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Social work and CPD

A quantitative and qualitative research study into social work and continuing professional development (CPD).

Social work and continuing professional development (research report)

Published: 20 May 2021

We're committed to learning more about social work and to gathering data and intelligence about the profession and people’s experiences.

In October 2020, we commissioned YouGov to help fulfil this aim. They conducted a quantitative and qualitative research study into social work and continuing professional development (CPD).

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Our summary of key findings

This is a summary of YouGov’s research into social work and continuing professional development (CPD). It sets out key themes identified from the experiences of social workers carrying out CPD in the first year of our regulation.

YouGov took a multi-method approach to the study to ensure insight was gathered from different types of social workers. The research covered 2 workstreams:

Workstream 1: social workers’ experiences of recording CPD: To evaluate the experiences and perceptions of CPD across the social work profession. Social workers were also asked about their experiences of recording CPD with us, our communications with them, their views on the future of CPD and what role Social Work England plays in supporting social workers.

Workstream 2: analysis of social worker CPD records: To explore the types of CPD that social workers are undertaking in support of standard 4 of the professional standards, what issues the CPD addressed and how social workers reflect on the impact of the CPD on their practice.

Workstream 1

What does CPD mean to social workers?

Overall, social workers hold positive attitudes towards CPD around 8 in 10 see the value in it (83%) and feel it is vital to protect the integrity of the profession (77%). However, many do not have time to do it (41%) and a quarter think CPD is just a box-ticking exercise (27%). The qualitative research found these feelings of ‘box-ticking’ had increased since recording of CPD with us became a requirement. Most social workers do see clear benefits to participating in CPD though, most commonly that CPD keeps their practice up-to-date (76%) and that CPD allows social workers to develop their skills (69%).

What helps and hinders CPD?

Social workers are most commonly motivated to undertake CPD to keep their work knowledge fresh (66%), to comply with regulations and inspections (62%) and to keep up to date with changes in policy (57%). Younger social workers (aged 25 to 34) are more likely to be motivated to undertake CPD than older social workers (aged 55+), (61% vs 45%).


Time stands out as the main barrier that social workers face in undertaking CPD, with 60% citing not enough time during working hours. Other barriers to undertaking CPD relate to lack of funding (28%), not enough appropriate content (26%) or a lack of online or distance learning (23%), confirming that social workers still largely view CPD as training.


Support is mostly in the form of discussions with the social worker’s manager (46%). However, a fifth (18%) feel that their organisation doesn’t provide any support to them to undertake CPD. These social workers tend to be slightly older (25% for aged 55+).

When asked what they would like more of to support them, social workers cited things like dedicated time, greater flexibility to undertake CPD on topics outside of their day-to-day role or tasks, high quality supervision where reflective practice occurs, and managers who value CPD.

What kinds of CPD do social workers do?
Type of CPD

The qualitative research highlighted that many social workers think of CPD as formal training and courses, until they reflect on our communications on what CPD can include. Online learning was the most common form of CPD during 2020 (76%), with the most common topics being reflection on their own practice (63%), working with children or vulnerable adults (57%), and understanding policies or frameworks (52%). Many social workers also think of peer reflection, everyday reflective practice and supervision as CPD.

Experiences of undertaking CPD

The qualitative research found that many believe CPD has become more accessible in the last 12 months as it has (for the majority) moved online. Many spoke of practical and reflective CPD being most useful, as well as hearing from those with lived experience and external organisations.

How do external events affect CPD?

Around a fifth of social workers specifically undertook CPD to help them deal with the COVID-19 pandemic (19%). Half of social workers agree that undertaking CPD during the pandemic is more difficult than before (49%), and that completing it is not a priority (42%), but 40% say CPD has helped them reflect on their experiences during the pandemic and 35% say it is key for them to deal with the challenges emerging.

There are misgivings around the suitability of an online format for more sensitive and reflective CPD topics. A small minority of the qualitative respondents spoke of the content as well as the method of their CPD changing in the last year due to large and impactful societal changes, including COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement.

Do social workers understand the requirement for CPD?
Requiring CPD

Most social workers (92%) are aware that they are required to record CPD with Social Work England in order to renew their registration. The most common reason for this is to demonstrate to the public that all social workers are fit to practise (70%). This is closely followed by measuring standards and skills within the profession (67%) and ensuring minimum standards (63%). Generally, social workers are also positive about the process of recording CPD, with two-thirds (67%) recognising that reflecting on their CPD can help them become a better social worker.

Recording CPD

Half of social workers say communication from Social Work England around the requirement to record CPD has been clear (55%). Adult social workers are more likely than children and families social workers to see the benefit of recording their CPD on our system (53% vs 43%). Similarly, those with management responsibility are more likely than those without to recognise the benefit of recording CPD (58% vs 43%).

