‘Supervising The Supervisor’ Programme

Aspirations for the new ‘Supervising the Supervisor’ Programme

Published: 24/08/2020

Author: Jo Williams and Dez Holmes

‘We want them to come back passionate about reflective supervision’ – Practice Supervisor Development Programme participant

Testimony to the positive feedback from participants and the successful impact of wave one and two of the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP), the Department for Education have commissioned us to provide a third wave of programme. This includes a new strand aimed at the ‘Supervisors of the Supervisors’ – those colleagues who manage the supervisors who previously attended the PSDP. This includes team managers and those who are heads of service. These middle leaders play a crucial part in shaping the overall practice system and organisational culture, and yet are too often unable to participate in continuing professional development (CPD) due to the demands of their role. 

As a consortium, we are delighted at the opportunity to extend the programme to this group of managers and have been busy, developing the new ‘PSDP: Supervising the Supervisor Programme’. As part of this development, we convened some focus groups with participants from the PSDP and asked them what they felt was important to include.

Virtual place, space and time

In her paper ‘Supervising the Supervisors’, Frances Patterson notes how limited the opportunities are for managers to reflect in depth on their supervisory practice; to examine the skills they are using and to identify process dynamics at work below the surface in supervision (Patterson 2019, p. 50). Feedback from PSDP participants so far has highlighted the value in doing just this, enhancing skills through taking the space and time away from practice to reflect, learn and network with peers.  

Due to the ongoing health and safety considerations of coronavirus (COVID-19), the programme will be a blend of self-directed learning; two days of face-to-face facilitated sessions and three individual reflective development sessions delivered virtually. We have put careful thought into the design of the learning experience, to ensure that virtual learning is both energising and containing, adopting the ethos of a rhythm of learning and teaching. Additionally, this method aims to help busy managers to build their confidence in using virtual methods, supporting them to promote a learning culture across their organisations in these changing times.

Modelling emotionally intelligent, critically reflective, curious supervision practice

The course holds relationship-based practice at its heart and provides a range of opportunities to reflect on our use of ‘self’ as a manager and leader in social work. We will draw on a range of up-to-date, evidence-informed models and apply skills to explore real practice leadership dilemmas, thus making the learning experiential.

Patterson (2019) suggests that a congruent approach to support and supervision across all levels of an organisation helps to foster a reflective culture in which professionals can engage with emotions and with complexity. The Supervising the Supervisors Programme will allow participants to experience some of the core approaches and concepts from the general PSDP and consider their role as middle leaders in enabling high-quality supervision.  In doing this, we are recognising the ‘parallel process’ at play: how we relate in supervision translates to how social workers practice with children and families. A key learning outcome of the programme will focus on how middle leaders can actively promote and role model the skills and behaviours required of practice supervisors.

Transferring learning to practice

A second key focus of this new programme is to help managers think about how to support practice supervisors, specifically wave one and two PSDP participants, to transfer their learning back into the workplace. This embraces a concept of recognising CPD as a system-wide priority, though using tools and approaches to support ‘learning transfer’.

Evidence regarding ‘learning / training transfer’ highlights how influential managers are in enabling (or sometimes impeding) learning to become embedded in practice (Stolee et al, 2005). For more senior colleagues, having the autonomy to make changes to practice may also aid training transfer (Pike 2012). Middle leaders are therefore critical in ensuring that investment in CPD makes a difference in practice – and ultimately children and families’ lives. This new programme aims to provide participants with ideas and techniques to maximise the impact of PSDP, and of CPD more widely, within their organisation.

Securing a place on programme

Many people in the sector are very busy dealing with the impact of COVID-19 and we have held the PSDP: Supervising the Supervisor Programme open for longer in mind of this. If you are interested in taking up a place on this open access programme – please get in touch with psdpevents@researchinpractice.org.uk by 14 September.

Extending the open access PSDP website

As part of the PSDP: Supervising the Supervisor Programme we are developing the programme’s open access website further to provide a series of resources written specifically for managers of practice supervisors – available early next year. 

As part of that development Frances Patterson will be writing a knowledge briefing for managers of practice supervisors based on the ideas she presents in her paper. In the meantime you can read Patterson’s full paper.

Telling you about the new 'Supervising the Supervisor' programme.

Jo Williams and Dez Holmes

Jo Williams is the Delivery Lead for the Practice Supervisor Development Programme and works at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Dez Holmes is the Director of Research in Practice and Programme Director for the Practice Supervisor Development Programme.


Patterson, F. (2019). Supervising the supervisors: What support do first-line supervisors need to be more effective in their supervisory role?. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(3), 46-57.

Pike, L. (2012) Not just ticking the box : an investigation into safeguarding adults training transfer in Cornwall, UK. Research Theses Main Collection. University of Plymouth.

Stolee P, Esbaugh J, Aylward S, Cathers T, Harvey DP, Hillier LM, Keat N and Feightner JW (2005). ‘Factors associated with the effectiveness of continuing education in long-term care’ Gerontologist 45 (3) 399-409


Resources to support practice supervisors in their role

Practice supervisors play an important role in supporting supervisees to become emotionally resilient practitioners and ensuring that social workers provide an excellent service to children and families. Open access resources aim to support practice supervisors in key aspects of their role.
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