A CPD conversation with Social Work England: Reflecting on learning

Published: 13/09/2023

Kate Metcalf from Social Work England, talks about the role of reflection in learning, writing an effective CPD record, and upcoming projects.

Kate Metcalf, Regional Engagement Lead at Social Work England, talks about the role of reflection in learning, writing an effective CPD record, and upcoming projects at Social Work England.

Talking Points 

This podcast examines:

  • The purpose of recording CPD with Social Work England; providing assurance to citizens, recognising the level of responsibility within the social work role, and promoting reflection. 
  • The principles of writing an effective CPD record, including the value of reflecting on learning the role of peer reflection, and the support organisations can provide to social workers.
  • The priorities for Social Work England over the next three years.


This is a Research in Practice podcast, supporting evidence informed practice with children and families, young people and adults.  

Emily: Hi. My name is Emily Smith and I'm a Research and Development Officer with Research in Practice. I'm also a registered social worker with Social Work England. Today I'm going to be having a conversation with Kate about CPD (continuing professional development) and Social Work England. Kate, do you want to introduce yourself?  

Kate: Yes. Hello, thanks, Emily. My name's Kate Metcalf, I am the Regional Engagement Lead for the southeast of England at Social Work England, specialist regulator for social work. I'm also a registered social worker. I qualified in 2009 and in total I have about eighteen years' worth of experience working in the adult social worker sector. I was a best interest assessor, practice educator and a few other various jobs as well along the way. So, that's me.  

[The purpose of recording CPD with Social Work England] 

Emily: Lovely, thank you, Kate and thanks for making some time to come and join us today to talk a little bit about CPD. We are going to spend most today talking about CPD and a bit talking about Social Work England. So, I thought we'd start with talking about CPD. To remain registered with Social Work England, social workers need to record reflections about at least two pieces of CPD each year and at least one of those needs to include some peer reflection. Kate, why is recording CPD part of the requirements for social workers registration? Why is it important? Why does it matter?  

Kate: It's really important to understand that recording your CPD sends a really strong message to the public. So, we're a public protection body and that's one of our overarching objectives, to make sure people are protected. Social work is really complex and high risk, very difficult sometimes job, very rewarding but also it comes with a lot of responsibility and so, by completing and recording and uploading CPD into your online account with us, your regulator, you are illustrating, not just yourself and those that you work with, but to the wider public, that you take your ongoing learning, your continuing professional development really, really seriously, as you should. Because to be the best social worker with that high level of responsibility, you need to continue to keep your skills and knowledge up to speed and up to date. So, your regulator is asking you to do that twice a year and that's where it knits together. Your ongoing development and learning, knits together with showing the public how important it is to continue to learn as part of staying registered and being able to use the legally protected title of social worker really. It also demonstrates your fitness to practice, which is what regulation is all about.  

Emily: There's something there about assurance to citizens, about professional identity and responsibility, and I suppose your answer made me think about respecting our own profession and our social work expertise really and the role of continuing professional development in that. Something that I was reflecting on while I was thinking about this question in advance of the podcast is that when I do sit down and do my CPD record for Social Work England, I often always find it quite useful to do. I think that sometimes I put it off, but then actually doing it as often helps me reflect on my practice. Last year when I was still in frontline practice, I wrote about a really difficult experience that I'd had at work with a child and family that I was working with and what I'd learnt from it. And I found that actually writing it down and reflecting on it in writing helped me directly with some reflection. And I was reading this year we've got a really good wellbeing guide about practitioners' wellbeing that came out recently and they were talking there about the value of expressive, reflective writing and how useful it is for boosting emotional literacy and empathy and flexibility. So, I suppose, also when you can find the time, actually writing things down might for some people feel a bit like self-care or really support critical reflection. And one of the things that stand out to me from your form is that it does ask for you to reflect on your professional development, not just prove that you've done it.  

