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Post-qualifying (PQ) social work education: Valuing the legacy

23rd July 2012

Professor Keith Brown and Dr Steve Keen reflect on the developments in Post-Qualifying education for the GSCC.

How many of you remember PQ1? Back in 2004, we wrote an article1 saying, whatever happens, before PQ1 gets thrown out, we need to assess its role and impact. You know the phrase…don’t throw the…

In the 1500s, most people got married in June before they took their yearly bath in May. Baths consisted of a big tub of water. The man of the house had the privilege of the clean water, then all the sons and other men, then the women and finally the children; last of all the babies. By then, the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it – hence the say ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. Nowadays this saying is used to express concern over change for change’s sake, and that by changing something you may lose valuable elements that could still be developed. This very much applies now to PQ as a whole and its legacy for the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF).

Last year, the Social Work Reform Board’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) work stream commissioned us to complete a mapping exercise of PQ requirements onto the PCF2. We cross-referenced existing PQ programme requirements in Practice Education, Children, Adults, Mental Health and Leadership and Management against the nine capabilities and associated elements3. Positively, what we found was how well the old PQ requirements align with the new PCF. Therefore, the achievement of a PQ specialist or higher specialist award remains an appropriate qualification for social workers and senior social workers or practitioners. Candidates currently holding or working towards a PQ Award or module should be reassured that their qualification will map well onto the new CPD framework based on the PCF. But this was an academic exercise – what about practice?

Over 9,000 social work practitioners have completed PQ programmes at the Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work since 2000 (nearly 5,000 since 2008). This figure means that the equivalent of about 20% or 1 in 5 of the current registered workforce of social workers have completed our programmes. Nearly 6,000 of these practitioners (2,000 since 2008) have completed the first ‘consolidation’ phase of a social worker’s developmental process. Since 2008, these figures include:  over 500 practice educators, over 500 AMHPs and nearly 400 social work managers.

This PQ provision has facilitated practice-focused research to evaluate its impact. These impact studies have consistently demonstrated, across the career spectrum the influence these programmes have had on individual practitioners. Back in 20045 we demonstrated that the main impact of PQ1 was that it helped over three-quarters of all social workers (n=44) start, develop or confirm the importance of critically reflecting on their career and practice. Then in 2008, we demonstrated clear impact, based on a programme for adult social workers (n=37) on their confidence and practice regarding policy and legislation, reassessing roles and responsibilities and in practising reflectively. More recently, we have demonstrated statistically significant positive movements in the perceived ability of managers (n=64), across three local authorities, to create strong learning climates, lead people through change, communicate effectively (verbally and non-verbally) and be self-aware.

These experiences of PQ highlight for us a number of key messages for the future:

  • Robust partnerships between employers, development providers, regulators and practitioners are critical for the success of the new CPD framework.
  • >PQ provided most practitioners with time and space to reflect in ‘higher education’ learning environments that promoted deep learning and developed professional practice. In contrast, learning in the work place can be superficial and undervalued and therefore requires robust and meaningful systems and processes.
  • We cannot really know if CPD has had an impact on practice unless we assess and/or evaluate the learning and development that has occurred – this is a major advantage of well constructed assessment systems.
  • The best CPD programmes develop and enhance social work capability and ensure high quality professional practice.
  • There is real value in National Standards that the profession and the public can understand. We hope the PCF can build on the success of PQ in this respect.

1 Brown, K., Young, N., Keen, S. (2004) In deep water. Care and Health, 64, pp.28-29.

2 Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work (2012) Mapping PQSW onto PCF. Bournemouth: Bournemouth University.

3 Available from www.collegeof

4 Centre for Workforce Intelligence (2012) The future social worker workforce – summary booklet. London: CfWI.

5 Brown, K. & Keen, S. (2004) Post-Qualifying Awards in Social Work: necessary evil or panacea? Social Work Education, 23(1), 77-92.

6 Brown, K., McCloskey, C., Galpin, D., Keen, S, & Immins, T. (2008) Evaluating the impact of Post Qualifying Social Work Education. Social Work Education, 27(8), 853-867.

7 Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work (2012) Impact evaluations in social work and social care workforce development. A summary of the impact of the Improving Personal and Organisational Performance Programme. Bournemouth: Bournemouth University.


Professor Keith Brown and Dr Steven Keen  Originally Posted on the GSCC website: 15 Jun 2012

  • NCPP Bournemouth University
    Professor Keith Brown
    Director of the Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work, Bournemouth University

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