Reflecting together on CPD: A conversation with Social Work England

Published: 20/10/2020

This podcast reflects on the importance and benefits of continuing professional development (CPD) for registered social workers, the aims of Social Work England and provides some top tips.

Amanda Richards and Hannah Scott, Research and Development Officers at Research in Practice, talk to Ahmina Akhtar, Regional Engagement lead for Social Work England, Yorkshire and the Humber. They reflect on the importance and benefits of continuing professional development (CPD) for registered social workers, the aims of Social Work England and provide some top tips. 


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

Amanda: Hello, and welcome to this Research in Practice podcast where we're going to be talking about Continuing Professional Development (CPD). My name is Amanda Richards and I am delighted to welcome Ahmina Akhtar, Regional Engagement Lead for Social Work England, Yorkshire and the Humber. Ahmina is also a registered social worker. We also have with us today, Hannah Scott, Research and Development Officer here at Research in Practice and also a registered social worker. By 30 November, all social workers are required to activate their online account with Social Work England, renew their registration and record at least one piece of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). To support our partners, Research in Practice had brought together some guidance and top tips for recording CPD which are all available on our website. This podcast will feed into this suite of resources, which include a blog, videos, a ‘how to use resources’ guide, and a function to create a list of what you've accessed, which can be transferred as an Excel or PDF file.   

[Aims and role of Social Work England]  

Ahmina, it's great to have you with us today. Perhaps you could begin by talking about what the aims of Social Work England are as an organisation and how the organisation is different from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).   

Ahmina: Hi, Amanda, thank you for having me. So, Social Work England is a specialist body taking a new approach to regulating social workers in their vital roles. Our purpose is to regulate social workers in England so that people receive the best possible support in life whenever they need it most. We are a non-departmental public body operating at arm's length from government. We were established by the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and The Social Workers Regulations 2018. Our central focus is public protection and the key difference between us and the HCPC is that we are a bespoke body, focused solely on the regulation of social work rather than a multi-profession regulator. We strongly believe in the power of collaboration and this has been evidenced throughout all of our work to date. We've produced our professional standards, which we will talk a little bit more about later, in collaboration with the sector, and we absolutely believe that collaboration is key to all of our work, and one of the ways that we've evidenced this is through the development of the National Advisory Forum which provides us with expert advice, support, and challenge to our work, and ensuring that we are able to achieve our objectives as the regulator.   

The forum includes practising social workers, social work students, people with lived experience, and social work education and training providers, and we'll also be working with key partner agencies. I believe this forum alongside the Regional Engagement Leads, who are all registered social workers and based in the localities, working with everyone who has an interest in social work will be integral to ensuring that Social Work England stay informed, authentic, collaborative, and rooted in social work values. We've also recently announced Social Work Week, which will take place from 8 March to 12 March and will give social workers and those with an interest in social work the opportunity to reflect on significant events, challenges and successes of the profession in 2020, and it's also an opportunity to look back at our first year of regulation and think a bit more about our ambition as the regulator for the coming year.   

Amanda: Thank you, Ahmina, that's very interesting. You've talked a bit there about the main challenge, but perhaps you could just elaborate and tell us about some of the key challenges since you've taken over.   

Ahmina: So, our early work focused on building a new organisation and making sure that we had the infrastructure needed to take over the regulation of social workers from the HCPC. Then, more challenges we face, like many others, are from COVID-19, I think our first year in regulation has been interesting as a result of COVID-19. Some of the delivery of a lot of the things that we do has had to go remote, this includes fitness to practice hearings, and also the work of my team, the regional engagement team. A lot of what we used to do was travelling, meeting people, and building relationships which is so key to our work and that of social workers, and actually all of that significantly changed. We also had to manage the transition of fitness to practice cases from the HCPC, so another big challenge, and again impacted by COVID-19, as well. So, specific challenges for CPD have included adapting to a new process for recording CPD whilst dealing with a pandemic and getting used to the online account. We've received some feedback from social workers about usability and have made some changes based on these, and they seem to have been received really well. We've also shared a video on our website of how to record CPD and will be sharing a renewals video imminently.   

