Research into practice

Neil Thompson looks at research on the impact
of social services’Êin-service training, an area often
neglected as front-line demands increase.

While it is sad to note that some
organisations have still not realised the value of training and
development and see the money spent as a cost rather than an
investment, far more organisations have now got the message that
“people matter” and should therefore be supported through training
and development to maximise their potential and the contribution
they can make. But how effective is in-service training? How
successful are attempts to integrate the learning from such courses
into actual practice? These are some of the questions Nicholas
Clarke, from the department of sociology and applied social studies
at London Guildhall University, addresses in this research.

The paper reviews the research literature
between 1974 and 1997, encompassing 20 studies relating to the
evaluation of in-service training and its impact on practice.
Perhaps the first point to note is that this is a very low figure
for such a long time span, reflecting the fact that this is an
under-researched area. It is not surprising, then, that one of
Clarke’s conclusions is that much more research is needed before
any major conclusions can be drawn. Another important point he
makes is that we need more research not only into whether training
works, but also why it works.

Concerns are expressed about the methods used
in some of the studies, leaving the author in some doubt as to
their validity. None the less, he is able to draw some tentative
conclusions at least. In short, there is evidence to show that much
of the training evaluated could be shown to have had an influence
on the participants, but there is relatively little evidence to
suggest that this led to changes in practice.

As Clarke comments: “Does in-service training
make a difference? On the basis of the studies reviewed here, the
answer appears to be yes, training may effect changes in trainees,
although certainly not in all instances, and certainly not always
in terms of their behaviour. Importantly in a number of instances
where training was demonstrated to have an effect on trainee
behaviour, this was often only in selective areas.”

Given how important training and development
activities are in underpinning good practice and continuous
professional development, and how much money is devoted to them, it
is surprising that the question of “what works and why?” has
received so little attention. It is to be hoped that, in this era
of Best Value, we will develop a much stronger emphasis on ensuring
that the money invested in training is used to best effect. Of
course, this will relate strongly to the quality of training (for
example, in terms of the knowledge, skills, values and experience
of the trainer) but will also need to go far beyond this to
establish whether:

– Learning needs are accurately assessed
(rather than training “wants” listed in a simple

– Training and development are integrated into
the organisation’s policy and planning processes (rather than seen
as an “add-on”).

– Appropriate steps are taken to support the
implementation of learning in practice (through supervision, for

– There is a culture that encourages

This paper therefore plays an important role
in bringing to our attention that, while training and development
receive a lot of attention and a significant investment of time and
money, we still have only a very sketchy awareness of whether what
is provided actually makes a positive difference and, if so,

– “In-Service Training Within Social Services”
appears in the British Journal of Social Work, Volume 31,
Issue 5, pp575-774, published in October, 2001.

Neil Thompson is the author of Theory
and Practice in Human Services (Open University Press, 2000) and
Understanding Social Work: Preparing for Practice (Palgrave,

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