Jacky, former Director of Children's Services in Bexley, has worked in social work for many years.
Here, she shares her thoughts on why the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS) makes sense for professions, like social work, where frontline practitioners make significant and life-changing decisions that affect families and children.
When I worked on the Munro Review, we often talked about the training provision of GPs and medics. Specifically about how normal and expected it had become for those professions.
Social workers make important decisions about children and their family lives. It's skilled work that demands the same level of attention as other professions. The outcomes are just as important.
That’s why NAAS, which aims to enable child and family social workers to continue to develop the skills and knowledge to improve outcomes for children and families, makes sense for the profession. It has the potential to strengthen and grow the workforce. Any profession given the opportunity to think about development should take it.
Volunteering to take NAAS myself
I wanted Bexley Council to get involved in the phased rollout of NAAS because I wanted to be able to influence it. As a society, we have sometimes lost sight of what social work is and what authority social workers have. I wanted to make sure we created an accreditation system that linked to the work social workers do daily.
Because I was involved in the early stages of NAAS, I’ve seen it develop first-hand. I’m reassured by the fact it accredits the parts of the job that are the most important to good social work practice.
For me, it is about enhancing the most important social work skills – being able to balance the use of authority with empathy and respect for families and children. And being able to make a transparent and clear set of judgments at the same time.
There are several reasons why I volunteered to take the assessment. I did not want to ask anyone to do anything that I would not be willing to do myself. I knew social workers and managers were anxious about it. I wanted to understand how they might be feeling so I could offer more tailored support that would make a difference.
Shaping professional development for all social workers
Volunteering for NAAS has helped me shape our learning and development offer at Bexley Council. I was able to reflect on the need for learning groups as well as dedicated time for social workers to prepare for the assessment.
As I’ve cleared time in my diary, I would want to provide the same opportunities to others. I’ve been happy to allow that extra resource because I’m involved in the process and hear directly from social workers. As leaders, we sometimes make it difficult for our profession to grow. We need to remain in touch with the practice and what needs to change.
Practice endorsement is the first stage of the accreditation process. It is where an employer deems the social worker ready to go forward and take the assessment. For Bexley, the approach to practice endorsement included writing a portfolio, personal reflection and feedback from others. It’s important to create learning opportunities for everyone. It can be too easy to self-narrate about the work that we do.
Even as senior managers in an organisation, we need to check we have the right balance of knowledge and skills. I don’t want to be immune to the need to grow as a professional. I want to encourage learning opportunities that bring me closer to practise. It is important to debunk the myth that more senior staff don’t need to develop themselves too.
Let’s practise consistent standards together
I encourage other senior leaders to find out more about NAAS. It is only by being curious and seeing it for yourselves that you’ll be able to make a valued judgement about it.
There is no escaping the fact that we, as sector leaders, need to find ways for our profession to develop. To practice against consistent standards, whether we have accreditation or not.
We all need to be fluent in the same practice language. Social workers should be making the best decisions for children and their families.
I encourage you to find out about NAAS for yourselves. To look deeply at the Post-Qualifying Standards (PQS) that underpin the framework because they are fantastic touchpoints for ensuring great practice delivery.
Are you a senior leader looking for advice on how to embrace NAAS in your organisation? Take a look at the NAAS communications strategy on GOV.UK.