Continuous Personal Development Criteria

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Continuous professional development (CPD) A case study to examine why we need to have set criteria as to what constitutes continuous professional development.

This paper sets out a proposal to establish the means by which certain hypotheses around Social Work CPD may be tested, through primary research. It does so substantively through a limited, ‘pilot’ survey of the views of Social Workers themselves, focusing on the value and nature of their own current – and previous – CPD experience. The latter were also invited to comment on proposals for alternative frameworks for SW CPD. The objective of this process was to evolve specific lines of enquiry and areas of interest for wider research. As recent research by Doel et al. argues, ‘At an individual level there is clear evidence that professional development is highly valued, and that participating in these opportunities is more likely to increase confidence, but not for everyone.’ (Doel et al., 2008: p.563) The question is, what kind of CPD is most valued by practitioners themselves, and who determines the types of development paths they follow? Does the element of choice determine the utility of particular CPD for individual practitioners? How far does the current atmosphere of assessment and ‘managerialism’ impinge upon self-determination in professional development?

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The issue of self-determination is a theme from the secondary literature which is embedded in this research. As MacDonald et al. argue, ‘…social work as an activity can be understood as an integral part of the modernist project of governance developed and institutionalised in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries…’ (MacDonald et al., 2003: p.195). Whilst this can be readily accepted, it arguably masks the dynamic of client age which government maintained, not only over social work, but other professional groups. The latter were invariably involved in some form of campaign to exert leverage on official circles for recognition in institutional terms. ‘In Britain, social work looked directly to the state for its legitimization…Accordingly, the political opportunity provided by the publication of the Kilbrandon and Seebohm Reports was seized by proponents of the professional social work project, who campaigned for the implementation of the Reports, for example through the Seebohm Implementation Action Group.’ (MacDonald et al. 2003: p.198). As this suggests, Social Work was liable to be co-opted into the social projects of the state on a utilitarian basis, with reciprocal implications for the independence of the profession. As Jordan and Jordan point out, ‘In essence, social work is not a means of implementing policy formally and directly, but of mediating the local conflicts generated by new programmes, and engaging with service users over how to fit new measures to their needs.’ They further argue that, ‘It is a waste of its potential for these tasks to treat it as a crude instrument for the imposition of government rules or the quasi-scientific application of research findings.’ (Jordan and Jordan, 2000: p.10).

What are the implications of this tension for CPD in SW? Potentially considerable, it is argued here. The debate around Social Work education has become focused on whether …‘there has been the supplanting of education by training: the sequestering of discourses of depth by those of surface: the setting aside of knowledge for skills, and the general triumph…of ‘competencies’ over the complexities of abstraction.’ (Webb, 1996: p.186)

It follows from this that the definition of ‘useful’ CPD represents a continuation of such debates through other means: another area through which to contest who exactly defines what is relevant, or ‘best’ practice, in terms of developing solutions for practitioners and service users. How far, for example, do such resources merely reflect the ideas of Lisham, that official ideas about practice ‘…tend to be externally imposed and based more on the requirements of managerial control and less on the professional responsibility to evaluate practice and policy and thereby increase their effectiveness.’ (Lisham 1999: p.4). Subsumed within this is a more subliminal question, which is, where is the space in which SW practitioners can express their views or develop dialogues about professional issues? It would appear that we now have a situation where the parameters defined by the GSSC represent the only ‘legitimate’ channels for debate.

Methodology and Research Issues

In essence the research enquiry followed two themes, one evaluative, one predictive. Within both, it was intended to elicit views without any leading or rhetorical influence, although current conditions in public sector SW may make this difficult to achieve, as will be discussed below. The specific evaluative enquiry offered practitioners the opportunity to briefly assess their own level of satisfaction with their current and previous CPD. The specific predictive proposal made was that CPD be more focused, through the establishment of an agreed range of activities, designed to augment and enhance SW practice. The overall theme of this was to explore the idea that CPD could be more relevant to SW practice, in the perception of practitioners themselves.