A minority view the requirement of recording CPD in order to renew their registration as unfair (29%) and think that logging their CPD with us is a waste of their time (28%), more so for children and families social workers (32%) than adult social workers (21%). Newly qualified social workers are more likely than those with more experience to think that the requirement for CPD to maintain their registration is unfair (40% vs 27%).

How are social workers recording CPD?

The majority of social workers are comfortable using their Social Work England online account (83%) and most find recording CPD easy (19% very easy, 50% fairly easy). A minority find recording CPD difficult (13%) and the most common reason for this is the amount of time it took to do (42%). A third of those who had difficulty mentioned a lack of clarity or not enough instruction (35%) or technical difficulties (32%). The qualitative research also cited no confirmation of successful recording and lack of feedback as additional barriers.

The qualitative findings also found that some social workers record their CPD activities with us on an ongoing and regular basis, but that many leave it to ‘the last minute’; often when prompted by reminder emails from Social Work England. The timing of when social workers record their CPD is determined by their availability and their attitudes towards logging their CPD. Some of those who do not agree they should have to log their CPD, did not prioritise the task and needed to be reminded by peers and our emails.

Some like that there are two different forms they can choose from to record their CPD activities. Those with more working experience, often prefer the free style form which allows them to include more reflections on their practice and learning. A few had attended a briefing session from their Social Work England regional engagement lead, which they found extremely useful.

How do social workers engage with Social Work England’s CPD communications?

At the time of the research, the majority (93%) had received some form of communication from us about their CPD. Many commented on the reminders from us to complete CPD with a mix of views; some find it irritating, some think they are too frequent, and some think they are crucial. The tone is generally received as too formal and serious. The information that Social Work England includes on the website, including the short video, is considered clear and useful, but not all are aware of it.

Email communication is how most want to hear from us (81%), and only 17% would like events from Social Work England, which is interesting, considering the regional engagement team often hear that people don’t read emails and that workshops work better. Around one in 20 (6%) would not like to be contacted by Social Work England at all.

What is the future of CPD?

Throughout, participants reference a desire for more explicit examples of the types of CPD activities that can be recorded and how to complete the forms to a high standard. As social workers struggle to find the time to complete CPD, they would welcome our engagement with employers to formally set aside time to complete it.

Social workers also want formal training to be linked to our website or more promotion of CPD opportunities on the website, including some interest in Social Work England running its own CPD. Additionally, some raise the suggestion that employers could submit evidence of CPD as many record participation with their employers already and would avoid repetition.

Workstream 2

Insights from social workers’ CPD records

The researchers analysed 750 anonymised records to provide feedback on areas like the social worker’s role in their described CPD activity, the delivery type, the topics covered and CPD standards met. They then break these down by age and gender where possible. Most of the findings echoed that of workstream 1.

3 clear themes emerged in the topics that social workers covered in the CPD:

  • models of practice,
  • working with children and vulnerable adults,
  • and legal acts.

There is a good spread across the CPD standards evidenced, with standards 4.4, demonstrating good subject knowledge, and 4.5, contributing to an open learning culture, being evidenced the most (76% for both).

It was felt that undertaking CPD builds soft skills, including communication skills and confidence. Increased knowledge can improve the quality of their practice and make social workers more confident in their skills.

It was identified that CPD inherently builds an open and learning culture, with many undertaking CPD in a group or workshop format. Social workers are also keen to share learnings with their colleagues, with some referencing that this improved their own understanding.

Many social workers begin identifying their learning needs through discussion with their supervisor. CPD can also be cyclical, building an increased desire to learn more in the future and also uncovering new learning needs.

External events motivating learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many social workers undertaking specific training to respond to the crisis more effectively. Several records mentioned training either being organised for social workers or conducting their own research into the virus and its impacts. Some records specifically mention an increase in domestic violence as a result of the lockdown, prompting them to refresh their knowledge in this area.

The Black Lives Matter movement has also specifically driven some social workers to undertake CPD and almost half (48%) of social workers had undertaken CPD related to equality, diversity and inclusion. Social workers who undertake CPD on topics like this may not directly reference a particular movement, but see it as part of wider societal discussions around discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or other characteristics.

Impact of the CPD on their practice

Social workers understand how CPD impacts their practice via direct feedback from their colleagues, supervisors, and managers. Some also received direct feedback from people with lived experience, or saw how their improved practice impacted those that they were supporting.

One of the most fundamental impacts on a social worker’s practice is where CPD causes them to reflect on their own values and belief systems, and how these feed into decision-making. Many social workers recognised the influence of their own personal values and working to be objective in their judgements. Linked to person-centred practice, this is evidenced by tailoring services to those with lived experience.

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