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Bringing life to social work education through young people’s stories

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Patrick Duke is a NAAS Practice Educator for the Academy of Social Work (ASWP), based within Plymouth City Council’s Children’s Services.

A social worker for 18 years, his work centres around putting social work education and professional development at the heart of achieving positive change for children and families in the city.

Here he shares the academy’s approach to embedding the Post-Qualifying Standards (PQS) within continual professional development.

An image representing children and adults sat around a table talking.
This image is a representation of the workshop using actors.

Creating a centre of excellence for social work education and practice

The Social Work Academy was set up in Plymouth in July 2018 as an improvement project to address recruitment, retention and practice development within children’s services.

Our overarching aim is to create an exceptional training and career development offer for those that choose to work with Plymouth and who want to embrace the National Assessment and Accreditation System (NAAS) as a practice improvement initiative.

NAAS was launched to enable child and family social workers to continue to develop the skills and knowledge to improve outcomes for children and families. It aims to provide social workers with a better understanding of their current level of knowledge and skill, highlighting strengths and areas for development, and supporting employers to continue to raise the national standard and consistency of practice.

We drip-fed the concept of NAAS and its value for national social work improvement to social workers through induction workshops and by providing learning resources such as hand-held flip cards that link the PQS to the council’s existing appraisal and supervision policy. This has embedded the concept of NAAS into the consciousness of the practitioner with the notion of making more intrinsic changes to practice.

Taking into consideration team diversity, including varying confidence levels and learning styles, we created an endorsement pathway that has a three-pronged approach and enables us to offer personalisation and flexibility. This includes:

  • line manager endorsement through an annual appraisal process and supervision
  • a 20-credit NAAS Masters module in partnership with Bournemouth University
  • the ASWP CPD pathway workshop

Whilst the first two are a more traditional route to endorsement, the academy CPD pathway involves working with young people to explore the post-qualifying standards within the context of their experience of social workers.

Putting the voice of children and young people at the heart of everything we do

We genuinely want young people to inform practice in the right areas. Working closely with the Plymouth participation team, we built in an appreciative inquiry - running sessions with young people to understand how the PQS applies to their experiences of care, considering how the services they received might have been improved if the PQS was better embedded.

We set up activities that created a circle of learning, providing development opportunities for the young people as well as social workers. Taking a ‘backseat’ as professionals, we let the young people work together to prioritise the PQS agenda for CPD.

It came down to respecting young people as experts in their own lives. They’ve shaped the workshop activities, presenting their anonymised stories to social workers at CPD events, delivered role-play activities where they re-enact their stories, and produced a video to showcase their varying experiences of social work.

Keeping the theme of participation and inclusion, young people have been fully involved in the development and presentation of NAAS preparation sessions for practitioners and managers. They have 2O AQA academic credits for their work in the project. One young person, Connor, said:

I’ve really enjoyed being involved in this work. Parts of it have been new to me, like standing in front of a group like a teacher and making the film. We are all really committed and from what I can see, it seems to be making a difference.

Real change in social work practice

Involving young people has really helped to change the sentiment towards the NAAS. True, authentic stories are incontestable and avoid the ‘yes but…’ situation that we often come across. Social workers respond on many levels to the real lived experience of young people.

Workshop feedback has shown that social workers could clearly see the connection between the PQS and outcomes for the very people who receive the services.

We’ve seen an increase in those inspired and motivated to move forward with their development journey to reach endorsement and in turn, accreditation. Social workers are reclaiming their social work knowledge and skills to improve practice.

Key learnings

This process is about humility. Recognising we don’t always get it right and learning from the experience.

There have been challenges. Some we have overcome. Others we are still working on. Below are some of our learnings.

  1. To help combat social workers fear and anxiety, share information in small pieces. Don’t overload

  2. Not everyone’s journey is linear. Some may need to retake the assessment, having achieved ‘not met’ status the first time. This is just part of the learning journey

  3. Time is precious. Ensure senior manager buy-in and secure time for CPD

  4. Motivate! Support and celebrate social workers achievements

  5. Get creative! Resources such as PQS flip cards that sit on desks, fit in bags are really handy guides and reminders!

We hope that our approach might help others nationally. If anyone would like to discuss further, feel free to email:


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