Social workers value CPD but four in ten don’t have time to do it, finds regulator

Practitioners say learning has improved their skills and kept practice up to date but struggle to fit it into working day, finds Social Work England-commissioned research

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The vast majority of social workers value continuing professional development and most find improves their practice but four in ten don’t have time to do it, research for Social Work England has found.

Time was the biggest barrier to undertaking learning and development, while almost a fifth said they were not supported by their employer to carry it out.

The research by YouGov – based on a survey of, and focus groups and interviews with practitioners, along with an analysis of CPD records – was released last week.

It has been used by Social Work England to shape proposals to reform the process for submitting CPD as part of the annual registration renewal process.

Despite practitioners’ concerns about the lack of time they had to carry out CPD, the regulator has proposed doubling the required number of submissions necessary to renew registration from one to two for the December 2021 to December 2022 registration year. However, it said workshops with practitioners had revealed support for a small increase in the requirement.

Value of CPD

The survey found 83% of social workers saw the value of CPD, while 76% said it kept their practice up to date and 69% that it improved their skills as a social worker.

The top motivation for carrying out CPD was keeping their knowledge fresh (66%), followed by complying with regulations and inspections (62%), keeping up with changes in policy (57%), being the best they can be for the people they support and gaining new ideas (both 51%).

Just one third cited career progression as a motivator, though this rose to half of those aged 25 to 34, a group that was also more likely to cite wanting to be the best they can be as an inspiration (61%) than colleagues aged over 55 (45%).

CPD motivators

“It’s about lifelong learning and growth, avoiding stagnation, encouraging diverse thinking – taking on new thoughts, processing and ways of working.” (interviewee)

“It gives you more information on changes in legislation e.g. domestic violence and revenge porn. These things are coming up in referrals as things that are affecting families.” (interviewee)

“It allows you to grow professionally, it also provides a useful space out from the rhythm of work to reflect on your practice.” (focus group participant)

A minority of social workers had negative views of CPD – with 27% seeing it as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, a point linked by some interviewed for the qualitative research to the requirement to submit CPD to Social Work England.

Lack of time

But the biggest challenge revealed by the research was the lack of time practitioners had to complete learning and development.

Forty one per cent agreed that they did not have time to do CPD – more than the proportion who disagreed with the statement (36%). When quizzed about barriers to doing CPD, 60% said they did not have enough time during working hours, well ahead of the next biggest barrier, a lack of funding (28%).

Respondents also linked this to the relative priority placed on CPD at work.

“It is also sometimes seen as lower priority than other tasks; social workers mention having to cancel CPD due to other demands on their time, which has been particularly noted as Covid-19 presents new challenges and demands,” the research report said.

Time barriers

“The time pressures of your caseload mean sometimes you feel you can’t afford to take the time for training and still have work/life balance.” (focus group participant)

“I think ‘oh here we go again – oh god’. I am already busy and then I have to do it. It is like a chore. It is a hassle. But it does keep you up [to] date as techniques change.” (interviewee)

The median number of days spent by social workers doing CPD during the year was six, with most activities taking less than a day to complete.

A third of social workers were given time off to undertake CPD, the second most common source of support behind discussions with their manager (46%). However, 18% said there was no support available in their organisation for learning.

Social workers interviewed called for dedicated time or support with their caseload to support CPD, and time off in lieu when it was undertaken outside of working hours. They also backed Social Work England engaging with employers to enable practitioners to take time out to do learning and development, with some suggesting that employers submit CPD on their behalf.

Views on Social Work England process

Social Work England’s introduction of a requirement for social workers to upload CPD to their account with the regulator in order to renew their registration was controversial.

As well as criticisms that it was a box-ticking exercise, several practitioners reported difficulties with the system for uploading their learning.

Of survey respondents, 70% said they found uploading CPD to their account CPD compared with 13% who found it difficult, though younger practitioners reported finding it easier than older colleagues.

In the qualitative research, practitioners called for the regulator to be more explicit about what was required in uploading CPD, as well as providing best practice examples.

What constitutes CPD

In the qualitative research, when social workers were asked what came to mind when they thought of CPD, the most commonly mentioned types were formal training and courses. Very few spontaneously mentioned more informal types, such as reading an article or watching a film.

Online learning was the most common form of CPD during 2020 (76%), followed by reflective practice (59%), on-the-job experience (54%) and feedback/supervision (51%)

The most common topics covered were reflection on practice (63%), working with children/ vulnerable adults (57%), understanding policies/ frameworks (52%), equality diversity and inclusion (48%) and practice models (45%).

How the research was conducted

The research by YouGov was based on three elements:

  • An online survey of 504 registered social workers about their experience of CPD, carried out between December 2020 and January 2021.
  • Two online focus groups – one with practitioners with more than 10 years’ experience and one with those with less experience – and 25 in-depth interviews with social workers in January and February 2021.
  • Analysis of 750 pieces of CPD submitted to Social Work England as part of registration renewal, in December 2020.

