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.
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