Kate: Yes, absolutely. They're all really key points and I love that idea of framing it as part of your own structured wellbeing as a professional that does a really demanding, really tough job, it's a great way of seeing it. I suppose one of the things that we've learnt through the first few years of regulation is that it's fair to say that social work is an incredibly reflective profession but also, that sometimes it's easy to forget how reflective we need to be in our learning as well. So, we have some golden rules at Social Work England in order to mean that the CPD you share with us – and we encourage you to be as creative and as imaginative as you can be – is the best, you know, is your best learning. We purposely don't prescribe what that learning is, but we have some golden rules that mean that as long as you meet the golden rules, it is CPD continuing professional development or learning. If you want to call it a piece of learning, that's what it is.  

[‘Golden rules’ for recording CPD with Social Work England]  

The rules are, describe it – describe the learning – as clearly as you possibly can. Why did you go on that course or do that bit of e-learning or attend that webinar? So, a good description. The second golden rule is really reflect on it, and this is the bit that you're referencing here about: what did it make you think and what did it make you feel? It's all that stuff that we did as social work students when we were compiling those portfolios. It's a continuation of that really good learning that we did in our training: what did it make you think about what you might go off and read next? Or how you're going to put that good learning into good effect in the job that you do. And the third golden rule is to anonymise everything, including anybody who constitutes your peer for peer reflection. So, anonymity, reflection, description.  

Yes, the reflective part of it, you know, it should be a meaningful exercise. One of the best bits of advice anybody shared with me about this, which I've gone onto mention in almost every CPD workshop I've delivered since, is book an appointment with yourself. You're worth twenty minutes of your own time once a week, once a fortnight, even once a month if that's all you can manage but book 20, 30 minutes with yourself. Literally, book a meeting with yourself, don't invite anybody else and give yourself the time you deserve to sit down and write down what you've learnt this week because every single week you're learning something as a social worker.  

Emily: I love that bit of advice. I'm going to be taking that onboard and booking some appointments with myself to sit down and write about learning. I love what you said about actually, we're so reflective as a profession in practice but we also need to be reflective in our learning and reflect on the impact on us. It's so easy to prioritise other things, I think when work feels busy and stressful but perhaps the busier it is, the more we need to prioritise time for ourselves and for reflection.  

[Learning from CPD reviews about what makes an effective CPD record] 

You mentioned your role as a regulator and reviewing CPD records and we know that each year some social workers are chosen to have those records reviewed and you've talked about some of those golden rules for what makes a good CPD record. I wonder if there's anything else from those reviews that you've picked up on about what makes a really effective CPD record? What are some things that social workers could be aware of that might help them?  

Kate: Start early, don't leave it until the last minute. You're really not going to upload your best learning with us if that's what you do. And you can do it all through the year. Focus on impact. So, with the learning that you've done – whatever it is because you get to choose – the learning that's been most meaningful to you. Talk to us in the reflective part of that about the positive impact it's made on the work that you do. We know that lots and lots of social workers on the register are not case holders. So, when we talk about positive impact on your practice, we're not necessarily talking strictly about the face-to-face practice that you might be undertaking with members of the public, with children, families and adults. We're talking about the job you do, the job you happen to do as a registered social worker. So, what's the really positive outcome and impact that that learning is going to have on the job that you do? We really want to know: what difference has that learning made?  

And then structurally, yes, try and use a bit of a basic structure. This isn't an academic process. We're quality over quantity. There are minimum word counts for each box and the form tells you what those are, but we don't want to restrict you either but really think about the quality of what you're giving us. It's not an exercise in being tested, we're not trying to trip you up and it's also not about someone signing off that you've proven to us that you're learning. We know social workers are learning every single week, it's a matter of capturing that learning that you're already doing. You've probably done loads of bits of CPD that you could upload into your account, but you just need to capture them and share them with us and just proofread it. I would say really proofread your CPD. We don't have a spell check on our system yet and I think that we'd very much like to change that but at the moment it's not there. So, make sure you structure and proofread your submissions, so that they make sense to us.  

Emily: So, start early, focus on impact, quality over quantity, proofread what you're writing and really focus on capturing learning and reflection more than anything else will make for a good, effective CPD record. I know it's not you personally, but when you and Social Work England review those CPD records, are there any common challenges people face when completing it or common pitfalls that people fall into that might make it more difficult for them?  

