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CPD guidance for social workers

Continuing professional development (CPD) guidance for social workers

Last updated: 18 September 2020


About this guidance

Continuing professional development (CPD) is the reflection and learning activity that social workers undertake throughout their career to maintain and improve their practice. By undertaking and recording CPD, you demonstrate to us and the public that you uphold our professional standards and continue to remain fit to practise.

Meeting the requirement for CPD is one element of maintaining your registration with us. 

If you are unable to demonstrate that you meet the CPD standard by the end of the registration renewal period, you may face removal from the register. 

This document provides guidance on our requirements and expectations around CPD. It’s designed to support you in understanding the professional standard relating to CPD and how to uphold it in your practice.

You are the best person to determine your own learning needs and, through this guidance, we want to encourage your learning to happen in diverse, flexible and innovative ways that support your work.

Our approach to CPD allows for:

  • online ‘on the go’ recording on your Social Work England account
  • a focus on reflection and impact on practice
  • social workers to tell us about the learning and reflection they’re already undertaking in other post-qualifying activities
  • a variety of file uploads and reflection formats to suit different needs and styles of learning

To make clear the connection between your learning, our professional standards and practice, the first section of this guidance describes the professional standard relating to CPD (standard 4). We’ll explain why the underpinning elements of standard 4 are important and suggest how you could use them to demonstrate that you meet the standard. This guidance also includes information about our annual validation process as well as what that process means for you.

As well as supporting social workers, this guidance makes clear to the public, people with lived experience of social work, employers of social workers, educators and other professionals what is expected of social workers when completing their CPD.

For more information see:

Our approach

Working with social workers, employers and others with an interest in social work, we’ve developed an approach to CPD that emphasises personal reflection and the impact the learning has on practice. We’ll continue to work with social workers to develop our approach to CPD. We’ll be able to see the kinds of learning activities social workers record in their online accounts which will allow us to make intelligence-led improvements to our approach.

Summary of process

  1. Registration year starts in December. 
  2. Social worker carries out CPD during the year.
  3. Social worker records CPD during the year on online account.
  4. By end of the year, social worker makes sure they've met requirements.
  5. At renewal, social worker confirms they meet CPD standard.
  6. Compliance check made on whether CPD has been recorded.
  7. 2.5% of those who have recorded CPD selected for validation.
  8. Validation exercise carried out. Notify social worker of outcome. 

Students

Social Work England does not regulate students. However, if you’re currently a social work student, you may want to familiarise yourself with our professional standards and our CPD process. You may find this helpful in preparing for social work practice and to demonstrate that you meet the standards once you qualify, join our register and begin your career.

Language

In this guidance we use the word ‘you’ to refer to social workers. ‘We’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ refers to Social Work England. When we use the term ‘CPD standard’, we’re referring to the professional standard relating to CPD: standard 4. ‘Online account’ refers to your online Social Work England account.


Our expectations

Standard 4, our professional standard relating to CPD, sets out what you need to do to maintain your registration.

Maintain my continuing professional development

  • 4.1 Incorporate feedback from a range of sources, including from people with lived experience of my social work practice.
  • 4.2 Use supervision and feedback to critically reflect on, and identify my learning needs, including how I use research and evidence to inform my practice.
  • 4.3 Keep my practice up to date and record how I use research, theories and frameworks to inform my practice and my professional judgement.
  • 4.4 Demonstrate good subject knowledge on key aspects of social work practice and develop knowledge of current issues in society and social policies impacting on social work.
  • 4.5 Contribute to an open and creative learning culture in the workplace to discuss, reflect on and share best practice.
  • 4.6 Reflect on my learning activities and evidence what impact continuing professional development has on the quality of my practice.
  • 4.7 Record my learning and reflection on a regular basis and in accordance with Social Work England’s guidance on continuing professional development.
  • 4.8 Reflect on my own values and challenge the impact they have on my practice.

Demonstrating to us that you continue to meet this standard allows you to maintain your registration under our regulations and registration rules.

In standards 4.1 to 4.8, we outline the areas of learning you should consider when undertaking CPD. Where possible, you should aim to demonstrate all 8 parts of the CPD standard across the activities you record during the year. You do not need to demonstrate all 8 parts in every piece of CPD. We will expect to see how you’ve reflected on your learning and how the CPD you’ve undertaken has impacted your practice.

