Research into practice

Vocational qualifications are designed to improve people’s skills and job performance. They are based on standards of competence drawn up by national training organisations on behalf of the industry or service they represent.

A recent research project1 was set up to measure the impact of the vocational qualification programme on home carers, foster carers, residential child care workers, day centre officers and other staff at Aberdeen Council.

The council’s social work service introduced Scottish vocational qualifications (SVQs) seven years ago. Since then several hundred candidates, including 80 home carers and 11 foster carers, have qualified. The council sees SVQs as a significant tool in meeting the needs of service users and staff.

There has been little conclusive research on SVQs in social care. Our findings are based on small numbers of candidates in one social work service but they do add weight to the argument for the positive contribution of SVQs to practice in social work.

Interviews and questionnaires were used to collect data from the candidates, their supervisors and their service users. These were carried out at the start of their SVQs in late 2002, and then about nine months later.

There is no doubt that the vocational qualification programme has had an impact. The changes identified related to the SVQ standards and included improved understanding and competence in relationship to values, communication, health and safety, and recording. The following comments to researchers express the improvements in the practice of candidates as a result of the SVQs.

  • More health and safety conscious: “I move and handle with more confidence.”
  • Increased confidence: “Has made them more confident and given them a sounder knowledge.”
  • More able to ask for support: “Realise you’re not on your own. There’s a network of support and asking for help is not weak. Feel much more connected.”
  • More aware of the need for confidentiality: “More aware of not talking about people in inappropriate places.”
  • More questioning or challenging of attitudes or both, and more able to speak up when needed: “Less likely to accept things at face value. Much more likely to question practice; asking ‘why?’ more.”
  • More able to advocate on behalf of service users: “Challenges a lot more – anything and everything. Advocates on behalf of clients and staff.”
  • Improved recording and reporting: “Performance in preparing care plans and review reports has improved.”
  • More aware of wider issues of social work theory and values, including legislation and procedures: “More aware of social work values – rights, choices.”
  • Improved communication with both service users and colleagues with emphasis on listening: “If someone is talking to me while I’m doing something else I stop one or the other but have stopped trying to do both because clients deserve full attention.”

Candidates who were already demonstrating good practice have had this confirmed by their participation in the SVQs, while others had their awareness of good practice raised. For each candidate involved in the research, at least one aspect of practice was changed through the programme.

The success of the programme has encouraged Aberdeen social work service to extend its SVQs to staff working in different settings, for example in community service.

Anita Parker is an internal verifier with the social work training team, Aberdeen social work service.

1 An Investigation into the Impact of Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) on Practice, is available from the author:

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