Amanda: That's great, thank you, and could you share some of the objectives for the next three years?   

Ahmina: So, we published our corporate strategy earlier in the year and this sets out our three-year plan which was developed from a range of discussions with people with an interest in social work, and in a way that reflects our values, the values of the social work profession and our regulatory approach. We focused on five key areas for activity and impact and these are: our regulatory approach; social workers; people; education and training; our organisation. You can find out more about the corporate strategy on our website, we've also got a plan on a page which is quite helpful as a summary. We are committed to being an evolving organisation and we very much see this year as an opportunity to establish ourselves. Next year will be about learning from our first year in regulation and year three will be about setting our ambitions.   

Research plays an important part in our work at Social Work England, and as the regulator, we have a specific and important role within the wider social work ecosystem in England. We recognise through our specialist remit that we will in time be able to provide a unique view of social work in England that reflects the breadth of social work in all settings. We want to make sure that we ask the right questions to better inform our regulation and to offer reliable and insightful intelligence and data about the sector, and ultimately improve its standards and professional practice. We have commissioned our first research projects looking at the behaviour and attitude of social workers and public perception of the profession. These reports can be accessed via our website as well, and they give a unique insight into the evolution of our regulation right at the start of our journey. The findings are not for us alone to solve or act on but for the social work profession to own and address as one workforce with the shared goal to improve people's lives.   

For the five things that are directly relevant to our work, this research will continue to inform how we carry out our work as the specialist regulator, and as we're talking more specifically about CPD today, we also are in the process of commissioning some research on CPD to better understand the experiences of social workers carrying out and recording CPD since we became the regulator in December 2019.   

[Reflecting on the importance of CPD]  

Amanda: Thank you, that's really helpful, and we're getting now to the section that social workers are going to be really interested in hearing about. So, we're going to talk about Continuing Professional Development now and perhaps you could just begin by telling us what benefits to social workers are of having their own framework of regulation and standards. What does this mean to accountability, practice, and personal development, and better outcomes to the people that we support?   

Ahmina: So, our professional standards are specialist to the social work profession and apply to professional social workers in all roles and settings. The standards are the threshold standards necessary for safe and effective practice and as part of our commitment to collaboration, we engaged with thousands of professionals and those with lived experience, and our standards reflect the values and diversity of social work practice and the positive impact it has on people’s lives, families and communities.   

Amanda: Thank you, Ahmina, we're going to hand over to Hannah now. Hannah is also a registered social worker and she's going to talk a bit more about CPD.   

Hannah Scott: Hi, Ahmina. So, there's been lots of conversation, I think, with social workers recently with the change to Social Work England but also with this deadline coming up for CPD and I know a lot of people will say, 'I need to look at what training I've done then’, so, can you talk us through a little bit more about what CPD is. Is it training? Is it reflection? Is it all of those things? And what are the key things that you think social workers need to understand about that?   

Ahmina: So, we also have found that many social workers continue to think of CPD as training and we really want to remind everybody that CPD is not just about training. Although formal training and portfolios from programmes such as the ASYE can be an important aspect of learning, CPD can be any activity that you feel would benefit you and your practice. So, this can include anything from learning from complaints and understanding where things went wrong, to podcasts, documentaries, articles, and book clubs. We want you to be creative, think about the things that you do every day that you often take for granted in your job, thinking about things like a difficult conversation with somebody, or even a documentary that made you think. I'm reminded of a conversation that I had in March, back when we were still doing face to face with a social worker who thought about watching a social worker on Coronation Street and thought about how that portrayal would really impact on her practice and she thought that lots of people who haven't had any contact with social workers are likely to use media representations to form their perceptions, and she wanted to think a lot more about how she can change those perceptions, and I thought that was a really good way of thinking about CPD.   