[Learning from common challenges when recording CPD] 

Kate: Yes, there are actually, and I've been part of the group that's been doing some of the auditing of CPD and spotting the patterns. So, I would say that lots of social workers, you know-, just to emphasise here that everybody's really trying hard to get this right and we know that social workers are super busy. So, I don't want this to come across as super critical but what I would say we've spotted is that social workers often repeat themselves. So, they might write a description of the learning and they go on to write another description of the learning.  

So, the description is what you did and why you chose to do it. The reflection, is often, ironically for social workers, where they fall down a little bit. That's the bit where it's actually okay to write in the first person and say, 'I thought this. I felt that. This is what challenged me. My own values, what I already know, what I thought I knew.' It's all about what you think and feel in the reflective box. So, don't be afraid to be really open and honest about what that training made you think and feel. That would be one of the things I'd say has tripped social workers up. I think they've slightly misunderstood the reflective element of the CPD exercise.  

And also, we know that submitting a minimum of two pieces of CPD every year, which is what you have to do to remain registered, we know that two pieces probably won't meet all eight parts of professional standard four, which is the standard about CPD. And I think what we've spotted is lots of social workers, they're ticking all the boxes saying I've met professional standard 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, all the way through to 4.8 and they're saying that they're doing that with each piece of CPD. Whereas to be brutally honest, it's pretty difficult to do that. It's going to be very hard to evidence the entire part of professional standard four with just one bit of learning. So, be honest with yourself, you're automatically meeting 4.6 and 4.7 with each piece submitted anyway because they're about reflecting on your learning and recording it with your regulator. But really be honest with yourself and look back over the learning you're uploading in the moment and ask yourself, which of the other parts of professional standard four am I really evidencing here? Is it just 4.8 as well, which is about looking at your bias and challenges, or is it the part of the standard which is about contributing to a learning culture? You know, you're not going to be evidencing all of the professional standard four in one go.   

So, we have seen some patterns there with what social workers are submitting. And like I say, it's not to criticise. It's just we're all, you know, the profession is all getting to grips with this as a process and we've tried to simplify it and streamline it as much as we can but it's still early days.  

[Peer reflection]  

Emily: I wonder if we could take a moment to talk about peer reflection. Obviously, it was a new requirement last year, it's just come in and I wonder if you have any suggestions for how social workers do that well, what it would look like or anything that didn't go so well perhaps with peer reflection.  

Kate: In this regulatory year four that we're now going into what we know we need to do is allow that part of professional standard four to bed down a bit. Social workers will need a bit more time to get their heads around what it means and what the peer component of this exercise is. You know, you've done a bit of learning, so you've done that CPD exercise regardless of what that looks like and then you've gone and had a conversation with a peer about it and there's a big, long list of who constitutes as a peer on our website. But let's just say for arguments sake it's your supervisor or a colleague in your team. They could be from an entirely different discipline, if you're in a multi-disciplinary team, but as long as they're a professional that understands the work that you do in your role as a registered social worker, you can talk to them about that learning that you just did and then capture it in your online account. That actually is the exercise, so it's best not to overthink it really, which I think a lot of social workers did.  

I think they might have panicked a little bit and thought it was something more complicated than it actually was, but it is as simple as that. When you come to capture that conversation with a peer, it's about, sort of, saying, 'Well, what did that conversation about the learning you did, how did that complement your learning? How did that enrich it and extend it? What did it then add to the learning that you'd already completed?' Yes, you know, and we had some great peer reflections come in as well, people particularly talking about on-the-job learning, so learning from a case, and then they talked about it in supervision with their manager or their line manager. That, sort of, opened up the learning that they'd experienced, that they'd already thought about and reflected about on the work that they did.  