Part of this is keeping an up to date record of your CPD on your online account. This is how you will demonstrate that you’re eligible to renew your registration each year (section 3 of this guidance shows you how to use your online account).

We encourage you to regularly record your CPD activity throughout the year to keep it up to date. You should upload your CPD now and keep recording throughout the year, so your CPD remains up to date. Recording CPD at least once a quarter would be good practice. Our registration renewal cycle is annual, so you must record some CPD every year.

We’ve not specified an amount of CPD that you should do. You should decide how much CPD you need to do, taking into account your personal circumstances and how you’re practising at the time.

At the point of renewal, we’ll check that you’ve met the CPD requirement. This is an important part of renewing your registration. 

If you think that, over the course of the registration year, you will not be able to meet the CPD requirement, you should contact us so we can discuss your circumstances.

At the close of the registration renewal period, you may be selected for validation. If you’re selected, we’ll look at your CPD activities in more detail. For our first year of regulation we won’t be assessing the quality of your record. Instead, we’ll check whether the CPD you’ve recorded shows how the learning activity has impacted your practice. For further information about renewal and validation, see the relevant sections in this guidance.

For more information see:

CPD activities

It’s important to remember that CPD is not just about attending training courses. Although formal training and portfolios from programmes such as the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) can bean important aspect of learning, CPD can be any activity you feel would benefit you and your practice. This can include anything from learning from complaints and understanding where things went wrong, to podcasts, articles and book clubs.

We won’t give direction or advice on what CPD you should do, but we do encourage you to think creatively about your learning, including the things you’re already doing in your role, so you can demonstrate how you meet the standard for CPD. What’s important is that your learning is relevant to your role and that it focuses on the application of your learning in practice.


Understanding the standard

To maintain your registration, you need to demonstrate that you meet standard 4 of our professional standards. The standard states that you must ‘maintain [your] continuing professional development’ and standards 4.1 to 4.8 describe ways in which you can do this. This section of the guidance explains what each of our CPD-focussed standards mean, why they are important, and what you could do to demonstrate that you meet the requirements.

4.1 Ask for feedback from a range of sources, including from people with lived experience of my social work practice

Why is it important?

Feedback is crucial to social work practice. It’s important to build self-awareness and be open to receiving feedback, whether positive or critical. This will help you to grow and improve in a way that informs your practice and helps you identify areas for future learning.

Though you may not agree with the feedback you get, it’s important to listen to the views of others and understand their experiences of your practice. Finding out what works and what’s beneficial to those people and then acting on the feedback to make positive changes to your practice will help you improve the support you provide. 

What should I do?

Regularly ask for feedback from the people who experience or know your practice. Although we won’t tell you who to get feedback from or how you should get it, it’s important that you include people with lived experience of your social work practice if possible and appropriate.

Think about how you seek your feedback. What’s the most appropriate way of communicating with people to get a range of feedback? How can you get feedback on different areas of your practice? Asking for feedback from a range of people in a variety of ways will make sure that it covers a broad range of your practice. Asking more than one person also allows you to identify common themes in the feedback you receive. Tell us about the feedback you’ve received. Reflect on that feedback and tell us how you’ve used what you’ve learned to make changes to your practice.

What counts as feedback?

Feedback could be a formal or informal discussion with colleagues and/or people you support. It could be a letter, a review, a meeting with your supervisor, or any other way someone can express their experiences of your practice. It could also include negative feedback or complaints. It’s about taking those comments and observations from those who experience or have knowledge of your practice, reflecting on them, and making changes to improve the support you’re providing.

4.2 Use supervision and feedback to critically reflect on, and identify, my learning needs

Why is it important?

Supervision describes the support and guidance you get from colleagues or managers to allow you to reflect on and improve your practice. Supervision can look different in different workplaces and settings. It should support you to consider your values and judgements and allow you to explore your practice, including ethical dilemmas, cultural issues and decision making.

It’s important to always be looking for ways to improve your practice to provide the best possible support. Developing and building self-awareness is important so you can recognise areas for improvement and identify your learning needs to make positive changes.