Hannah: I think that's a really helpful example, thank you. CPD can sometimes be seen as a bit of an extra, and particularly an extra thing to put on the to do list, an extra piece of paperwork, but why is it important that social workers need to demonstrate their CPD?   

Ahmina: So, CPD is an important part of our professional standards which aim to improve public safety and confidence in social work, and meeting the requirement for CPD is one element of maintaining your registration with us, and it's important because the social work profession is continually evolving. So ongoing CPD is essential in supporting you in your current role as well as helping you progress throughout your career. CPD is all about enhancing your knowledge, skills and capabilities to remain effective and by keeping your knowledge and skills fresh and up to date, you are able to perform your duties better, as CPD goes hand in hand with ensuring those accessing support receive the most appropriate and highest quality service possible, and I think that social workers are very good at reflecting in practice, but I sometimes feel we may miss opportunities to reflect on practice, although we reflect in practice on a regular basis. I personally have found that it's only through reflecting on practice that I tend to really process my learning and then feel better able to be able to embed that into practice.  

 [Tips for recording CPD]  

I know different people have different experiences of recording CPD, so some social workers really value the opportunity to be able to be able to record their CPD in a more standardised way. Some have actually said that they've linked recording CPD with payday, which was a new one to me but they are adding a piece once a month and linking it with that which I think is a fantastic idea. We at Social Work England have said that recording CPD on a quarterly basis is good practice but recognise the impact that COVID-19 has had, so we've reduced the regulatory ask to a minimum of one piece. However, the average number of CPD pieces that each social worker is recording is three, and we know that it takes some time to develop new habits, so it's great to see that people are recording numerous pieces. Others have found it helpful to record some CPD in a draft form and have it as a placeholder, and this allowed social workers to be able to record their initial thoughts and then build on them later, we know that social workers are busy so sometimes it's helpful just to write something down initially and then build on that later. If you do record some CPD in draft form, then please do remember to submit it by 30th November when the renewal period ends.   

Hannah: Yes, I think I'd have to say I probably come into that category. My personal style is to keep a little note on my phone because I've always been quite a reflective social worker but again, I think a lot of social workers will reflect without even necessarily knowing that they're doing that. So, I try and keep a note on my phone so if it is something late at night or quite a random time, I can just have that reminder to go on and to add it to my own CPD. Like you said, everyone will have their own different styles, and I think the payday one is great, and I think the other thing for me is, I used to do lots of reflection and really thinking about cases in a much more detailed way when I was in the car. Again, that might not be something that social workers are doing quite as much at the moment with remote working, but all those hours spent driving to and from contact, or to see a child that may be quite a long way away, you never get back in the car after those visits and just don't think about anything else again, but because it's not a formal, sit down supervision or reflection, I don't think it's always captured, but I think that's where I would have probably learned loads in practice and if that's benefited my practice as a social worker then that's CPD.   

Ahmina: Absolutely. Absolutely, and I think that's what we want people to think a little bit more about, those creative opportunities and thinking about what it is that you're already doing. For example, some of the blogs that we've got on our website at the moment are called ‘Reflecting on’ blogs, and they're designed to help social workers to reflect and think critically about issues that are affecting them, and these blogs can be used to help social workers reflect on their own practice and record CPD. These include reflecting on COVID-19, values, and creating an open learning culture. Social workers are navigating difficult circumstances with skill and flexibility that's so typical of our profession and we know that they continue to deliver vital services in innovative ways and to think reflectively about the support they provide during the crisis. And as you said, Hannah, it's often so natural that we want to really encourage people to use that reflection and use that opportunity to process difficult experiences and upload valuable learning so that it gives you some time to really think about what is important to you and things that you need to improve, but also things that you need to think about for your own self-care, which I know we'll talk a little bit more about a bit later.   