Emily: That's really helpful and, kind of, breaking down, actually how I think thinking about what a relational vocation social work is, actually I imagine most social workers are probably doing peer reflection. They might not call it that, but doing peer reflection day in, day out, and I think that's a practice. I think how often I talked to other people about what I was experiencing, I think last year, I was thinking back to what I did for this section, and I did write about some learning, kind of, on-the-job learning about a particular family that I'd been working with. I had the opportunity to take part in some group supervision about that situation, and that was a fantastic opportunity for me to really reflect on how I was working with that family, and it gave me a lot of fantastic things to think about my own biases and assumptions, and values, and how I was working with them. I'll pop in the podcast description, some links, to some of our resources on group supervision. It sounds like peer reflection doesn't need to be that formal, but if people do want to take the opportunity to take part in some group supervision, it's a good chance to do it.  

Kate: It's just a good point to bring up actually, Emily, peer reflection can be formal and it can be informal, and it can be one-to-one, and it can be in a group setting. It is entirely down to the social worker to choose how they do it. If you're getting regular, good-quality supervision, which hopefully you are as a social worker, then anything you discuss, any learning that you've undertaken and completed, whatever format that you discuss in supervision with your line manager, that will constitute peer reflection.  

[Remaining registered while away from work]  

Emily: If there are social workers listening who aren't in front-line practice or who aren't working at the moment, say for example they're on sick leave or maternity leave, have you got any tips for how they could talk or think about doing some peer reflection?  

Kate: Yes, sure. We also know that most social workers are female and a lot of female social workers are mothers and go on maternity leave as well. In the early stages of us being in place, we had a lot of questions about, 'Well, how do I maintain my CPD to stay on the register, because I'm on maternity leave?' That was another category as well. This comes back to the aspect of being as creative and imaginative and as flexible as you can be. If you've learnt something, whatever the format, you know, you might have read an article, you might have listened to a podcast like this, you might have attended an online event or a team meeting. You might even have watched a TV documentary that, you know, portrayed social work in a certain way, whatever format, even if you're not in the workplace at the moment, if you're unemployed and between jobs but you're still on the register. If you've read a journal article while you're off and you can describe why you chose to read it, what it was that you read, what you learnt from it, and then the positive impact it's going to have on the work that you come to do next, then that's a really easy way to keep your CPD up to date. I'd say with the peer reflection element, you know, when you've been on maternity leave, for example, you have the, sort of, reconnecting with work conversations ready for your return. That's the prefect opportunity to talk about some learning with your supervisor, and that would meet the peer reflection requirement as well.  

[Organisational support for social workers]  

Emily: For those that do work for organisations and local authorities that might have a, sort of, leadership role within that authority, so workforce development lead or team manager, are there any tips you've got for them to help them support their staff or colleagues to complete their CPD record?  

Kate: Yes, I was talking about this the other day with a group of managers in the south-east and I was suggesting a number of ideas to help them, sort of, reframe it as an exercise, because what we often hear from social workers by way of feedback is, 'Oh, I haven't got enough time. I've got too much work. Lots of barriers preventing me doing CPD.' You know, they're all things that we understand perfectly. I'm one of eight social workers in an engagement team, and we've all been there. We know how difficult it is in the day-to-day, so from a managerial or team leader perspective, there are some things you can do to try and support your workforce and your staff to, I guess, reframe this, so that it's, sort of, psychologically, you know, you're seeing it as something that's part of the ordinary day-to-day work of a social worker rather than an extra, which it isn't. Things like making sure that your team knows that they have protected working time to book that appointment with themselves, where they switch the phone off, switch their email off, and go off, and capture something in writing that they've learnt that week. I heard about one organisation who coordinates its annual appraisal cycles to happen, sort of, September, October time in the year. In that structured appraisal, they check in with the social worker about where they're at with their CPD submissions to us. That gives them plenty of breathing space before the deadline of 30th November for their CPD annual submissions. Changing supervision templates, you know, if you're a big organisation and you've got, sort of, formal templates for recording supervision, why not think about having an item high up on that supervision agenda which is about, you know, how far are you with our Social Work England supervision submissions and uploading? Having a conversation in supervision about, well, if you're finding it a struggle, why is that? What can be put in place to help that person get it done?  

[Resources for further guidance]  

Emily: Thank you, Kate. That was a really lovely example of how organisations can create structures and systems that support social workers. Where can people go to get a bit more advice about CPD and Social Work England?  

