Have you or haven’t you? Initiation into the ways of registration is proving a smoother ride for some than others and, as thousands of social workers prepare to renew their registration for the first time, it is becoming clear that they fall into one of two camps: those who have logged their post registration learning and training (PRTL) hours and those who put their Record of Achievement form to one side, forgot about it, and now face the tedious task of trawling through three years’ of diaries for evidence of their learning.
As a condition of renewal, all social workers must be able to provide proof that they have completed a minimum of 90 hours’, or 15 days’, PRTL over the previous three years. The GSCC is clear that failing to do so may amount to misconduct.
So far the GSCC has received 19,600 renewal applications from social workers, and GSCC chief executive Mike Wardle says he has been “very encouraged” by the number of hours of learning social workers are undertaking. “Most have been reporting well in excess of 90 hours,” he says.
Those studying for post-qualifying awards will have no trouble meeting the requirement. But there are others who may find it more of a struggle, including part-time workers, those who have been absent from work for health reasons and those on maternity leave. Wardle advises these groups to contact the GSCC helpline. “There will be some people in these positions and they will be treated on a case-by-case basis.”
Preparing to renew
For most social workers preparing to renew, it would seem almost impossible not to be able to meet the requirement given that such a broad range of activities can be counted as PRTL. Guidance on the GSCC’s website gives examples such as shadowing a colleague, research, secondment and training courses. And if any of those seem too onerous, social workers will be heartened by the fact that “doing a new task” can also count towards their PRTL quota.
If practitioners haven’t been keeping track of their learning, the chances are that once they start thinking about what they have done over the past three years they will find they have exceeded the minimum requirement. After totting up the entries on the log he kept, Tom Boyd, a service manager in adult services at Middlesbrough Council, says he found he had easily done 350 hours.
“There is so much experiential stuff that you can use,” says Boyd. “Social workers are working on a lot of initiatives now that give them the opportunity to develop their learning – things like extra-care housing – and that counts.”
Only those who are wedded to the idea that PRTL is synonymous with traditional forms of training such as courses may have problems, especially given the difficulties that some councils have funding and releasing people for training.
Nonetheless, a recent Community Care poll suggests one in seven social workers due to renew their registration have so far done fewer than 20 hours’ PRTL.
Lecturer and consultant Alix Walton has been hired by some London councils to run sessions on how to renew registration. She says many social workers have unfounded concerns about the process – apprehension she believes is linked to the fact that it is a new way of working. “If people are not able to meet that [90-hour] requirement I would be very worried about them.”
She also has concerns about the rigour of the PRTL process. She gives an example of one social worker who was able to submit a print-off of a list of training courses she had attended from her human resources department as part of her renewal without commenting on what she had learned. She was re-registered without any problems.
Others have raised similar concerns, including the British Association of Social Workers. Assistant chief executive Terry Dadswell says: “It’s based on self-certification so it has no quality measure.”
In its submission to the month-long fit-for-purpose review of PRTL launched by the GSCC in January, BASW complains that there is “nothing about the quality of PRTL input or outcomes required to be evidenced – so there is a major contradiction with the core purpose of registration”. It suggests instead an external assessment of competence, which would require social workers to produce a portfolio of evidence of their learning.
But a member of one of the review’s focus groups of randomly selected social workers says the answer lies elsewhere. “No system will be perfect. But the effectiveness relies on an increase in the recognition among staff that it’s important and, perhaps more significantly, that it is recognised through supervision and through provision of relevant training.”
She adds: “There needs to be a recognition that training and learning takes time and has to be allowed for during work hours. There is a need for organisations to foster and develop an environment that values continuing professional development so it’s not seen as an irritating distraction.”
Yearly registration has also been discussed as a way of making tracking PRTL hours less of a burden. But this seems unlikely, given the bureaucracy involved.
By 1 April, 40,000 social workers on the social care register will need to renew their registration. A paper storm has hit the GSCC’s London headquarters, and additional temporary staff have been hired to manage it. Every day, between 400 and 500 new forms are arriving to be processed.
The GSCC says it takes up to 12 weeks to process an application. So, if your renewal is imminent but the half-completed form is lost under a pile of papers or the batch of reminder letters stuffed in a drawer, now is the time to act.
If you don’t send in your renewal before the deadline (three years on from when you registered), you will get a reminder letter from the GSCC and will have one week to get in touch before it starts the process of removing you from the register.
But as long as you make sure the GSCC has your renewal form before the date your registration lapses you will be able to continue practising, says Wardle, adding: “If you have any concerns, talk about it – don’t just worry about it. We have a helpline, but you can also speak to your manager. Get your form in now.”
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