Hannah: I think what you've touched there on, the impact of COVID-19, and I know that a lot of social workers have been under even more pressure than they have been before, but I think this is a really interesting time in the profession because, again, we're recognised as key workers, and every single social worker has had to adapt to this situation and this way of working. The idea of doing most of your work remotely this time last year, it would have been quite a frowned upon idea, wouldn't it? Whereas now, we've all had to adapt and every social worker will have developed within that, wouldn't they? So, I suppose it's really important that social workers recognise that too, in part of their reflection and their development, too.   

Ahmina: Absolutely, and I think sometimes people are forgetting that that would count as CPD and I think still there is that association with CPD being training, but I think you're absolutely right, COVID-19 has led to some significant changes in practice, in the way that we relate not only to the people that we support but also with our team members as well, so it's had an impact on the individual, on teams, on organisations, and it's really important to think about that impact, and actually there's been some really positive impacts as well. I know that there's been lots of creative and innovative ways that people have found to work and that's such a credit to the profession, but sometimes we need to think about, actually, how many of those things can we continue to use if and when we return to normal or we create a new normal, which is what we keep hearing, but I think it's so important for people to be able to really use these experiences to help drive forward their practice.   

[Reflecting on feedback as part of CPD]  

Hannah: Yes, and I know one of your standards does include about feedback from the people that social workers work with, which again I think is probably even more of an important time when they're having to adjust to us working in these new ways as well. So, could you just share a little bit more information about what the expectation is in terms of accessing that feedback?   

Ahmina: So, as you've said, feedback is really important and we think that it's crucial to social work practice. One of the reasons that I really value feedback is that no matter how skilled and experienced you are as a practitioner, we've all got blind spots. And feedback is so important for improving self-awareness and it's important to be open to receiving feedback, whether that's positive or critical, just because it will really help you to grow and improve your practice. But feedback can come from a range of different sources and we do ask for people to include feedback from those with lived experience where possible and that can be anything ranging from a conversation about how things have changed in their lives to a thank you card or more formal feedback when your social work ends, but it's entirely the decision of the social worker to decide who is best placed to provide that feedback and we only want you to ask for it if it's appropriate and it feels comfortable, but you can also access feedback from a range of different sources, so that could be formal or informal discussions with colleagues, it could be a letter, a review, or a meeting with your supervisor thinking a bit more about areas that potentially you could develop.   

Hannah: That's really helpful, thank you. Again, I think it's another thing that social workers don't always think about, do they? Of those conversations about their practice and what you learn from that, but particularly that informal feedback from families, which we will all get, and from the people that we work with. We'll get that feedback but we don't necessarily think about it in those senses when it's not in a form.   

[CPD and self-care]  

So, can CPD be used in, sort of, other ways to help social workers? Because I think there's a lot of talk about it helping the people that we work with, which is obviously really important, but what are the benefits to social workers of CPD?   

Ahmina: So, I think CPD can really be used to support self-care and well-being. One of the things I'm really passionate about is the fact that social workers are their own greatest resource and reflecting on our well-being and self-care is so important, but we often focus so much on the people we support we sometimes neglect our own well-being and I think CPD is a really great way of creating some space to reflect on yourself, to think about what it is that you need. One of my favourite sayings is, ‘you can't pour from an empty cup’. So, I think CPD is a really crucial way of being able to fill your cup, and I know, as you've said earlier Hannah, that sometimes it can feel like an additional thing to put on your list, an additional thing to do, but actually if we can think a bit more about it creating some time and some space for us to think a bit more about what it is that we need and to think a bit more about the support that's available to us, then that can actually be really helpful.   