Kate: From the top, this is a podcast. We had lots to do during those lockdowns, and one of the things that we thought would be a really good, accessible way of supporting social workers to learn was to create our own podcast. All of what I'm about to mention is accessible through our website, so if you go to the website, go into the search facility, search under podcast, you will find a sequence of podcasts called This is Social Work. Each of those podcasts, there are six of them, they speak to each of our professional standards, and you'll hear a Regional Engagement Lead or two discussing with someone with lived experience how meaningful that professional standard is for the profession. Then, beyond those six, we've got a couple of additional podcasts that talk about our work around equality, diversity and inclusion, and they're really, really worth listening to as well. That's ongoing work by us.  

Every year, we have social work week, so every March as it stands for the last three years, we've run a week-long event all about connecting social workers to come together and discuss, and learn, and share their knowledge, and we record the best sessions with external speakers, and then we upload them onto our YouTube channel. If you search Social Work England on YouTube, you'll find our channel and all the best sessions are there for you to watch back. That's a really rich source of CPD. We've got an events page on our website and we run on a monthly basis, online free national sessions for anyone to come along to, about CPD and how to complete it, registration and renewal top tips. We run sessions on peer reflection and how to complete your peer reflection CPD ready to upload.  

 We also run monthly workshops for fitness to practice and they're targeted at employers, so you can come along to that if that's the area you work in, and we run sessions on, they're, kind of, like, more informal drop-ins where you can come along and ask any question about regulation. You can come along and meet the engagement team, and have a cup of coffee with us, and talk through anything to do with regulation.  

[Upcoming priorities for Social Work England]   

Emily: We will put a link on the podcast page to Social Work England website and some of those resources that you've mentioned. For anyone that does want to check that out, they should be on the page for you. Moving away from CPD, what else is happening at Social Work England? What are the headlines?  

Kate: Well, one of the things we like to think that we do is, you know, we absorb and listen to feedback and views through our engagement with the sector. That's part of our job in the engagement team is to take that information back into Social Work England, and then come up with ways to regulate better and to reflect what's happening in the profession. As a consequence of that, we know that there are big issues nationally for recruitment and retention of social workers at the moment. We know that there are big issues around reliance upon recruitment agencies, staff turnover, staff exhaustion, and movement around and within the profession. As a consequence of the, sort of, 'you said, we did' model, we've got a very new set of work streams, round tables that have been set up. We asked for people in the profession and the sector to come on board and come and discuss with us what these issues mean for social work. These work streams will focus on the issues for recruitment, retention and work practices, and will enable us to inform the work we do, and hold a mirror up to the profession to show what's going on in the sector at the moment and so that those conversations with influencers and decision makers, with our colleagues at the Department of Education and Department of Health and Social Care, etc. Those conversations are ongoing with us included and, kind of, bringing all the main national organisations together so that we're sure to be addressing these really important topics at the moment, so that's something that we're involved in.  

We've got a brand new education and training advisory forum that we've set up recently, and that's looking at our approach to the education of social workers and the, sort of, early career stage of social work. Conversations have started and the forum has come together, newly recruited, again very much sector-led themes that are coming back through our engagement and work that we're developing in that area.  

We're just about to publish our second equality, diversity and inclusion action plan, and that's a continuation of the good work that we've done so far, talking about issues such as anti-racism in the profession and the need for the regulators, processes and systems to be open and fair, and transparent, so watch out for that. We're undertaking quite detailed analysis at the moment of the data that we were lucky enough to capture on the last renewal of registration cycle. We got a fantastic response from social workers in England where they shared their protected characteristics with us voluntarily. I think 95.6% of social workers chose to do that and as a consequence, we have this really rich data about the makeup of the profession for the first time. We don't want to rush things, so we will later this year be sharing back out more of that information in a really informed way to show how useful that will be in order to tackle some of the issues of racism and discrimination that some social workers are experiencing in the workplace, and that social workers are observing and experiencing themselves.  

