Study daze

    By 1 December more than 44,000 social workers had applied for
    inclusion on the General Social Care Council’s register, which
    comes on stream in April. Together with thousands of others who are
    joining the separate registers in Scotland, Wales and Northern
    Ireland, each social worker will remain registered for three years,
    at which point he or she will have to apply for
    re-registration.

    To re-register, each social worker must prove that they remain
    competent professionals, have continued their education and kept
    abreast of developments. They will do this by presenting a
    portfolio demonstrating at least 15 days of post-registration
    training and learning (PRTL) during the previous three years. A
    social worker may be removed from the register for misconduct if
    they fail to amass the learning time.

    But what will need to be contained in these portfolios is
    anybody’s guess.

    Guidance of sorts has been issued by each of the care councils.
    But the advice from the GSCC and the Welsh Care Council is
    deliberately non-specific, stating simply that social workers
    should engage in activities that “benefit their career
    progression”. According to a spokesperson for the GSCC, this
    non-prescriptive stance reflects the fact that “there are many ways
    to continue to learn and develop as a social worker” and that
    social workers and their employers are the best judges of what
    training they require.

    In Northern Ireland a 15-page document outlines the
    responsibilities of the registered social workers and their
    employers. Specific guidance is given for different categories of
    social workers, there are examples on what will be considered
    suitable PRTL activities, and advice is offered on how to plan
    training programmes and record the results.

    In Scotland a four-page guidance document published in 2003 was
    revised and put out for consultation last year. The proposed
    changes, which await ratification, include a stronger declaration
    of an employer’s duty to provide post-qualification training and a
    proposal to ring-fence at least five days of PRTL for child
    protection issues.

    Yet, despite the vagueness, social workers’ professional
    organisations are, on the whole, not concerned by the lack of
    detail given by the care councils.

    Indeed, the main criticism from Ian Johnston, director of the
    British Association of Social Workers, is that the PRTL
    requirements do not go far enough. “We are a professional
    organisation so we are somewhat disappointed that the requirements
    aren’t more onerous,” he says. “Given the amount of change that
    social work has undergone in recent years, people need to spend a
    lot longer than 15 days to keep up.”

    But Johnston is happy that social workers are being entrusted
    with taking responsibility for their own post-registration learning
    and would not want to see the care councils become too prescriptive
    about what should and should not constitute a PRTL activity.

    “The best judge of that is likely to be the person themselves,”
    he says.

    Owen Davies, Unison’s national secretary for social services, is
    also happy for PRTL requirements to be “as flexible as
    possible”.

    Unison Scotland has welcomed the proposed revision to the PRTL
    requirements and particularly its “reminder to employers of their
    responsibility to assist registered social workers to continue
    their professional development”. The union supports the
    ring-fencing of five PRTL days for child protection but emphasises
    that “the bulk of PRTL must be directly related to the specific
    area of social care in which a social worker is employed”.

    So, if the unions are happy and the professional organisations
    are happy, surely all must be rosy in the PRTL garden?

    Not quite. At a recent GSCC conference, a workshop on PRTL was
    notable for the number of social workers complaining that the
    guidelines were too vague.

    Carole Owens, training and staff development officer at Somerset
    Council, says the lack of clear guidance makes it difficult to
    support staff development. “In theory PRTL is a matter between the
    individual social worker and the GSCC but it’s in our interests for
    them to be re-registered.” Staff are asking questions about what
    they have to do, but there is little to go on from the GSCC, she
    adds. “For instance, if someone has finished a post-qualification
    award just before their registration date, they will have collected
    a lot of work. Can they use that for their PRTL or do they have to
    start again? We just don’t know.”

    Owens is concerned at an apparent lack of assessment being built
    into PRTL. “There don’t seem to be any requirements regarding
    verification,” she says. “They’ve said they may sample the evidence
    when you hand it in at the end of the three years but they’ve given
    us no guidance on what they will be looking for. I would like some
    sort of assessment or at least some reflective writing on what has
    been learned.”

    Certainly, sleeping through the occasional course should not
    qualify social workers for re-registration, says Owens. “We are
    reluctant to badge courses on the basis of attendance,” she says.
    “With PQ awards you end up with a file full of photocopied records
    to show what you’ve done. But for PRTL, the GSCC just gives you a
    form. So do you just give a rough account of what you have done? It
    all seems insubstantial and toothless, especially when you consider
    that we are talking about protecting the public.”

    Of course, protecting the public is the reason that registration
    of social workers is being brought into force. A regulated register
    that required people to be revalidated every three years would, it
    was believed, put social workers on a professional footing
    comparable to that of doctors and nurses. The GSCC would be held in
    as high esteem as the General Medical Council.

    But one only has to look at the mess the General Medical Council
    finds itself in after the Shipman Inquiry to realise that
    professional registration and revalidation is no simple
    matter. 

    UK PRTL GUIDANCE

    England and Wales

    Guidance from the GSCC and Welsh Care Council deliberately
    avoids being specific as “there are many ways to continue to learn
    and develop as a social worker”.

    Advice states that social workers’ PRTL activities must:

    • Benefit their current employment.
    • Benefit their career progression.
    • Reflect their preferred learning style.
    • Make the most of the learning opportunities available to them
      and form part of their wider professional development.

    Northern Ireland

    The Northern Ireland Care Council has issued 15 pages of
    detailed guidance.

    Examples of activities that would qualify for PRTL include:

    • Induction.
    • Reading and literature reviews.
    • Secondments.
    • Mentoring.
    • Participation in training and development days.
    • Participating in accredited courses.
    • Presenting independent portfolios for accreditation.

    Scotland

    Revised PRTL guidance is out for consultation. Among the
    proposed changes is that all registered social workers should
    complete at least five days (30 hours) of training focused on child
    protection. This is intended to ensure that all social workers,
    regardless of speciality, receive child protection training.

     

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