Being able to critically reflect on your practice will help you identify your learning needs and create a cycle of experience, reflection, learning and change.

What should I do?

Work with your supervisor or a peer to discuss your current practice and think about your values, decision making and ethics. This should help you look at areas for improvement and determine what supported learning you need to make those improvements.

Use feedback (see standard 4.1) to reflect on your practice, identify what you need to change, and determine what your learning needs are to help drive those changes.

Record this supervision or feedback in your CPD log. Make sure you include your personal reflection detailing how you identified your learning needs and the outcome of any learning.

What is reflection?

Reflection involves reviewing a professional experience to help make positive changes for your future practice. Critical reflection moves beyond this and encourages you to examine your approach, judgements, decisions and interventions. It also involves looking at the steps taken to provide objective support, free from your own values, views and beliefs.

What counts as supported learning?

Supported learning does not necessarily mean formal training or a course. It’s about identifying what your learning needs are and finding the support and means to improve your knowledge in that area.

4.3 Keep my practice up to date and record how I use research, theories and models to inform my practice and my professional judgement

Why is it important?

It’s important to show an understanding of the developments in social work theory and practice and use the resources available to you.

By making proactive use of social work research, theories and models, you open yourself up to different ways of viewing your practice. Using these resources and materials regularly makes sure you have the most up-to-date information and knowledge when using your professional judgement and making decisions.

What should I do?

There are many ways you can keep your practice up-to-date and you should look to use a variety of resources. These could include professional literature, journals, articles, research, theories, blogs and social media.

When recording your CPD, you need to demonstrate how you’ve used what you’ve learned to make positive changes and inform your practice and professional judgement.

4.4 Demonstrate good subject knowledge on key aspects of social work practice and develop knowledge of current issues in society and politics impacting on social work

Why is it important?

Being able to demonstrate good subject knowledge helps you to carry out good practice. It also provides reassurance to the people you support as well as the public.

Social workers often need to be aware of diverse aspects of people’s lives to best support them. Changes in policies, guidance and legislation around health, care, justice, policing, housing, employment, benefits, and any number of other areas can affect and alter the way you practice.

It’s important to be aware of developments and changes that may affect social work or the social work profession. This means you can prepare for and deal with those changes to the benefit of the people you work with.

What should I do?

You need to be able to demonstrate your competence in core social work areas such as ethics, strengths or value-based approaches and rights.

Policies and legislation around social work, rights, privacy, information and many other aspects of social work practice can change. Be aware of any changes that have an impact on the way you practice, think about these changes, and adapt your practice accordingly.

Over and above changes in social work, keep your knowledge of current events up to date. This includes the political landscape locally and nationally as well as societal changes that are relevant to social work. Develop that knowledge however you see fit to make sure you’re considering the potential impact of these changes on your practice.

Record what you’ve learned, how it may affect your practice, and what changes you may need to make to ensure you continue to work safely and lawfully.

4.5 Contribute to an open learning culture in the workplace to discuss, reflect on and share best practice

Why is it important?

It’s important to make sure you’re working in an environment that allows you to learn, develop and practice safely. By creating and contributing to an open learning culture, you’re showing that you’re always willing to learn and improve. This gives you the freedom to explore your learning needs while supporting the learning needs and development of others around you.

Sharing knowledge and experience is an important part of learning. By discussing what you’ve learned, you help others to learn as well.

What should I do?

Contribute to an open learning culture in your own practice setting. Help create an environment that encourages the cycle of experience, reflection, learning and change. Discuss what you learn with peers, share your learning with others, and inspire them to do the same.

Learning is not limited to what you can read. You should also learn from others and their experiences, including from people with lived experience if it’s possible and appropriate to do so. You could also take part ingroup reflection or peer reflection and feed back to your peers after your own learning activities.

What is an open learning culture?

An open learning culture is an environment where learning is encouraged and supported on an ongoing basis and is not limited to the classroom or courses. Instead, it centres around the individual and their learning needs and encourages people to seek out their own learning opportunities, increasing knowledge and performance on an ongoing basis.

4.6 Reflect on my learning activities and evidence what impact continuing professional development has on the quality of my practice

Why is it important?

Reflection helps you improve your practice in a way that is right for you. It turns your experiences into learning.