This proposal acknowledges the necessity for inclusion of both positivist (quantitative) and phenomenological (qualitative) elements in the enquiry. These labels are arguably less important than the characteristics they represent however. These will explored in more detail below, but it is important here to identify the positivist paradigm as supposedly value-free, and the phenomenological as (in relative terms) value bearing. Obviously, these two model absolutes represent the research ideal, and should not, in any case, be assumed to correlate with the parallel categories of objectivity and subjectivity. Research paradigms in either category would arguably rely on objectivity for their integrity and utility. It is here that the design and operation of a particular model will attract the most stringent scrutiny, especially from its assessors or counter-theorists. Also, when ascribing the different paradigm labels to particular research strands and evidence, it is perhaps important to consider Collis and Hussey’s idea of an unavoidable symbiosis between the two. ‘Although we have identified two main paradigms, it is best to regard them as the two extremes of a continuum. As you move along the continuum, the features and assumptions of one paradigm are gradually relaxed and replaced by those of the other paradigm.’ (Collis and Hussey 2008: p.48). In other words, the quantitative and qualitative paradigms become less discrete and more difficult to distinguish, once the process of interpretation begins. Absolute objectivity is maintained with difficulty, even in the context of an exacting statistical survey: meanwhile purely qualitative work starts to move along the continuum, as soon as repetitive patterns are sought for collateral in phenomenological terms. Various interpretations are possible in any statistical model, whilst even the clearest qualitative conclusions are arguably subject to bias, as soon as a possible conclusion begins to frame subsequent enquiries. As Patton argues, ‘A paradigm of choices rejects methodological orthodoxy in favour of methodological appropriateness as the primary criterion for judging methodological quality.’ (Patton 1990: pp.38-39).

In terms of this study, the methodological issues are basically two-fold. In the first instance, we have a very small sample of data in proportion to the overall scale of what is potentially a national issue. The sample employed here was obtained from one area, and so is immediately vulnerable to the charge that it fails to analyse possible regional variations in both strategy and best practice. Although it reflects differentiated levels of satisfaction with the CPD process, it does not incorporate the views of those who might express – with varying objectivity – the most exacting critiques: i.e., those who have left the profession due to dissatisfaction with the career structure, or CPD possibilities. In the second instance, we have three discrete form of data to integrate, i.e. binary yes/no questionnaire responses, written answers, and more in-depth, qualitative interviews, as well as information from secondary sources. The necessary fusion of these sources in a cogent form inevitably becomes an editorial process, vulnerable to charges of subjectivity and bias. This is arguably what Ely refers to as the ‘teasing out’ what is considered the ‘essential meaning’ of the data obtained. (Ely, 1991,p.140). (Quoted in Wright et al 1995). This, arguably, is especially pertinent because we are researching a matter of public policy, where positivist data tends to be adapted to value judgements by governments, and governing bodies. As Denzin and Lincoln point out, ‘Qualitative research is inherently multi-method in focus…However, the use of multiple methods…reflects an attempt to secure an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in question. Objective reality can never be captured. We know a thing only through its representations.’ (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005: p.5).

In term of representation, the specific enquiries made here are designed to produce data at micro level, although their collective implications may have a meso function in terms of the local negotiation of control over CPD standards and access. Only a numerically wider and more varied study could produce data which might function at macro level. However, the eventual connection between micro and macro is implicitly accepted here: as Strauss and Corbin point out, ‘…the distinction between micro and macro is an artificial one.’ (Strauss and Corbin, 1998: p.185). The point is though that this limited sample cannot establish such tautology in absolute terms, only suggest ways in which it may be researched further.

