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Professional development

Social workers

We are leading a number of areas of reform, from helping universities select the right people at interview, to advising on the curriculum, to ensuring that social workers in practice receive the support they need to operate effectively. This page provides guidance to help social workers in practice understand how the changes will affect them.

Supporting you to excel in your career as a social worker

We have developed a range of membership services to support you in understanding and meeting professional standards. This includes the 'Knowledge @ the College' help desk, an interactive PCF tool, our communities of interest, mentoring and much more - join us to access these resources.

Creating a new way of thinking about the skills, knowledge and values social workers use in their practice

The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) was developed by the Social Work Reform Board, and is being introduced as the single way in which social workers should think about and plan their careers and professional development. It will serve as a backdrop to both initial social work education and continuing professional development after qualification. The PCF has been developed by social workers for social workers. It is a ‘living’ document, in that it is likely to develop as the profession develops. It is owned by The College on behalf of the profession.

Capabilities rather than competencies

The move from the concept of ‘competence’ to that of ‘capability’ reflects the desire for social work education and development to move away from a mechanistic ‘tick box’ approach to a more holistic approach and one which expects educators, students and professional social workers to consider people’s professional capabilities in a rounded way. It will help people to identify areas for development.

The capabilities are much broader than competencies, and are not designed or intended to be ‘assessment criteria’. We do, though have to make sure that we know what the capability statements mean, and how we can judge whether they have been demonstrated or not. In some cases, particularly where these are ‘soft skills’ such as communication, this can be challenging to do. However, we do believe that we need to do this: We’ve got to make what’s important assessable, not make what’s assessable important.

A Professional Capabilities Framework rather than an Occupational Framework

The PCF will replace the National Occupational Standards for Social Work in England (although these will still apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and are intended to represent standards or levels of professional practice rather than specific job roles. For example, a social worker may have the professional capabilities of an advanced practitioner but choose to work as an experienced social worker. Having said that, the PCF will undoubtedly influence job roles and descriptions as practice develops.

Contributing to the development of the profession

Social workers have a professional responsibility, set out in the PCF, to contribute to the development of the next generation of social workers. You can do this through supervision and support for students on placement, giving feedback on practice, or allowing shadowing opportunities. You might also get involved with higher education to teach or advise on the way their programmes are put together and delivered. Such activities can also contribute to your own CPD.

A new approach to continued professional development

Throughout your career there is a need to maintain your professional development and learning and to ensure you keep up-to-date with progress and evidence in your field. All social workers are required to maintain professional registration and demonstrate CPD. Registrants must undertake CPD to stay registered with HCPC. Their CPD standards say registrants must:

  1. Maintain a continuous, up to date and accurate record of their CPD activities.
  2. Demonstrate that their CPD activities are a mixture of learning activities relevant to current or future practice.
  3. Seek to ensure that their CPD has contributed to the quality of their practice and service delivery.
  4. Seek to ensure that their CPD benefits the service user.
  5. Upon request, present a written profile (which must be their own work and supported by evidence) explaining how they met the standards for CPD.

Whenever a profession renews its registration, HCPC randomly audits (checks) the CPD of 2.5 per cent of professionals from that profession. Those registrants who are chosen for audit must submit a CPD profile to show how their CPD meets our standards.

You can use the PCF and supervision to help guide your CPD choices and preferences.

The College e-portfolio is an online tool especially designed for College members to plan, record and evidence your CPD and its impact on service users. It is an interactive tool which also enables you to get the best from our other professional development services, including our monthly e-magazine Social Work Matters and our Professional Capabilities Framework. It also enables you to download your written CPD profile to submit to HCPC if you are asked to provide evidence of how you meet their standards.   

As well as a range of courses, activities and personal study you could undertake, there are also specific pathways that you can follow as part of your professional development, and roles you can train to undertake – these include becoming an:

  • Approved Mental Health Professional (mental health)
  • Best Interest Assessor (mental capacity/Deprivation of Liberty)
  • Advanced Practitioner (Children & Families)
  • Practice Educator (social work education)

The role of Employers

Employers are key partners in ensuring you get the support you need to do your job successfully. Having access to regular (a minimum of 1.5 hrs of uninterrupted private time monthly) quality supervision from a qualified, registered social worker. Read the Employers Standards and Supervision Framework. The employers standards are for all social work employers.

Returning to social work practice after a career break

If you are returning to social work after a career break you will need to re-register with the HCPC. In order to meet the registration requirements you will need to complete additional CPD hours. We have created a returning to social work guide to help social workers navigate this process.