Recording the impact your CPD has had on your practice gives you a tool you can refer to, learn from and use to identify future needs or changes in your practice.

What should I do?

Reflection involves looking at your experiences, analysing what you did, what happened, why it happened, what worked well and what did not. It involves thinking about what needs to be changed to improve future outcomes. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate when things go well and help you identify where you may need to improve, train or expand your skills or knowledge.

Learning activities are a natural follow on from reflection, but it’s just as important to think about what you got out of the learning and apply it to your practice.

It’s important that you record the impact the learning has had on your practice on your online account. You should describe the positive changes you’ve made and demonstrate the impact those changes have had with the people you work with.

Every piece of CPD you record on your online account should contain reflection which is why it’s a mandatory requirement in the online forms. Standard 4.6 will be automatically ‘selected’ on every CPD activity you upload.

4.7 Record my learning and reflection on a regular basis and in accordance with Social Work England’s guidance on continuing professional development

Why is it important?

A CPD log is a record of your learning over the year. It allows you to reflect on your achievements and identify and manage areas for growth.

It’s important to keep a record of your CPD to demonstrate your continued fitness to practise and compliance with our CPD standards.

Carrying out regular CPD will allow you to keep your practice current and make sure you’re in the best position to be able to support the people you work with.

Recording CPD on your online account is a requirement of your registration. When the renewal period closes, we’ll confirm that you’ve reached your CPD requirements. See the renewal process for more information.

What should I do?

Carry out regular CPD activities and record them on your online account.

You’ll need to critically reflect on your CPD activity and record how it’s impacted your practice.

Make sure the CPD is your own work and that it’s a true reflection of the activities you’ve carried out.

Standard 4.7 requires you to record your CPD in your online account. It will therefore be automatically ‘selected’ on every CPD activity you upload.

4.8 Reflect on my own values and challenge the impact they have on my practice

Why is it important?

As well as the core values of the social work profession, it’s important to remember that your own values can affect your professional judgement and can influence your actions, behaviours and the decisions.

You can use your ethics and values to help make decisions about your practice, but it’s important to have the self-awareness to be able to examine those values and assess how they affect your decisions.

It’s also important to respect the ethics and values of others (as long as they don’t pose harm or risk to others), even where they differ from your own. You must not allow these differences to affect your work. Rather, you should use them to challenge yourself and reflect on their effect on your practice.

What should I do?

You should identify your values and understand why they are important to you. You should reflect on this regularly, as they may change as you or things in your life change.

Look at your practice and reflect on the decisions you’ve made. Relate your decisions back to your values to see how your values may have influenced the choices you made and the outcome.

Compare your values against those of others, reflecting on the differences and their impact on your practice. You should constructively challenge colleagues when you believe their values are negatively affecting their methods in social work practice to make sure ethics are upheld by all social workers.

Record the reflection on your values on your online account, highlighting any changes you’ve made as a result and detailing the impact it’s had on your practice.

Your online account

As a registered social worker, you have access to a Social Work England online account. In your online account, you can record the activities you think best demonstrate how you meet the professional standard for CPD.

Recording your CPD activity

Our registration rules (rules 52 to 54) require you to maintain an up to date record of your CPD in order to renew your registration each year. This CPD should be recorded on your online account. If you can’t use the online account to record your CPD, you should contact us as soon as possible and we’ll discuss your concerns with you.

There are 2 ways to record your learning in the online account. You can use:

  1. A structured form
  2. An unstructured form

With both forms, you can upload supporting information in a wide range of file types, including:

  • Word documents (.doc, .docx, .gdoc, .gdocx)
  • PDFs
  • pictures (.jpg, .bmp)
  • audio (.mp3)
  • video (.mp4, .avi).

CPD records and any uploaded documents must not make reference to anyone you support, or disclose personal or professional information about colleagues, managers, or employers. This is due to data protection regulations. Even if the references are anonymised, the identity of the person may be recognisable to others. It’s your responsibility to make sure all identifying details are removed.

All CPD entries that you record in your online account must be a true reflection of your own work.