To these two empirical issues may be added more complex ethical issues around confidentiality and contractual obligation. To employ the current parlance of Human Resources Management, all employees have a ‘psychological contract’ with their management, wherein informally agreed tenets of ‘fairness’ operate. As Williams indicates. ‘..this interpersonal aspect to fairness reminds us that there is a social basis to the exchange relationship between employer and employee and we might expect this to be part of the psychological contract.’ (Williams, 1998: p.183). It has to be conceded that any debate engendered around CPD has the potential to impinge upon the either side of the psychological contract, a fact which may influence and limit the format of questions.

30 brief questionnaires were sent out, of which 22 were returned: three of these respondents agreed to be interviewed, and the same interview pro-forma was employed in each context. There were 14 female respondents and 8 male: in keeping with contemporary guidelines, age was not elicited. The criteria for subject selection was that the respondent should be an established practitioner, i.e. have at least two years service, but no managerial responsibilities. The interviewees were invited to participate and the customary protocols followed in terms of permission to use the material, based on anonymity and the right to withold use of the material.

Analysis and Findings

The mode of analysis employed was substantially one of triangulation. The binary responses were tallied and are expressed as percentages. In Question 4 the written responses were sorted into those supportive, unsupportive and uncomitted with regard to the proposal (of an agreed ten-part choice of CPD activities). Based on this polarisation, qualitiative responses were then taken from the interview transcripts to illustrate and expand upon the themes identified.

22.75 per cent of respondents agreed that 90 hours of CPD was sufficient for SW’s over a three year period: 18.2 per cent thought it insufficient, whilst a majority, 59.15 per cent thought the whole idea of a prescribed amount of hours too arbitrary. 18.2 per cent considered that the current SW guidelines were effective, with an equal amount disagreeing with this proposition. A majority – 63.7 per cent expressed the view that some kind of change was necessary. Only 13.65 per cent of respondents thought that the CPD options available to them personally had been sufficient for their needs as a practitioner. 27.3 per cent meanwhile thought such resources had been insufficient. 22.75 per cent thought the available CPD had at least been consistent, whilst 36.4% disagreed with this idea.

The written responses still produced a fairly polarised set of information. 35 per cent of those who answered supported the idea of being able to select their own CPD activities from a ten choice range. Of the latter, a majority gave some kind of indication that they saw within such a development the opportunity for gaining more control over their own professional development. This was evident from responses such as ‘Yes, great idea, assuming practitioners are involved in drawing it up’, and ‘Yes, perfect. If we get to choose what’s on the list, otherwise its just another form of management control, and we already have too much of that.’ (Appendix 3). Interestingly, the same concern underpinned the rationale of the 55 per cent who did not support the idea. As one respondent put it, ‘I don’t think it could work because CPD is all about standardisation, this idea involves too much individual choice for the ‘powers that be’ to accept it.’ This was expressed more directly in the views of another, who remarked that No. CPD just ticks a management box, it doesn’t really help me, so I don’t want four or ten or whatever it is boxes to tick.’ (Appendix 3). The 10 per cent who were uncommitted raised concerns about relevance and the numbers of available options. (Appendix 3)

The twenty two tallied responses to Question 5, about practitioners preferences for CPD areas, produced an overwhelming choice for a specific vocational focus in the form of Multi Agency Working, at 36.4 per cent. All of the nine other activities suggested scored 9.1 and 4.5 per cent respectively. (Appendix 3)

As might be expected, the interview questions produced the most detailed qualitative data. When asked to evaluate the personal importance of CPD for them, two respondents identified pressure of work rather than management imposition as the main impediment to their pursuing more professional development. The first respondent stated that it was

‘Very Important. I know I don’t spend enough time doing it very often, but that’s just the nature of the job at the moment, where we are all running to stand still. It’s very difficult to commit a worthwhile timetable of CPD when you know for a fact that you won’t actually do half of it, due to unforeseen commitments.’ . The second respondent meanwhile acknowledged that it was ‘…Not as important as it probably should be. It’s a box I know I should tick, but in a department where we can’t even recruit at the moment, it’s not a priority. Sorry.’ (Appendix 5). The third respondent explained their lack of commitment to CPD in terms of their lack of control over it: ‘I know it’s vital, but who is it for exactly? If it’s just stuff they think I should be doing, rather than what I want to do, then I could well live without it.’ (Appendix 5).

