How to make social work CPD meaningful rather than yet another piece of admin

It's no surprise that only 18% of practitioners have uploaded CPD onto Social Work England's website given the profession's bureaucratic burden, says PSW Tanya Moore, who suggests an alternative way of capturing learning

Photo: John Birdsall/ Social Issues Photo Library/ Science Photo Library

By Tanya Moore

Social workers love CPD. Good learning develops thinking, confidence and morale and creates much needed space to think about practice.

Quite rightly, CPD is a requisite for our professional registration. Social Work England is asking us to upload forms containing reflective accounts of our learning to their website. In this first year of Social Work England we only need upload one ‘piece’ of CPD but for future years, the suggestion is that four times a year would be good practice.

Finding CPD to record won’t be a problem; my small study of social workers in England found a yearly average of five CPD experiences each. This was just the formal stuff such as courses and conferences. Social Work England will accept all the other wonderful informal learning opportunities: the book, the rich team meeting discussion, the YouTube video, the webinar.

There’s plenty to write about; if we can demonstrate our learning, it counts as CPD. The point about continuing professional development is just that; it’s continual. We do it all the time.

But here’s the thing. There are about 100,000 registered social workers in England so Social Work England can’t read all our entries. Instead, it will randomly select 2.5% of us to have our CPD evidence examined, as has happened under previous regulators. The other 97,000 of us will write and upload our accounts but they won’t be read.

Bureaucratic burden

For a practice-based profession, our bureaucracy burden is well-documented. We already spend too much of our time recording and uploading notes. Little wonder we don’t seem to be in a hurry to do this particular bit of paperwork. Earlier in the month, the regulator said that less than 18% of us had uploaded any CPD to its website.

This isn’t a surprise to me. Whilst for some of us (perhaps 18%?), the experience of writing and uploading our reflections will be developmental and enjoyable in itself. For others, this will be just another time-consuming admin task and social workers already have plenty of those.

The real process of continuing professional development is rich and complex. It’s disappointing to see it reduced to a countable commodity. Professional development can’t be measured through the number of courses attended, any more than successful outcomes for people we support can be measured through services provided.

Like our practice, our CPD would benefit from a shift away from the transactional towards the meaningful and relational. Like in practice, form-filling can cause a damaging distraction to the real task of helpful, meaningful engagement (with learning).

We’ve all experienced the cumulative effect of ‘one more’ admin task.”

In the case of Social Work England’s suggestion of writing and uploading our CPD reflections four times a year, it’s worth considering that if we each spent two hours per reflection and upload, this would mean the full time equivalent of about 458 social workers being employed nationally to create content that will never be read.

A better way forward

There’s a better way to do this. Instead of asking us to invest precious time and resource in writing for a bot, how about trusting social work to regulate its own CPD? Once a year, each of us could write or present our CPD reflections to another registered social worker. This way, we could have a meaningful discussion about our learning with a colleague who could confirm to Social Work England that our CPD has taken place.

The regulator could still audit 2.5% but for the rest of us, accounting to a colleague will mean we’re not being asked to waste our time but are instead being asked to take part in a useful and meaningful exercise of reflecting on and accounting for our professional development.

A model of peer regulation would bring other benefits; we know CPD works better when team managers and colleagues show active interest in our learning. If we stitch professional accountability for CPD into the supervision relationship, we get the side benefit of a detailed interest in each social worker’s CPD at team level.

This already happens in the best services and we know this leads to fuller use being made of CPD. In services where there are no other social workers available to hear our reflections, we could turn to independent CPD verifiers (like independent practice educators?) to consider our learning and its meaning for practice.

We need to respect the requirements of our professional regulators. So to the 82% of social workers who haven’t yet uploaded their evidence, please do this now.

But Social Work England could make better use of our valuable time through live, reflective presentations of our CPD to another registered social worker. No wasted words and effort but enhanced learning for all involved. What’s not to love about that?

Tanya has just completed her doctorate on the emotional experience of CPD for social workers. She is principal social worker for adult social care at Hertfordshire council but is writing in a personal capacity. Her twitter handle is @tanya_tavi 

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12 Responses to How to make social work CPD meaningful rather than yet another piece of admin

  1. Brian Ratner July 29, 2020 at 9:05 am #

    What a great idea!

    • Denise July 29, 2020 at 9:08 pm #

      Tanya I could not agree more with you more.
      I am a Social Worker who qualified in 1982 and have been fortunate to have a benefitted from a time when bureaucracy played a small part in the role of a Social Worker.
      Your suggestion enhances our learning and time for reflection. It is positive and professional.