What to record

You should upload your CPD now and keep recording throughout the year so your CPD is up to date. Recording CPD at least once a quarter would be good practice. Our registration renewal cycle is annual, so you must record some new CPD every year. Where possible, you should aim to demonstrate all eight parts of the CPD standard across the activities you record during the year. You do not need to demonstrate all 8 parts in every piece of CPD.

We want to see how you have reflected on your learning and how the CPD you have done has impacted on your practice. We only require you to record CPD that you have done since 2 December 2019. There is no requirement to upload any CPD from before this date. Only CPD recorded with a date between 2 December 2019 and 30 November 2020 will count for registration renewal purposes.

Accessing your account

You can access your online account by logging in using the username and password you set when you created your account. Once you’ve logged into your account, you’ll see a 'Your CPD' button halfway down the page. This will take you to a page where you can record new CPD and see any CPD you've already saved.

Once you’ve clicked the button, at the bottom of the page there are links to add new CPD using either a structured or unstructured form. Also at the bottom of the page is a summary box that shows any CPD you've already saved. You can click on individual records if you want to view, edit or delete them.

Using the structured and unstructured forms

When recording CPD, you have the option of using a structured or unstructured form. The choice is yours as to which format will best support you to record your learning. The unstructured form enables you to upload CPD you’ve already done and provides a free text format for you tell us about the impact it’s had on your practice. The structured form guides you through the areas to consider when completing your CPD record.

For security reasons, the system will log you out after 60 minutes and you will lose any unsaved CPD records. We recommend that you type up your CPD in a Word document first and then copy and paste it into our system to avoid losing any unsaved work.

Both forms have mandatory questions. You can’t save your CPD record until you have completed all mandatory questions.

Title of CPD

Give a short descriptive name for the CPD entry

Date CPD completed

Only CPD recorded with a date between 2 December 2019 and 30 November 2020 will count for registration renewal purposes.

What was your job role?

Briefly provide the context of your role when you did the CPD

What did you do?

Provide more information to explain what you did and/or what happened

Critical reflection

Explain the impact that the CPD had on your practice

If you use the unstructured form, you’ll need to select which parts of the CPD standard you think your CPD demonstrates.

Text boxes have a maximum character limit. If you reach the maximum character limit, you will get a warning. You will not be able to save your CPD record if you go over the limit.

You can upload relevant supporting documents. If you already record your CPD somewhere else, for example workplace personal development records, or have a portfolio that you have for a programme such as ASYE, you can attach this and explain how it meets the CPD standard.

When you’ve saved your entry, the record will be displayed on your CPD summary page. It will show which CPD standards you’ve indicated it meets, as well as standards 4.6 and 4.7 (relating to recording and reflecting on CPD)which will show automatically.

How we’ll use your information

The information recorded in your online account is your personal record of CPD. To comply with data protection regulations, it’ll be held on our system for 2 years after the close of registration that year. We’re currently looking at options to allow you to download and keep your record.

We will use the information in the following ways:

  • During the year, we’ll check all CPD records and send you a reminder if you are yet to record any CPD.
  • We’ll carry out an annual check at the close of the renewal period to establish whether you’ve recorded CPD in line with our regulatory requirements.
  • If you’re selected for validation, we’ll review the CPD that you’ve recorded in your online account during the registration year. We’ll do this in line with our validation process.

We’ll also use anonymised CPD data to produce a report that summarises the outcomes of the validation process. We hope this report will inform the public and the profession about how social workers are learning and will help inform our approach to CPD.

Fitness to practise

If, during our validation of your CPD activity, we identify information that might call into question your fitness to practise, we’ll refer to our fitness to practise rules and guidance. We won’t routinely inspect your CPD records as part of a fitness to practise investigation but may decide to do so if we feel it is necessary.

Unethical practice and concerns

Learning from mistakes made by you or others and reflecting on how you would do things differently is an important part of CPD. However, concerns related to unethical practice, such as dishonesty or fraud, are likely to raise concerns regarding fitness to practise. You should therefore refer directly to our fitness to practise department rather than record it in your CPD record in accordance with our standards (see standard 6).

Read more about how to make a self-referral


Renewing your registration

Our registration year runs from 1 December to 30 November. In September each year, we’ll let you know that it’s time to renew your registration. This will include a reminder that you need to meet our requirements relating to CPD by 30 November.

