What’s the point of continuous professional development and post qualifying education?

A new framework for post-qualifying social work education will come into force next year. Diane Galpin asks whether it will help social workers and councils embrace professional development

The relationships between social work education, social work practice and the government are interdependent and complex. Evidence from industry suggests that clear career development and opportunities pathways are crucial to creating a motivated and stable workforce and contribute positively to workforce planning. (1),(2)

Yet the government push to develop post- qualifying education as part of a continuing professional development (CPD) framework for social workers has not been as successful as hoped. The General Social Care Council says that 75,000 qualified social workers have registered with it since 2004. Of these only 4,090 have achieved the full post-qualifying (PQ) social work award between 2000-5.

Further research is needed to find out the reasons but anecdotal evidence from practitioners suggests that barriers include:

  • Confusion over the pathway practitioners and employers should take in accessing and undertaking PQ education.
  • Practitioner burnout because of increasing pressure to implement a raft of policy and legislation since 1997 to meet the government’s modernisation agenda.
  • Low value attached to CPD on a personal, professional and organisational level.

    To improve clarity and maintain standards in PQ education, the GSCC launched a revised framework in February 2005. This framework, which will be fully implemented by September 2007, will allow social workers to continue their education and training in a more flexible manner within a clearer framework.

    The revised framework will consist of three levels of PQ award: in specialist social work, in higher specialist social work, and in advanced social work. There will be five specialisms in which practitioners can undertake post-qualifying education: mental health; adult social care; practice education; leadership and management; children and young people, and their families and carers.

    The draft guidelines for the five specialisms have been devised in consultation with several partners, including the GSCC, service users, carers, social care employers, the voluntary sector and representatives from professional social work bodies. Higher education institutions will deliver the new awards.

    It is the role of the GSCC to outline the professional requirements that practitioners will need to meet in order to achieve the new awards in PQ education. While this may appear straightforward, there are three questions about the proposed revisions that need to be addressed.

    First, while promoting professional development, might PQ education become a professional straightjacket for practitioners? The GSCC is a mainly governing body set up and funded by government and does not represent the interests of professional social workers or higher education institutions. This may have implications for practitioners undertaking PQ education.

    The goal of education should be to increase professionals’ capacity to reflect and develop skills in critical analysis, and to increase their ability to deal with complex information and draw independent conclusions. But the GSCC views post-qualifying education as having a key role in supporting the strategic drivers of the sector.

    Therefore, will the purpose of PQ education and CPD be to ensure that practitioners meet the requirements of a broader modernisation agenda. Will good practice simply
    mean the ability to implement policies and procedures?

    Second, a positive selling point for the revised PQ framework is its standardisation, along with its ability to bring together practitioners’ career choices with professional development, employers’ workforce planning strategies and the government’s modernisation agenda.

    However, will we see an educational system based on standardisation and its ability to be all things to all people become the “hospital gown” of CPD – designed for everyone but fits no one? Practitioners work in a variety of settings with a variety of service user groups; individuals who often do not fit existing service provision nor wish to engage with the wider modernisation agenda.

    Recognition and respect for the uniqueness of individuals and their life circumstances is the essence of social work. Social work practice can never be fully standardised because of the diversity of people and systems involved in social care today.

    Finally, how will the new framework and CPD be funded? Money will be required to purchase courses, and local authorities will need sufficient resources to release staff to undertake educational activities, while continuing to deliver high quality services. Central government commitment to funding is key to encouraging local authorities and practitioners to embrace CPD and the new framework for PQ education.

    Universities across the country are designing courses for the revised framework. Their success depends on being able to develop practitioners who can think critically and work with a variety of service users within a coherent framework.

    Diane Galpin is an approved social worker with 10 years’ experience in mental health, physical disability and cancer care. A full-time senior lecturer at Bournemouth University, she is also a founding member of the Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset branch of Practitioners Alliance Against the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults (PAVA).

    Training and learning
    The author has provided questions about this article to guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at www.communitycare.co.uk/prtl and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered professionals.

    While continuous professional development is important for a stable and motivated workforce, practitioners have not fully engaged in post-qualifying education. This article asks whether the purpose of post-qualifying social work education is to produce independent thinking and reflective practitioners or workers able to follow policy and procedure?

    (1) J Parker, J Whitfield, “Effective Practice Learning in Local Authorities” in Workforce Development, Recruitment and Retention, Practice Learning Taskforce, 2006
    (2) K Skinner, “Continuous Professional Development for the Social Services Workforce in Scotland”, in Developing Learning Organisations, Discussion Paper 1, Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education, 2004

    Further information

  • R Adams, Social Policy for Social Work, Palgrave, 2002
  • General Social Care Council

    Contact th0e author
    The Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University is revising its child care, mental health and vulnerable adults PQ programmes. We would like to know what you want from post-qualifying social work education. Please send an email to: PQSW@bournemouth.ac.uk with the subject “What I want from PQ education” and tell us your views.


  • More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.