PRTL (post registration training and learning): How are agency and part-time social workers coping?

Whereas local authority social workers often have post-registration training and learning needs built into their workflow, agency staff may be finding the requirements more onerous. Anabel Unity Sale reports

A bulging in-tray is something we all expect to be greeted by when we come back from holiday. As our tan fades, we knuckle down and get on with it. For qualified social workers who have been out of the office clocking up post-registration and training hours, returning to an overflowing in-tray is not always so easily resolved. Juggling a busy caseload while simultaneously tackling new demands takes skill, effort and time.

The sector is increasingly facing this dichotomy as qualified social workers complete their PRTL.

When the UK’s four social care councils came into effect in 2003 they introduced a requirement for all qualified social workers to complete 15 days (90 hours) of PRTL, which they can demonstrate advances their practice, within the period of their registration. This is the case for all qualified social workers, be they full-time, part-time or agency staff.

Avoiding overload

But how do social work teams manage when staff are away from their posts completing their PRTL, and how do employers ensure service delivery continues smoothly and their teams are not overloaded?

Susan Cranie, managing director of social work agency Careplan Specialist Services and board director of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, is familiar with this situation. Councils seeking cover – or “backfill” – for social workers engaged in training and learning often use her recruitment agency.

But how do temporary social workers meet their own PRTL requirements?

Local authorities would clearly be reluctant for temporary social workers to attend in-house training courses. This led Cranie to provide free training courses and seminars four times a year on a Saturday for her agency’s temps.

She believes it is down to agency staff to use their initiative to discover ways of completing their PRTL in innovative ways, and often within their own time. She herself is a qualified social worker and is working hard to record what she has achieved through various learning activities.

In an ideal world all social workers undergoing training or attending a conference for PRTL purposes would not return to a bursting in-tray as another social worker would have picked up part of their workload.

However, given the demands most social workers are under it is unlikely they can manage their colleagues’ caseloads as well as their own.

The financial pressures facing social services budgets mean that many are unable to use recruitment agency social workers to cover any backfill.

The sector has always found addressing backfill difficult, according to Jo Cleary, Association of Directors of Social Services’ workforce committee co-chair and Luton Council’s corporate director of housing and community living.

She believes the issue is becoming more problematic given the necessity for qualified social workers to complete their PRTL. “It is a serious issue as social work departments are all carrying vacancies and it’s difficult to fill posts when staff are away training or learning as bringing in agency workers as cover costs a lot.”

Feeling guilty

She says that social workers often feel guilty about attending training courses when they believe they are leaving their colleagues in the lurch. “It can be very difficult for team managers who want their staff to complete training but have limited budgets for cover,” she adds.

Despite the view that PRTL can be an additional – although necessary – burden on registered social workers, not everyone believes it need be a problem. Kent Council is among councils whose policies have addressed the PRTL needs (see Kent cracks it) of full-time and temporary staff to some extent.

Local Government Association consultant Vic Citarella believes completing PRTL should not place any substantial demands on social workers. He says: “The requirements are not unduly onerous and there is a lot of flexibility in how the requirements are met. What it does is formalise and standardise the expectations of every social worker.”

He recommends that employers should manage workloads to take continuous professional development in to account.

Citarella adds: “There needs to be a recognition of how workloads are made up, something the LGA has been arguing for ever since the Victoria Climbié case. There should be time in social workers’ schedules for them to be on duty, take holiday and complete training and learning so an appropriate workload can be worked out.”

Another way the sector can be helped to address completing PRTL while keeping services running smoothly lies with the government. Although the Department of Health presently provides local authorities with grants to support social worker training, it is not ring-fenced money. Both the LGA and ADSS would like the DH, as a consequence of Options for Excellence, to consider how it can best support social workers in their efforts to re-register. Cleary advocates one way forward is through the provision of ring-fenced funding for training social workers.

Employers must help

For the GSCC there is no doubt that registered social workers have to be helped by employers to do their PRTL, regardless of their workloads. A GSCC spokesperson says: “We expect employers to take necessary action to provide support to registered social workers to allow them to complete PRTL requirements. As has been the case for many years, this may include providing cover for time during which social workers are undertaking training.”

If this is the case then it appears that some local authorities need to alter their working structures so their social workers can do this.

How to do PRTL

Examples provided by the GSCC of how social workers can carry out post-registration training and learning:

● Arranging to shadow the work of a colleague.
● Negotiating protected time to research policy developments in your field.
● Carrying out research related to your practice.
● Completing a secondment in another area of related work.
● Identifying and recording learning gained from individual appraisal.

Source GSCC. Find out more

Kent cracks it (back)

One local authority that has decided not to hire agency social workers to backfill is Kent Council. Instead, at the start of each year managers plan with social workers how they are going to complete their required five days a year, says Brian Flinders, children’s services training manager for Kent’s children, families and education directorate.

“Social workers are always going to be pressurised but if we can plan their training and learning it can be integrated within the overall work of their team.”

Flinders oversees 100 in-house training courses every year on 20-30 different topics, as well as a post-qualifying programme for 40 social workers, all within children’s services. The authority spends a total of £1m on training its social workers in children’s services per year. Within adults’ services the council spends £1.5m on equivalent training.

Kent ensures that all its full- and part-time social workers have access to information about its training programme. But some part-time workers in other regions don’t receive this amount of help from employers and some have brought their concerns that they have to achieve the same amount of PRTL hours as full-time workers to the General Social Care Council’s attention. The GSCC will conduct a review of the policy this year.

Do you believe the PRTL requirements to be onerous for agency staff, have your say on our Discussion Forum

Further information

Contact the author
  Anabel Unity Sale

This article appeared in the 15 February issue of the magazine under the headline “A lot to learn”

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