When you apply to renew your registration, we will automatically check whether you have recorded any CPD. If you haven’t recorded any CPD at this point, you’ll need to confirm that you’ll record CPD before 30 November in line with the requirements in our regulations and rules.

Ensuring compliance

At the close of registration, if you have not recorded any CPD, we’ll contact you to let you know that you have a further 21 days to record CPD on your online account. If you have not recorded any CPD at the end of the 21 day period, your registration will not be renewed and you will be removed from the register. 

If you wish to rejoin the register once you have been removed, you will need to make an application to restore. We recommend that you read our restoration guidance before applying to restore.

We recognise that some social workers may be concerned about not being able to demonstrate the CPD standard because of exceptional personal circumstances. If you feel exceptional circumstances apply in your case, you must contact us as soon as possible to discuss your concerns.

Please note that if you have a disability or have been/are on a period of maternity/paternity/adoption leave, this does not automatically exempt you from your professional obligations to record CPD. Recording CPD is a fundamental requirement for continued registration to practise as a social worker. Unless exceptional circumstances apply, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis, you will be expected to meet the CPD requirements in order to renew your registration.

If you’re subject to a fitness to practise investigation or have a live sanction of suspension or conditions of practice applied to your registration, you will not be removed from the register. However, in order to meet the CPD requirements and to maintain your registration, you should continue to record CPD where possible.

This is because you’ll need to demonstrate how you meet the CPD requirement when investigations or sanctions are completed.

If your personal circumstances mean you’ll be away from practice for a significant period of time, meaning that you may not be able to demonstrate the CPD standard, you may want to consider voluntarily removing yourself from the register.

When you’re ready to come back onto the register, you can contact us to discuss your circumstances. We may choose to waive your restoration fee in accordance with our fees rules.

If there has been a change to your fitness to practise, you need to tell us as soon as possible. Such changes may affect your ability to practise. Read our guidance on self-referrals for more information about how to tell us about changes to your fitness to practise.

For more information see:

 

Validation

If you’re selected for CPD validation

At the close of the registration period, we’ll randomly select 2.5% of social workers for CPD validation. You’ll be excluded from the selection process if you:

  • are subject to a fitness to practise investigation
  • have a live sanction of suspension or conditions of practice applied to your registration from fitness to practise proceedings
  • haven’t been registered continuously since the start of the registration year (1 December)

However, in all instances, we encourage you to keep up with and log your CPD. If you’re selected, we’ll let you know but will not ask you to provide any additional CPD information. Instead, we’ll review the CPD you’ve already recorded on your online account during the registration year. Selection for validation one year does not exclude you from selection in any following years as social workers are always chosen at random.

Validation process (December 2020)

In December 2020 we’ll start to carry out our first CPD validation. We’ll look at the records of all those selected for validation and check whether the CPD recorded shows how the learning activity has impacted on their practice.

Our approach to CPD validation in following years will be to make intelligence-led, incremental changes to help improve and refine our approach to CPD. We’ll work closely with social workers and others interested in social work to look at proposals for CPD from December 2020 onwards.

Outcome of CPD validation

If you’ve been selected, we’ll aim to complete the validation of your CPD in 8 to 12 weeks. Once we’ve completed the validation, we’ll let you know the outcome. The outcomes of the validation process are:

  • accepted
  • further assessment

When the outcome is ‘accepted’, no further action is required.

When the outcome is ‘further assessment’, we’ll let you know the reasons and what you need to do. This may include providing us with additional information about the CPD you’ve done. When the ‘further assessment’ outcome identifies that you haven’t demonstrated that you’ve met the CPD requirements, we may apply conditions to your registration using the procedure set out in our rules.

In some circumstances, we may remove you from the register using the procedure set out in our removal from the register and registration appeals rules.

The outcomes of the validation process will be recorded on our system but, in most cases, will not be made public. They will only be made public if the validation outcome leads to registration with conditions or removal from the register.

For more information see:

Appeals

If you’re dissatisfied with a decision to remove you from the register, you may appeal the decision in line with the procedure set out in our removal from the register and registration appeals rules.

For more information see:

Advice and support

For further information, please see our section on CPD. If you cannot find the information you need or need specific advice or support, please contact our registration and advice team.