In terms of the specific proposal, i.e. that of providing practitioners with a framework of choice for CPD, the responses were varied. Respondent 1 replied, ‘I can’t think of ten….for me personally at the moment, it would be team-building, and risk assessment, plus maybe multi-agency working.’ (Appendix 5). Respondent 2 indicated ‘Communication, risk assessment, leadership, policy development’ as their preferred foci. Respondent 3 indicated interest in ‘IT skills, communication, multi-agency working, risk assessment’, adding that ‘….the list is endless!’ (Appendix 5)

Provisional Conclusions

Concerns about who would take responsibility for more liberal and diffuse CPD should be noted here, as in the response , ‘Who would supervise it? I’ll bet it would just be an extra job dumped on somebody like me.’ (Appendix 3) Such objections reflect trends in management which have already been highlighted in the related literature. As Watson points out, ‘The drive for local and central government to modernise and become more accountable has led to a rise in responsibilities of managers for performance management and transparency in decision making.’ (Watson, 2008: p.330)

The extent of interest in multi-agency working as a useful area for practitioner CPD, is something which has already been noted in the related literature. As Farmakopoulou has indicated, ‘The main inter-organizational inhibitory factors were related to structural difficulties and lack of joint training. Education and social work departments embody different statutory responsibilities…’ (Farmakopoulou 2002: p.1064). Whilst this specific point is obviously vocationally limited, a wider one about inter-professional cooperation may arguably be abstracted from it.

In terms of generalisability, it has to be acknowledged that this research and its findings is vulnerable to usual charges of subjectivity which may be levelled at triangulation. As Denzin and Lincoln concede, ‘Triangulation is the simultaneous display of multiple, refracted realities. Each of the metaphors “works” to create simultaneity rather than the sequential or linear. Readers and audiences are then invited to explore competing visions of the context, to become immersed in and merge with new realities to comprehend.’ (Denzin and Lincoln 2005: p.6).

However, in terms of putative research questions, enough areas of potential interest have arguably been identified to warrant further investigation. Themes would be…

  • Involve a larger cohort of respondents.
  • Involve local management as respondents, to obtain views from both sides of the ‘psychological contract’.
  • Involve the GSCC on their views about possible change.

APPENDIX ONE:

Questionnaire. Are you male ….. female…..

For each question, please indicate the statement with which you agree most by ticking it.

Question 1.

a. 90 hours CPD is sufficient for a SW Practitioner over three years.

b. 90 hours CPD is insufficient for a SW Practitioner over three years.

c. 90 hours is far too arbitrary an amount of CPD for a SW  practitioner: it should be varied for individuals.

Question 2.

a. Would you agree that the current SW CPD guidelines are effective?

b. Would you disagree with the idea that the current SW CPD  guidelines are effective?

c. Do you think that changes are necessary in current SW CPD?

Question 3.

a. Has the available SW CPD been sufficient for your needs as a  practitioner?

b. Has the available SW CPD been insufficient for your needs as  practitioner?

c. Has the available SW CPD been consistent? Inconsistent? 

Question 4 : Please explain why you would support OR not support the idea of a ten-criteria list from which to select SW CPD activities?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Question 5 : Which areas of professional competence would you include in a ten-criteria list?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

APPENDIX 2:

Tables of Questionnaire Results.

Question 1.

90 hours CPD is sufficient for a SW Practitioner over three years.

90 hours CPD is insufficient for a SW Practitioner over three years.

90 hours is far too arbitrary an amount of CPD for a SW

practitioner: it should be varied for individuals.

5

4

13

Question 2.

Would you agree that the current SW CPD guidelines are effective?

Would you disagree with the idea that the current SW CPD guidelines are effective?

