response by the 14th March (by 11:45) they should be encouraged to do so and whilst they are likely to be ignored at least you can say they didn’t know what you think about NAAS.
We should be reminded of UNISON’s policy as set out at last summer’s local government delegate conference about which the full text can be read here https://www.unison.org.uk/events/local-government-conference-2016/ (click on decisions 7. Crisis in social work) which, amongst many things agreed to ‘work with other social work organisations such as the British Association of Social Workers and the Social Work Action Network in order to stand up for the wider social work profession in the face of continued Government attacks’.
My feeling is that there is still a lot to play for. Who’s to say that NAAS is a contractual obligation? In the short term we need to focus on what we don’t know and the best way to respond to address this is collectively though our trade unions and social work organisations like SWAN. Attending meetings like the one on the 7th of March if you live in the North West is a start.
So here are 10 questions that we need to know:
1. The status of NAAS is still very unclear - is it a qualification, is it a training award, is it a post-graduate qualification, what is it? It is also not clear which body grants the award - it the employer? Is it a NAAS board? Is it KPMG/Morning Lane who might argue shall own the intellectual rights? None of this is clear in the official documents so far that I can see. Whatever it is NAAS is more than a just a training programme - it is effectively a qualification and which will give career advantage in a competitive interview over those social workers without accreditation?
2. There are no proposals to financially reward social workers with increased pay. What is the impact on the knowledge and skill element of single status job evaluation will have on grades in typical authorities.
3. Why should a social worker who has failed, what is a cornerstone element of the accreditation test, be expected to continue to hold responsibility lead responsibility on a section 47 (Children Act 1989) investigation and hold child protection case holder responsibility? If the government is saying all social workers who lead on CP case need to be at this standard - what is that saying about ASYE or non-accredited social workers. What will the public expect when they find out that their children's social worker is not accredited? This might come up in care proceedings where parent’s solicitors make demands that the social worker should be accredited - especially in complex cases.
4. On the flip side, what is the incentive (leaving aside if the test is mandatory or not) of a social worker to pass the test if, when if they fail, they are still expected by their employer to have case holder responsibility for Child Protection?
5. Why should children's social workers be expected to face the pressure of accreditation when adult social workers are not - especially if they are not going to be paid any more salary? Whilst there may be plans to introduce accreditation for frontline adults’ social workers, the early indication is this will be confined to specialism’s - and is not going to happen any time soon. This might affect the number of newly qualified social workers going into children’s services.
6. If, as some commentators say, it's equivalent to AMHP award(Approved Mental Health Professional) then why is the role of an AMHP to undertake mental health assessments protected by statute and a NAAS accredited social worker not. The answer I suspect is that employers have poured cold water on any such idea as it would cause social work shortages. This view has been expressed by ADCS.
7. The employer has the power to decide if a social worker is put forward. The government states that " Employers should have a central role in the process because they have experience of a social worker’s practice through direct observation and access to feedback from children and families" ('Confidence in Practice' consultation document P20 bullet pt 1). What happens if an individual does not want to be put forward? What happens if they want to be put forward and the employer refuses? If the test is mandatory why would any employer refuse?
8. And what is the fate of those that fail the test. The chief social worker has stated that those that fail will retain their HCPC registration. This means that HCPC registered social workers can continue to practice providing they don’t undertake statutory duties (such as child protection). That could mean that a non accredited social worker could co-work a child protection case if it was allocated to an accredited worker. This could lead to allocation in 'name only' as sometimes happens with social work assistant roles. However, the government plans to create a new regulatory body over which it will have more influence. It is not to say that in future children's social workers will be able to practice in local authorities in any kind of statutory role if they are not accredited under the new regulatory body.
9. The government have said 'over time' (Confidence in Practice P11) it wants all child and family social workers holding certain responsibilities to become accredited. Does this mean that employers will initiate capability procedures after 2 or 3 attempts to become accredited? This is quite possible and if the pilot figures are anything to go by this could be as much as 20% of the workforce (see http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2016/07/07/one-fifth-social-workers-failed-accreditation-pilot/).
10. And finally, what are the consequences of declining to undertake the test for refuseniks? As things stand, providing social workers were willing to undertake section 47 investigations, hold child protection case work responsibility, whilst at the same time maintaining their registration, it would difficult to dismiss an employee. One option might be that in future NAAS is made a condition of registration but given registration is for adult and children’s social workers and the new regulator shall have a degree of independence, that might make it difficult for the conservative reformists. Far more likely is that employers will re-write employment contracts where employment as a children’s social worker will become conditional on a NAAS pass within a specified time limit.