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Quarter of social workers say CPD is ‘box ticking exercise’ while 60% don’t have time

More than a quarter of social workers in England see Continued Professional Development as a box ticking exercise, research has found.

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CPD is a requirement of registration with Social Work England and all social workers must record a minimum of one piece of CPD per registration period, although the regulator recommends that CPD should be recorded four times a year or more as good practice.

However, research by the regulator found that 27% of social workers felt CPD was a box ticking exercise. This feeling was mirrored by some in the qualitative research and appears to have been magnified since recording of CPD became a requirement by Social Work England, with a small number describing it now being a ‘chore’, ‘a hassle’ and ‘onerous’.

One social worker said: “I think ‘oh here we go again - oh god’. I am already busy and then I have to do it. It is like a chore. It is a hassle. But it does keep you up [to] date as techniques change.”

Another social worker in a focus group said: “Occasionally feels like a bit of a chore just to meet regulatory demands.”

CPD standard

The one piece of CPD which is required to be completed each year can be logged at any time throughout the year. There are 8 parts to the CPD standard which social workers have to adhere to:

  • Incorporate feedback from a range of sources, including from people with lived experience of my social work practice.
  • Use supervision and feedback to critically reflect on, and identify my learning needs, including how I use research and evidence to inform my practice.
  • Keep my practice up to date and record how I use research, theories and frameworks to inform my practice and my professional judgement.
  • Demonstrate good subject knowledge on key aspects of social work practice and develop knowledge of current issues in society and social policies impacting on social work.
  • Contribute to an open and creative learning culture in the workplace to discuss, reflect on and share best practice.
  • Reflect on my learning activities and evidence what impact continuing professional development has on the quality of my practice.
  • Record my learning and reflection on a regular basis and in accordance with Social Work England’s guidance on continuing professional development.
  • Reflect on my own values and challenge the impact they have on my practice.

Eight in 10 see benefit of CPD

The most important thing about CPD is that a social worker has reflected on their learning, and demonstrated how it has, or will, impact their practice.

CPD can include attending a training course, listening to and reflecting on a podcast, taking part in and reflecting on supervision with a manager, or peer-to-peer, reflecting on decision making at work, taking part in and reflecting on work shadowing, preparing/leading a training session or workshop, reading and reflecting on an article or book or documenting and reflecting on a group discussion.

The research found that:

  • Overall, social workers hold positive attitudes towards CPD with around eight in 10 seeing the value in it
  • 77% feel it is vital to protect the integrity of the profession
  • 76% recognised that it keeps their practice up-to-date
  • 69% felt that it helps develops their skills
  • 66% of social workers are motivated to undertake CPD in order to keep their knowledge fresh
  • 62% carry out CPD to comply with regulations/ inspections
  • 57% do CPD to keep up with changes in policy.

Not enough time in working day

However, 60% of social workers reported not having enough time in the working day as the main barrier that they face in undertaking CPD. A fifth (18%) of social workers feel that their organisation does not provide any support for them to undertake CPD and the qualitative research notes that while many social workers say their supervisor suggests topics for CPD and their organisation offers courses and peer reflection sessions, some struggled with CPD not being valued by their organisation outside of the minimum requirements.

“Many social workers in the qualitative research speak of the challenges of finding the time to undertake and record their CPD as their case loads are demanding. Some say that they can end up doing CPD outside of work hours or making up the time by not taking their time off in lieu (TOIL). A few report having to cancel their CPD last minute when a court case was scheduled for the same time as that takes priority,” said the report.

“Trying to prioritise CPD is difficult for many, especially if a social worker’s supervisor is not supportive or they work for an agency where CPD is their responsibility to manage. 2020 has been especially challenging as workloads have increased for many and some feel under greater pressure to do CPD due to Social Work England’s recording requirement,” the report added.

Further barriers to carrying out CPD include a lack of funding (28%), not enough appropriate content (26%) and a lack of online/ distance learning (23%).

Furthermore, several Independent Social Workers interviewed said that the cost of CPD can be a barrier as they must pay for their own CPD if it is not mandatory.

In the focus groups social workers said they would like more of the following support around CPD:

• Time off in lieu if CPD is undertaken outside of working hours

Dedicated / ring-fenced amount of time for CPD within work hours

• More funding for external courses

• Greater flexibility to undertake CPD on topics outside of their day-to-day role/ tasks

• High quality supervision where reflective practice occurs

• Support with caseload when undertaking CPD

• Managers who value CPD.

The fieldwork was carried out online between 3rd December 2020 and 4th January 2021.

Social Work and Continuing Professional Development For Social Work England

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