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%).
“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.
“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.