      Please do take seriously Social Work England.

  2. Roslyn Gowers July 29, 2020 at 9:25 am #

    As an Independent Social Worker, I am very excited about this idea. It would be very beneficial to me and could easily fit into the group supervision model which I and other independent colleagues have been using to maintain a wider view of the social work world and its many challenges and experiences. Sadly I fear SWE will not be receptive to this approach, but here’s to hope!

  3. Paul July 29, 2020 at 10:04 am #

    Finally. Someone identifys a really sensible and pragmatic way forward with CPD. Are you listening social work England?

  4. Carol July 29, 2020 at 1:25 pm #

    Pity a person like this is not listened too! But of course the individuals at Social Work England ‘know better’. Can I suggest that they employ this individual and sack those currently in post. But of course they will ignore this excellent piece and just plough on. I’d like them to respond to this suggestion, like they did with all the 60 + responses from the ‘only 18% have recorded CPD’ article.

  5. Sallie Allison July 29, 2020 at 1:37 pm #

    I think this is a much better idea too. It makes it so much more meaningful rather than another task to tick off as completed, especially as the likelihood is that no one is ever going to read it!

  6. Barry Curtis July 29, 2020 at 2:34 pm #

    The best part about training is when you reflect it into practice this can best be done through CPD meetings and can be relevant not just ticking boxes.

  7. Rachel July 30, 2020 at 8:03 am #

    A time consuming exercise initially, a system beset with problems- have to complete in one sitting and within an hour and therefore there is no opportunity to reflect before completion.

    Although you get that opportunity when it doesn’t save so you have to repeat …. and no response from SW England.

    Perhaps that percentage reflects the ones that have been uploaded.

  8. Shonagh Dubsky July 30, 2020 at 4:03 pm #

    Excellent. Practical, simple and achievable. In a world concerningly lacking in common sense this idea will meet the necessary requirements and bring back some of the enthusiasm some have lost for their learning and sharing in their learning with others. SWE take note please!

  9. Samuel Andrews July 31, 2020 at 12:58 pm #

    But social work itself has become transactional, that’s why our “accountability” is measured by artificial targets and we function like bureaucrats and not like the practitioners we want to be unless we put in hours of unpaid work. SWE process has little to no value in confirming competence. But unless some independent oversight is in place, peer to peer validation risks being overwhelmed by managers trying to control the process. We rightly fought to stop the police having sole oversight on policing, we need to be mindful that our own managers are capable of stifling independence. Giving power to peers to validate registration will mean supervisors giving up some of their own power and not many are capable of seeing the suggested process in more positive ways. That all said, thank you for actually thinking about what learning and reflection should mean.

  10. Rufus August 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm #

    Meaningful CPD with:

    dynamic, interactive, ‘reflective presentations of CPD to other social workers’

    is inbuild in good social work practice.

    Without this we are passive recipients uploading our experience to some electronic data storage unit.

  11. A Man Called Horse August 23, 2020 at 4:33 pm #

    Hello Tanya

    So much a better idea, however, we need to understand the real reason we are where we are. You will remember not that long ago David Cameron liked the idea that Social Workers should be held personally accountable when things go wrong and that they should be thrown under a bus. They have also attempted to manipulate what Social Workers need to learn and get rid of any idea that there are systemic problems with our society. Social Work England is there to instill fear into Social Workers and I have no doubt they will abuse their power because they have absolute power over Social Workers. The mantra now is do as we tell you or we will make sure you are removed from your job.

    I want to say this again at the risk of repeating myself, this year there should be no threats of being removed from the register whatever happens. I have worked this year in fear of catching Covid19 and it has had a significant impact on my capacity to manage my work and other additional duties such as CPD. I have experienced anxiety, stress, fatigue and emotional upset at some of the people I work with dying perhaps before they should have. I have also felt anger towards the Government at their total failure to protect older people especially in care homes leading to unnessary deaths. This year I have for the first time come face to face with risk and my own mortality and I have dealt with this the best I can. I need space to recover emotionally and physically and I am just drained by what has happened. I am happy to do CPD but I dont want to have to deal with threats by Social Work England to throw me out if I can’t deal with CPD. I am going to try to make time now to do as ordered by Social Work England but I feel resentful that no recognition is given of the circumstances we have ollectively faced this year. Why could CPD just not be held back until next year? Is that really too much to ask?