Do you think that changes are necessary in current SW CPD?

4

4

14

Question 3.

Has the available SW CPD been sufficient for your needs as a practitioner?

Has the available SW CPD been insufficient for your needs as practitioner?

Has the available SW CPD been consistent?

Has the available SW CPD been inconsistent?

3

6

5

8

APPENDIX 3

Question 4 : Please explain why you would support OR not support the idea of a ten-criteria list from which to select SW CPD activities?

  1. Why ten? It should be about relevance, not a number.
  2. Yes I would, but only if I got to choose them, so they were relevant to my needs.
  3. No, because it would expand what is already a drain on my time.
  4. I don’t think it could work because CPD is all about standardisation, this idea involves too much individual choice for the ‘powers that be’ to accept it.
  5. No: who would enforce or administer it?
  6. Yes, although why settle on that number?
  7. Yes, great idea, assuming practitioners are involved in drawing it up.
  8. Yes, perfect. If we get to choose what’s on the list, otherwise its just another form of management control, and we already have too much of that.
  9. Yes, if we can get everyone to agree on it.
  10. No. It sounds to me like the thin end of a very large wedge which I’ll have to fit into my diary.
  11. No. I’m still trying to catch up with my existing CPD, so I definitely don’t need any more.
  12. No. One CPD target is enough, I wouldn’t want any more than that.
  13. Yes, if it happens, but I can’t see it.
  14. No. Wouldn’t this just be more ‘big brother’ stuff from the GSSC?
  15. No. I imagine the bureaucracy the government would create around it.
  16. No. Who would supervise it? I’ll bet it would just be an extra job dumped on somebody like me.
  17. I like the idea in principle, but I think a smaller number of options would be more helpful.
  18. No, because I think the current system is OK, and manageable within realistic constraints of time.
  19. No. CPD just ticks a management box, it doesn’t really help me, so I don’t want four or ten or whatever it is boxes to tick.
  20. Yes, its just what we need to give us more of a voice in our own professional development.

The 20 written responses obtained for Question 4, though qualitative in nature, have been sorted into three categories: supportive, unsupportive, and uncommitted.

Supportive: 35%

2.Yes I would, but only if I got to choose them, so they were relevant to my needs

6. Yes, although why settle on that number?

7. Yes, great idea, assuming practitioners are involved in drawing it up.

8. Yes, perfect. If we get to choose what’s on the list, otherwise its just another form of management control, and we already have too much of that.

9. Yes, if we can get everyone to agree on it.

13. Yes, if it happens, but I can’t see it.

20. Yes, its just what we need to give us more of a voice in our own professional development.

Unsupportive 55%

3. No, because it would expand what is already a drain on my time.

4. I don’t think it could work because CPD is all about standardisation, this idea involves too much individual choice for the ‘powers that be’ to accept it.

5. No: who would enforce or administer it?

10. No. It sounds to me like the thin end of a very large wedge which I’ll have to fit into my diary.

11. No. I’m still trying to catch up with my existing CPD, so I definitely don’t need any more.

12. No. One CPD target is enough, I wouldn’t want any more than that.

14. No. Wouldn’t this just be more ‘big brother’ stuff from the GSSC?

15. No. I imagine the bureaucracy the government would create around it.

16. No. Who would supervise it? I’ll bet it would just be an extra job dumped on somebody like me.

18. No, because I think the current system is OK, and manageable within realistic constraints of time.

19. No. CPD just ticks a management box, it doesn’t really help me, so I don’t want four or ten or whatever it is boxes to tick.

Uncommitted 10%

1.Why ten? It should be about relevance, not a number.

17. I like the idea in principle, but I think a smaller number of options would be more helpful.

Question 5 : Which areas of professional competence would you include in a ten-criteria list?

