Post registration training and learning skills for social workers (PRTL): what is required around the UK

How are the UK’s social workers coping with the requirements for post-registration training and learning – requirements that many describe as overly vague? Anabel Unity Sale reports

Among the more recent acronyms to have joined the social care vernacular is PRTL: post-registration training and learning. It is something every social worker registered with one of the four UK social care councils has to undertake in order to re-register. During the three-year period of their registration each social worker must complete 15 days (90 hours) of study that they can demonstrate will advance their practice.

There has been much debate about how PRTL is progressing and what the four councils are doing to help social workers. Here we look at the issues each council faces and how they address them, while practitioners reveal what completing PRTL is really like.

General Social Care Council in England
The GSCC has attracted criticism for being vague about what counts as PRTL. This criticism hit home, as the regulator’s report released earlier this month admits: “The post-registration requirements for continuing professional development were said to be confusing.”

Chief executive Lynne Berry (pictured) says guidance issued last May addressed the criticisms, but the GSCC recognises there are many ways for social workers to continue to learn “so we have deliberately avoided being too specific about the types of activities that will meet the PRTL”.

Berry insists this isn’t vague, arguing that practitioners need flexibility over achieving their 15 study days and that PRTL need not mean formal training. There are 700 social workers re-registering with the council this year and, according to Berry, none of the PRTL forms it has so far received have failed the requirement. When she attends a relevant seminar or conference, Berry notes anything she has learned and how it will influence her practice.

The GSCC’s biggest problem is convincing social workers to include PRTL in their everyday practice, rather than seeing it as an add-on activity. Social workers are aware that PRTL will be spot-checked (starting in the next few months) and are making the effort to complete it, adds Berry.

Care Council for Wales
Most social workers renewing their registration with the CCW have completed their 90-hour requirement, according to its director of standards and regulation Gerry Evans.

Although the process is new, Evans says Welsh training managers have seen it as a way of providing a “new focus for their training activities”.

Aware that some social workers have found the CCW too vague about what constitutes PRTL, Evans explains it is any activity that “could reasonably be expected to advance the individual’s professional development”. This includes study, seminars, reading and teaching as well as specific training.

“We haven’t been prescriptive about the training and learning that can be undertaken because of the wide range of employment undertaken by those with a social work qualification.”

Keen to ensure Welsh social workers are on top of recording their learning, the CCW included a note about the requirement in the annual payment reminder letters it sent to registrants.

The CCW is currently working with the Welsh assembly to create PRTL requirements for newly qualified social workers.

Scottish Social Services Council
Geraldine Doherty, registrar and deputy chief executive of SSSC, admits that its PRTL has changed significantly since its introduction. The SSSC adopted a more flexible approach after a consultation with the sector revealed this was wanted. In Scotland at least five of the 15 days’ PRTL – 30 hours – have to focus on working effectively with colleagues and other professionals to identify, assess and manage risk to vulnerable groups.

Doherty says the requirement, suggested by the Scottish executive, came after the Caleb Ness and the Borders cases and the desire to avoid problems with joint working. This year Scotland also introduced extended PRTL for newly qualified social workers, so they have to complete 24 days’ learning in their first 12 months.

“It is about saying in their first year that people need support and confirming their suitability for registration. If issues do emerge it provides an opportunity to address them and for the worker to get support,” says Doherty.

The smaller numbers of Scottish social services employers has made it easier for the SSSC to visit every local authority and large voluntary organisation and tell them about PRTL. This has reduced the number of social workers contacting it with queries.

Northern Ireland Social Care Council
A union dispute stalled PRTL in Northern Ireland. Although social workers could register with the NISCC from April 2003, most did not sign up until May 2005. As a result, the council emphasises the need for social workers to begin their 15 days’ PRTL promptly, says Alison Kavanagh, professional adviser for the council.

A reminder letter sent in June resulted in a multitude queries about what counts as appropriate training and learning, she says, although the NISCC published guidance in January 2005.

One complaint she has come across from some social workers progressing towards re-registration is that they have found it difficult to get information together to support the log of their PRTL. Kavanagh recommends that people record any evidence of their training and learning on a continuing basis, rather then leave it to the last minute.

The next group of workers to be registered who will have to undergo PRTL are those working in residential and nursing homes and domiciliary care managers. Kavanagh anticipates they their concerns and requests regarding the learning will differ from those of qualified social workers.

“Having to do 90 hours’ PRTL will be more of an issue for domiciliary care workers because they tend to be part-time.”

Senior social worker, Cardiff Council
Based in a specialist social work team at Cardiff’s West Wing hospital, Elaine Morgan registered with the Care Council for Wales in September 2004 and so far has completed 36 days’ PRTL, which she records electronically. Most of her days were completed through studying postqualifying awards two to five that she undertook between January 2005 and January 2006.

“It was great that the PQs counted towards the PRTL, it was a double bonus.”

She is keen to ensure that whatever additional learning and training she undergoes next counts towards the PRTL hours. Morgan would have preferred the CCW to issue guidance at the start of registration about what social workers need to do in case social workers discover their studying is incorrect after they have submitted it.

Team manager for older persons, Craigavon and Banbridge Community Health and Social Services Trust, Northern Ireland.

Having qualified in 1989 with a CQSW and received a Masters in social work in 2005, studying is nothing new to Byrne. It only takes him 15 minutes to complete his PRTL log because “as long as I keep good records of training and learning it’s easy to remember”. He manages a team of 16, five of whom are social workers and are doing PRTL.

Byrne ensures they complete their PRTL and addresses any of their questions by raising it in individual supervision sessions and team meetings. One problem is the
shortage of training placements: “Lots of people are on the NISCC’s register and lots want training but there is a limited capacity.”

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This article appeared in the 19-25 October issue, pages 34 & 35, under the headline So what have you learned?

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