10 Responses to Social workers value CPD but four in ten don’t have time to do it, finds regulator

  1. Not My Real Name May 25, 2021 at 9:14 am #

    ‘The most common topics covered were reflection on practice (63%), working with children/ vulnerable adults (57%)’

    So basically doing your job and then thinking about it afterwards. All very useful, but it’s pushing it a bit to call this ‘development’.

    Does anyone do any real training any more??!?

  2. Neil May 25, 2021 at 9:42 am #

    It’s not about not enough time. It’s the take a chance it’s not going to be scrutinised but pretend it’s meaningful anyway toy town complacency that is so demoralising.

  3. Ruth Cartwright May 26, 2021 at 9:26 am #

    It would be interesting given the above two comments to have some research on what sort of development opportunities workers are being offered. As a former Training and Development Manager, time to reflect was important (as it is in supervision too of course). My experience was that management wanted workers trained, especially in matters of legal and policy updates or new initiatives, but would have liked this carried out by injecting new knowledge into people’s brains as they worked at their desks, rather than them taking any time away from the workplace, Another important aspect of training events was the opportunity for workers to meet others and compare notes and experiences, And of course formal training is only one aspect of development; doing some research, reading, etc, is all vital too, but I am sure workers do not find they have time for that either.

  4. Sandra May 26, 2021 at 9:51 am #

    Even when they think thay are demonstrating their professionalism, SWE expose they understand nothing. Pay good money for Yougov to tell you they have analysed 750 CPD and extrapolated the main themes. Cue trebles all round and smug self congratulation.The useful thing though would have been to commission an analysis of the quality of the CPD submitted not one that totted up the number of key words. Admittedly that might open up a whole can of worms over standards of training, standards of practice, standards of supervision, access to resources and all the rest we keep on highlighting but SWE is petrified of addressing. Not knowing what to do is one thing, knowing what to do but being paralysed with the fear of where it can lead the bureaucracy is just shameful. Pay the registration fee, keep on the grind, pretend your knowledge and skills are enhanced by the occasional vacuous publicity grab and you are a protected status social worker. Hide behind “committment to public safety” to lash out and bully social workers, plead patience because “we are a young regulator”, blame everyone but own no culpability and apparently that makes for a professional regulator. Themes without textual analysis just about sums up the CPD farrago so perhaps I’ll reflect on that for my next upload.

  5. WorksmartA May 26, 2021 at 11:31 am #

    I’d agree with a lot of what I’ve read above. A lot of processes, supervisions, reflections, training & guidance for assessments is nonsense when it’s all tokenism, just a nod to good practice & then carry on. Half-arsed processes by management with no time & less interest, is it any wonder training/cpd isn’t valued by overworked social workers. Main focus is turn over & throughput, time scales, caseloads . Cpd is an ‘add on, “your professional responsibility” – employers should factor in the time to aid the employees not expect them to squeeze it into an otherwise overloaded working week.

  6. Jay May 27, 2021 at 11:27 am #

    Anyone from the 60% who have uploaded one or possibly two or more CPD reflections care to tell us how it is done please. With Narnia within reach, I certainly would benefit.

  7. Nick Johnson May 28, 2021 at 12:36 pm #

    There has been a responsibility shunt in social work over the last couple of decades which has moved the onus to have suitably skilled and trained staff in appropriate numbers from the employer to the individual worker. The loss of the SSI function in local government social work had a detrimental impact. Strangely, in CQC regulated settings, everyone is liable under the area ‘Well led’ to fulfil this staffing objective, and liability reaches right to directors and trustees. If SWE could establish that requirement in the Social Work profession, time would be made available and managers and leaders would be interested in supporting their staff to be the best they could be for the sake of those we say we serve.

  8. Terry Deen May 30, 2021 at 10:44 am #

    Caseloads are sky high. The average case load figures for local authority social workers is not 16, as claimed. The figures are manipulated by taking into account, social work roles that require reduced caseloads such as senior social workers, assistant team managers, ASYE and and part time workers. Many child protection social workers have well over 30 people on their caseloads. Its not safe and its about tine local authorities, social work Engnand and the government agreed a maximum caseload. If this achieved perhaps social workers will have the tine to manage their CPD.

  9. Ollie May 30, 2021 at 11:26 am #

    Inescapable truth: SWE isn’t interested in a trained and skilled up profession. It’s sole purpose is to appear as if it is to keep the income stream flowing. SWE is a hollow entity obsessed with posturing about public protection to appease its political masters overlayed with fluff to obscure distrust of social workers. It is an authoritarian buraucracy hyper-vigilant to dismisses challenge or criticism. Even within its self defined remit SWE is incompetent. I have phoned, emailed and filled in a ridiculous form x4 to have my name removed from the register. Two years after retiring and not paying my fees my name is still on the register. Why should the public or any social worker have confidence in such shambolic leadership?

  10. Carol Peacock June 8, 2021 at 12:48 am #

    I agree with Ollie. SWE is a mess and the public have no trust or confidence in it – haven’t for a long time but their voices are unheard or dismissed as unimportant and prejudiced.. It has become another business with its leaders making a huge profit out of people’s misfortunes and troubled lives . Its child protection has lost credibility with all its assessments, thresholds based on an outdated Children’s Act and the fact that there is no realistic long term support to help children and their families.