Guidance on the National Assessment and Accreditation System

Social Work Today explains the new accreditation scheme for child and family practitioners ahead of its national roll-out in 2020.

Announced in 2015, the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS), is the new certification for child and family practitioners and practice supervisors. After a number of consultations with social workers and academics, as well as two development phases, the Government is preparing for the nationwide roll-out of this new accreditation scheme in early 2020.

Who is NAAS for?
NAAS has currently been developed for all qualified front-line practitioners, those who have recently completed their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), and practice supervisors working with children and families. A version for practice leaders is still under development and is not expected to be included in the initial national roll-out in 2020.

What does the NAAS assessment entail?
The NAAS assessment is made up of three sections that social workers must complete in order to pass.

Practice endorsement
The first section, known as the practice endorsement process, screens the readiness of a potential candidate to take the NAAS assessment. A candidate requires a signed statement from a manager to confirm their suitability for the assessment. There are no minimum requirements to pass this stage. Candidates are subsequently permitted to take part in one of the NAAS assessment days, which last for about four hours.

Knowledge assessment
The second section, known as the knowledge assessment, is the first stage of the assessment day. It lasts one hour and consists of 30 questions: 18 short general knowledge questions and 12 applied knowledge questions based on a given scenario. These questions can be either single or multi-answer. This latter format requires candidates to choose multiple correct answers from a list of options.

Simulated practice
The third and final section, the simulated practice assessment, lasts for around two hours and consists of two separate, fictitious scenarios. Candidates are briefed and given 10 minutes’ preparation time before the start of each scenario, which lasts around 15 minutes. Following the scenarios, candidates receive a further 15 minutes of preparation time for the reflective assessment: a verbal analysis of each scenario to an assessor. Finally, candidates have 30 minutes to complete a written assessment based on one of the scenarios that they have taken part in. The questions vary, but could entail a brief overview of the scenario, an analysis of a certain aspect, or any professional actions that the candidate would make if the situation were real.

Will my employer help me prepare?
Participating organisations have utilised a variety of methods to ensure that candidates have the best chance possible to pass, including organising mock assessment days for staff, peer support, and time off for study.

What happens if I fail?
Candidates will be notified of their results after 30 days. If they receive an “unmet” outcome, they will be unsuccessful and may have to retake certain sections, or start the entire process again.

Is it compulsory?
As of January 2020, it is not compulsory to take NAAS and it is not tied to an individual’s registration as a social worker. There are also currently no costs involved for the candidate. In December 2017, the Department for Education confirmed the new accreditation’s status as “not a mandatory qualification”, adding their “intention that all child and family social workers, over time, will aspire to achieve this post-qualifying status”. The Government instead wants “to create an expectation of accreditation” over time. The document also confirms that NAAS will remain a voluntary accreditation for the time being and its voluntary status will only be re-evaluated “following the outcome of [these] testing phases” at which time “a decision will be taken on the appropriateness of mandatory assessment in the future”.

Why should I take it?
The Government says that NAAS is designed to standardise the levels of practice, knowledge, and skills across post-qualified social workers by creating a consistent system of assessment against the knowledge and skills statements (KSS). The Government maintains that it will help social workers gain a better understanding of their practice and allow employers to have closer, more personalised, support networks with their staff.

Do I have to take it more than once?
At the time of writing, the Government has yet to confirm how often the accreditation would have to be retaken, if at all, across a social worker’s career. What has been the reaction to NAAS? In 2017, the Government scaled back its plans for phase one of NAAS following backlash from sector bodies and front-line social workers. Originally, all 30,000 practitioners were to be assessed by 2020. However, by the end of 2019, the number of social workers actually assessed sat at less than 3,000. In 2017 and 2018, surveys carried out by The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) showed that 51% of social workers surveyed did not support the introduction of a new accreditation system. Some of those surveyed even suggested to BASW that they would look to leave the profession should the new assessment become compulsory.

High levels of investment
Only 3% of those surveyed by BASW considered the new system to be value for money. Much of the criticism has been aimed at the perceived high level of investment in the development and implementation of a new accreditation system, rather than on front-line services. The Government awarded consultancy firm Mott MacDonald a combined £6.7 million deal to run the assessment centres and a £445,000 contract to research company Kantar to evaluate phase two of the roll-out ahead of the nationwide launch.

Relationship with other accreditations
Of those surveyed, 60% felt that the existence of both the Post Qualifying Award (PQSW) and the Advanced Award (AASW) should eliminate any need for NAAS. Many also felt that the introduction of a new accreditation scheme was unnecessary considering the level of practice development already required. The Assisted and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) scheme, regulation and internal checks carried out by employers, and the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) system will all stay in place.

Government response
Both the Government and the Children and Families Principal Social Worker Network have stressed what they consider to be the importance of creating a “baseline” of standards for social workers. The Government also says that it does not see NAAS specifically as a form of “test,” but rather as “a confirmation of the quality of [a social worker’s] knowledge and skill”, and is keen to receive feedback to better “understand how NAAS affects commitment, morale, [and] career plans”.

Despite the backlash, there has been positive feedback for the smooth running of assessment days, and some have spoken of the positive effect the assessment had on their self-belief in their abilities as a social worker.

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