What to do about PQ?

Where do the post qualifying awards for social work fit within the new CWDC and Skills for Care education and training frameworks?

mature students imagesWe will never ensure quality training, support and supervision for social workers without the active commitment of employers. The pressures that many social work teams are under won’t ease unless there is real investment by employers in developing and supporting their workforce.” Rosie Varley Chair GSCC in a speech at the GSCC Annual Conference 2009

If you are one of the thousands of PQ award holders you may be as puzzled as I am about the current low profile of the post qualifying awards. Admittedly there has been only a limited amount of research about the impact upon practice of completing a post qualifying award in social work. However, the findings consistently affirm the value of the awards in developing advanced practitioner skills and knowledge. High quality social work requires high levels of professional expertise – this has been known for many years. The real challenge is how we equip social workers with the skills and knowledge to consistently deliver best practice in social work.. We certainly need more research to identify where best practice is happening and whether practitioners with a post qualifying award are making a difference.

It is worth reading “Supporting and Promoting Advanced Social Work” published by the Institute of Psychiatry/Kings College London available here . This publication provides a number of case studies from former students and employers about the benefits of completing an Advanced Award in Social Work. The MSc in Mental Health Social Work with Children and Adults teaches practitioners innovative skills in mental health social work that are informed by research. Students not only refresh their knowledge and learn and practise new skills – they are also taught to critically appraise relevant empirical research studies and undertake their own original research. Past students have gone on to influence the development of policy and practice in their agencies, been promoted to leadership positions and offered advanced supervision to less experienced colleagues.

The Interim Report of the Social Work Task Force (SWTF) states that “current arrangements for education, training and career progression are not producing – or retaining – enough social workers suited to the full demands of frontline practice”. Research is required to evidence the links between PQ attainment and the recruitment and retention of social workers. “What support is available for my continuing professional development?” is certainly one of the questions that I would be asking a future employer. More information about the work of the Social Work Task force can be obtained here.

Sadly the challenges facing access to Post Qualifying (PQ) education and training have not radically changed over the last ten years. Funding, capacity issues and the lack of a national performance indicator are big disincentives for employers to invest in staff undertaking post qualifying awards in social work. The not for profit sector, with even less access to funding, are struggling to support staff wanting to undertake PQ. This is further complicated by the number of agency social workers employed by local authorities. There is no consistency in the access they have to continuing professional development opportunities.

Recognition or incentives vary considerably amongst employers because PQ is not systemically linked to re-registration, pay structures or workforce development. It is not clear why the Children’s Workforce Development Council (CWDC) did not link the post qualifying awards to the emerging career framework or the Newly Qualified Social Work (NQSW) scheme. I hope that the increased focus on the importance of the Advanced Social Work Practitioner role will provide the necessary impetus for the cultural shift required.

The SWTF Interim Report criticises the current PQ framework for not meeting employers and social workers’ needs for specialisation. Amongst the gaps identified are therapeutic work, emergency duty work and operating in dangerous family environments. A brief look through the London PQ Programmes Directory highlights the diversity of courses available which range from the MSc in Inter-professional Practice through to the Post Graduate Diploma Applied Systemic Theory.

This suggests a problem with the structure of the regional partnerships between employers and universities rather than an unwillingness of the universities to respond to employer demands. The criticism does not seem to take account of the innovative new courses which have been developed by employer and university partnerships including modules on Protecting Vulnerable Children and Personalisation. There is also the reality that universities have to make a business case for developing new programmes – if the demand is there undoubtedly new programmes can be developed. There are costs involved and the numbers may be so small in one region that it may not be financially viable. The growth of eLearning modules increasingly offered by a number of universities may fill the gap. Read about the Research methods and critical appraisal for social workers e-learning short course here

A number of universities have integrated the NQSW outcomes to the post qualifying framework. Arguably, the CWDC and Skills for Care could have demonstrated their commitment to the post qualifying awards by including them in the original brief for developing the NQSW rather than left as an afterthought.

Useful information about PQ including “Making Sense of the Post Qualifying Awards – a brief Guide for London Employers” can be obtained here.

The Social Work Task Force believes that “to be successful the post-qualifying training framework needs to be linked much more explicitly to career structures, progression and Post Registration Training and Learning (PRTL) requirements for registration with the GSCC. Its success will be dependent not only on the standards and quality of the training and materials, but also on the shared engagement of employers and professionals: both sides must make the commitment of time and resources that will be necessary”.

I believe that it is equally important to value and learn from the experiences of the thousands of social workers who have already completed a post qualifying or advanced award in social work.