  1. Team Building skills 2
  2. Leadership skills. 2
  3. Multi-Agency Working. 8
  4. IT skills. 1
  5. Risk Assessment. 2
  6. Intercultural Skills. 2
  7. Communication Skills. 1
  8. Policy Development. 2
  9. Strategic Development. 1
  10. Self-Reflection: being a reflective practitioner. 1

APPENDIX 4:

Interview Pro-Forma.

Time in SW………… Current Post………

Question 1. How important is CPD to you as a Practitioner?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Question 2. Would you change any aspect of current CPD practice?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Question 3. What do you see as the principal issues in current SW CPD practice?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Question 4. Could you identify some of the areas you would include in a ten-item range of activities for SW CPD?

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

APPENDIX 5:

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS.

Question 1. How important is CPD to you as a Practitioner?

Respondent One:

Very Important. I know I don’t spend enough time doing it very often, but that’s just the nature of the job at the moment, where we are all running to stand still. It’s very difficult to commit a worthwhile timetable of CPD when you know for a fact that you won’t actually do half of it, due to unforeseen commitments.

Respondent Two:

Not as important as it probably should be. It’s a box I know I should tick, but in a department where we can’t even recruit at the moment, it’s not a priority. Sorry.

Respondent Three:

I know it’s vital, but who is it for exactly? If it’s just stuff they think I should be doing, rather than what I want to do, then I could well live without it.

Question 2. Would you change any aspect of current CPD practice?

Respondent One:

Not all of it, as some of it can be very good. I would definitely give people more choice, and the group/team learning idea is a very good one.

Respondent Two:

Personally, I think it’s all about resources: I mean, I’d let people timetable for it, and relate it closely to what they needed as practitioners…but…that would cost money: money which, as far as I can see, we just don’t have at the moment.

Respondent Three:

Yep…I’d I either get rid of it….or do it properly…I can’t see either happening at the moment though.

Question 3. What do you see as the principal issues in current SW CPD practice?

Respondent One:

Time. All the time it’s an add-on, when it really needs to be a practice-centred activity which you could timetable for, and really concentrate on.

Respondent Two:

For me its all about relevance and real value. I can spend any amount of time becoming a more reflective practitioner, but that doesn’t help me if my case-load is increasing while I’m doing it.

Respondent Three:

Well, I can only comment on what they are for me….the real issue is, a lot of what I get given – or I should say, is inflicted upon me – as CPD, has very little to do with my case-load and the real problems I face. Maybe its because I’m old-school, pre-graduate and all that. Yes it’s all very interesting, but, well, I’m not an academic! There, I’ve said it! This is what I do, and no amount of CPD seems to change that.

Question 4. Could you identify some of the areas you would include in a ten-item range of activities for SW CPD?

Respondent One:

I can’t think of ten….for me personally at the moment, it would be team-building, and risk assessment, plus maybe multi-agency working.

 

Respondent Two:

Communication, risk assessment, leadership, policy development.

Respondent Three:

IT skills, communication, multi-agency working, risk assessment….the list is endless!

Bibliography

Brown, K., and Keen, S., (2004), ‘Post Qualifying Awards in Social Work (Part 1): Necessary Evil or Panacea?’ Social Work Education, vol. 23, No 1: pp.77-92.

Bryman, A., (1998), Doing Research in Organisations, London Routledge.

Bryman, A., (2007), Social Research Methods Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Bryant, A., Charmaz, K., (2007), The Sage Handbook of Grounded Theory, London, Sage Publications.

Collis, J and Hussey, R., (2003), Business Research: A practical guide for undergraduate and postgraduate students, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Crombie I 1996 Pocket Guide to Critical Appraisal London BMJ Publication Group

Department of Health (1998) Modernising Social Services London H.M.S.O www.doh.gov.uk Accessed 19-01-2006

Department of Health, (2000), Strategy for Social Car,e H.M.S.O., London www.doh.gov.uk Accessed 01-11-2006

Denzin, N.K., and Lincoln, Y.S., (eds), (2005), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications.

Doel, M., Nelson

 

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