We've also published recently a new strategy for the next three years, and our focus on prevention and impact, regulation and protection, delivery and improvement, so it's like a three-year roadmap for us of what we're going to be focusing on between now and 2026. You can read about that on the website, completely developed and co-produced with people who have lived experience of social work as well, really important to say that.  

Yes, those are the big things outside of CPD that we're focusing on at the moment. There's always a lot of work going on behind the scenes. The best way to find out about what we're up to across the whole of regulation is to follow us on Twitter and keep up to speed with the newsletter and that website.  

Emily: Thank you Kate, that's just an absolutely incredible range of activities that you've got going on at the moment, and great to hear the ways in which social workers can be directly involved in that if they choose to be, and give you their views and feedback, and get involved in what's going on for you. As we come to a close, any final words of advice for social workers thinking about that CPD record they've got to do this year?  

Kate: I think my final word of advice would be don't overthink it. Keep it simple. It's a straightforward an exercise as you'd want it to be. It is really simply a case of, we know that you're learning something all of the time. Just grab hold of it, book that time out with yourself, do yourself justice, and showcase your best learning with us.  

Emily: Thanks Kate. If you've enjoyed this podcast, Research in Practice has also got plenty of other resources to support with your CPD, videos, briefings, blog posts, and as Kate said, there's also plenty of advice and guidance on the Social Work England website. There are also lots of resources on the Research in Practice website to support your ongoing professional development, other podcasts like this, practice tools, briefings, videos, and events, so do have a look at our website for that. Just to end with thanking you, Kate, for your time, for your thoughtful and useful reflections, particularly I think for your supportive and reflective attitude towards the social work profession and the value that you place on ongoing learning. I think as a social worker myself, it's been a real pleasure to take part in this conversation, so thank you.  

Kate: Thanks Emily. I've really enjoyed it. It's been a pleasure, and yes, I look forward to seeing what's on the horizon next. 


Thanks for listening to this Research in Practice podcast. We hope you've enjoyed it.  Why not share it with your colleagues, and let us know your thoughts on Twitter? Tweet us at ResearchIP.

Reflective questions 

  1. Think about a piece of learning that has had a significant impact on your practice. What difference did it make, and why did it make such a difference?  
  2. What have been the most challenging and rewarding moments in your role over the last year? What did you learn from these experiences? 
  3. Kate suggests booking an appointment with yourself regularly to learn and reflect on your learning. How can you make time to reflect on your learning this year?  

Resources that are mentioned in this episode 

  1. Wellbeing and reflective writing: During the podcast, Kate and Emily discuss the value of reflective writing for supporting wellbeing. This practitioner wellbeing guide aims to support you to repair, maintain and increase your wellbeing, to allow you to flourish and continue to support others effectively. It includes advice and guidance on the value of expressive writing.
  2. Group supervision: Peer reflection can be an informal conversation with a colleague or other professional. It can also be a planned activity, for example during supervision or a team meeting. Research in Practice has resources to support structured group supervision: 
    1. Using group supervision in children's social care: PSDP - Resources and Tools: This briefing is a practical guide to facilitating group supervision, including how to prepare well and different models of supervision to suit your practice and group. A similar briefing outlines how you could facilitate online group supervision: PDSP Practice Tool.  Both briefings were written for children's social care, but can be adapted for use by practitioners in adults' services. 
    2. Group reflection: PQS resource and Effective group supervision: PQS resource are two short, practical tools that have been written for practitioners in adult social care to support group supervision.
  3. Social Work England resources: See the Social Work England website for the resources that Kate discusses in this podcast, including upcoming events, podcast episodes and guidance on recording CPD. You can also sign up to the Social Work England newsletter and read about their three year strategy.

Professional Standards

PQS:KSS - Organisational context | The role of supervision | Developing excellent practitioners | Creating a context for excellent practice | Lead and govern excellent practice | Supervision, critical analysis and reflection | Organisational context | Influencing and governing practice excellence within the organisation and community | Developing confident and capable social workers

PCF - Critical reflection and analysis

CPD recording, registration and regulation

If you have a Research in Practice account you can easily keep a record of your continuing professional development.
Find out more