My top ten suggestions for promoting the post qualifying awards

 A research study to be commissioned to examine the following areas. A quantitative study to determine the number of social workers undertaking, or who have completed, a post qualifying award. A qualitative study to explore the benefits and challenges for employers and social workers of the post qualifying framework. An employer’s study to identify how the achievement of an award is linked to pay scales, career progression and the workforce development strategy.

 The development of an online resource to enable social workers who have completed an original research project as part of their Advanced Award to share their findings.  Maybe this could be hosted by SCIE with a regular feature on Social Care TV? 

 A national communications strategy to promote awareness of the benefits of undertaking a PQ Award. The Social Work Development Partnership to encourage all of the regions to provide a rolling programme of PQ Information Seminars.

 Producing a monthly eLetter which regularly updates all stakeholders about PQ Developments. This could be incorporated into the GSCC Social Work Connections eLetter.

 Making the links between the post qualifying framework and the different initiatives developed by Skills for Care and CWDC to strengthen the recruitment, retention and continuing professional development of social workers. 

 An online survey to be undertaken to determine current levels of awareness and registrations for PQ awards in local authorities, the health service and the private and voluntary sector.

 Social workers who have completed a post qualifying award to be encouraged to become PQ Champions. There is an interesting article about this in the June 2009 London PQ Bulletin

 Information about the range of post qualifying courses to be made more widely available through the development of a National Directory of Post Qualifying Courses  updated annually. The names of universities offering Approved PQ Courses are listed on the GSCC website.  More detailed information about London courses can be downloaded here London PQ Programmes Directory

 A survey to establish what support is being provided by Recruitment Agencies for temporary staff who wish to undertake post qualifying studies. Maybe the Association of Social Work Employment Businesses (ASWEB) could undertake this survey?

And finally an Annual Conference to update employers, practice teachers, front line social workers and people who use services about PQ developments, to celebrate PQ achievements and to promote best practice. You can read about the very successful  conference “Professional Leadership – The Challenge for Advanced Practitioners” which was reported in the April 2008 London PQ Bulletin.

Millions of pounds have been invested in the post qualifying framework over the past fifteen years. Thousands of social workers have invested their time and money in completing a post qualifying award. I hope that the Social Work Task Force will ensure that this investment is embedded into future social work practice.

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2 Responses to “What to do about PQ?”

  1. Martin Webber Says:

    In my experience of running an advanced level post-qualifying programme at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, it appears that it is primarily practitioners who are interested in their own professional development and not their employers. Whilst we work in partnership with some very supportive employers, most see PQ awards as an optional extra for their practitioners or, at best, have a narrow vision of which ones they should be supporting. The majority of our students are self-funding because their employer will not pay for their professional development. Some have study leave, others have to use annual leave. Only the minority have the full support of both study leave and funding by their employer. In the absence of any bursary scheme, PQ awards are being achieved at huge personal expense.

    Regional partnerships have squeezed out programmes on specialist areas of practice – if it is not on a list approved by the employer, it will not be funded. Also, if the employer does not view a programme as being of central relevance to the practitioner’s job, it doesn’t get funded. Practitioners working in children’s social care, for example, struggle to get funding to go onto our mental health advanced award – even though the programme is aimed at working with both adults and children. Have we not learnt from all the child death inquiries about the importance of understanding adult mental health problems? Recent SCIE guidance indicates the importance of joined up working between adult mental health and children’s social care. Shared training is one way of building bridges and sharing learning to enhance the protection of both vulnerable children and adults.

    PQ needs to be put centre stage by the SWTF and the new national college of social work. Practitioners should be supported to determine the direction of their own professional development (within obvious parameters) and they should be properly funded to achieve the awards. If we are serious about the professionalisation of social work, PQ needs to be embedded in workforce development plans and not left as an afterthought.

  2. Neil Sanyal Says:

    I am fascinated by these two postings by Martin and Shirley. There are some very good points they make which I whole-heartedly agree with. The funding issue is probably the biggest of all in my opinion, speaking as one of the ex-students Martin mentioned who had to fund myself!! I like Shirley’s 10 point plan and I think she should circulate it to as many training and development leads in local authorities as possible, if that has not already been done. I really would relish the chance to correspond with experts at the IoP like Jack Nathan, Elizabeth Kuypers and others in some sort of discussion forum so that their academic experience and skills could somehow continue in some small way to be beneificial to ex-students. We made the original investment in the course, struggled our way through (some of us that is) and have not always been supported in our organisations to follow through what we have learnt!!

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