And we've already touched on COVID-19, but we know that 2020 has presented a unique set of challenges for social workers and really caring for the most vulnerable of society with reduced face to face interaction as we've talked about, and managing their own lives and taking care of families and loved ones during the pandemic is undoubtedly a huge challenge and we really do want people to take a bit of time out, to really think about what it is that they need as well, and I think CPD really provides an opportunity to take that step back, to reflect on everything that's affecting you as a social worker, that's affecting wider society, and tackle any concerns that you feel you are able to within your team or within your organisation as well. It doesn't have to be a big undertaking. It's fine just to spend a little bit of time thinking about the things that are affecting you and what that means for practice. One of the things that when I'm running some sessions that I often get asked is, ‘how long does it have to be?’ It doesn't have to be an academic assignment, it doesn't have to have Harvard referencing, it just needs to really touch on what is relevant in your role and the impact that that has on your practice.   

Hannah: That's really helpful, thank you. I think self-care is always really important to social workers, again particularly at the moment where they might not have the same sort of team support if people are working remotely. We've got a tool at Resource in Practice which is called SWORD (Social Work Organisational Resilience Diagnostic), which is all about promoting organisational resilience, which I've had a look at recently and I think there's a lot that everyone can take from that because it talks about presenteeism and people working when they might not be feeling quite up to it and I think mental health is a really important aspect of that, which I think everyone's been faced with some challenges with everything that's happened this year, but also just about how we access emails and particularly with remote working, you can sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed, so I think that's something that's really important for social workers, isn't it? Just to take that time to look after themselves because like you said, we can't look after other people unless we're able to do that, and we can often not be as good at putting ourselves first.   

Ahmina: Absolutely, and I think just touching on what you said, Hannah, about accessing emails, boundaries are much harder to maintain when you're working from home and I know that a few conversations that I've had with people where they've said, 'Actually, sometimes I’m logging in at times when I shouldn't. Sometimes I'm logging in in the evenings or at the weekends and it's much harder to create a professional and personal space because you're working from home much more,' so I think again, reflections like that would be really valuable CPD and we really think that going forward this is going to be really helpful for people to reflect a bit more on, particularly because it looks like we might be working in these conditions for longer than anyone would like.   

Hannah: I think that's a really interesting reflection. Making a decision by yourself to say, 'I'm not going to work at certain times,' isn't something that anyone would automatically think about as CPD but actually, if that supports your emotional well-being and means that when you're sat at your desk or going out on those visits, you're more able to really put yourself into that and do the best job that you're doing, that's helping the people you're working with. And that's absolutely part of professional development, isn't it?   

Ahmina: Absolutely, and I think it's those kinds of concepts that we want people to think a little bit more about, that CPD is anything that is helping you to do your job better. So, not just training, not just documentaries, or podcasts, but anything at all that has impacted on your practice, just like the example that you gave, Hannah.   

Hannah: Great, that's really helpful. Thank you very much.   

Amanda: And that's a really great place to leave it, isn't it? Anything that makes us and helps us do our job better. So, we thank Ahmina for her time today and for sharing her reflections and expertise. For further support and learning of your CPD, do visit the Social Work England and Research in Practice websites for access to more resources.   


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


Talking points

This podcast looks at:

  • The aims of Social Work England as an organisation; how the organisation is different from The Health and Care Professionals Council; what the main challenges have been since taking over and Social Work England’s objectives for the next three years.
  • The benefits to social workers of having their own framework of regulations and standards and what this means for accountability, practice, personal development and better outcomes for people they support.
  • Top tips of how social workers have integrated CPD into their work and how this has helped them develop good habits; ideas of how social workers can bring feedback in from those who access services and how CPD be used to help social workers as a tool to help support their own self-care and manage wellbeing.

Resources mentioned in this podcast

Related resources

Reflective questions

Having listened to the podcast we have provided some reflective questions to stimulate conversation and support practice. 

  1. Think about how you can embed CPD into your daily social work practice.
  2. Think about creative ways to gain feedback from those who access services to contribute to your CPD.
  3. Think about how using CPD can bring reflection and learning points about your own wellbeing and resilience.

Professional Standards

PCF - Professionalism | Professional leadership | Knowledge