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Celebrating deep learning and the impact of the Practice Supervisor Development Programme

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The Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP) aims to provide high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) to social workers who are responsible for supporting and developing the practice of others. Led by Research in Practice (RiP) with Tavistock & Portman NHS Foundation TrustGoldsmiths University and the University of Sussex, the course has been developed following a robust scoping exercise and engagement with the children and families social care sector.

Nominations for online delivery of the PSDP are now open, with places open to any practice supervisor regardless of length of time in post. Practice supervisors and middle leaders that have taken part in the PSDP have said they value the programme because it provides opportunities to connect and learn with peers, in a reflective space. Below we hear from Suzi and Lisa about their experiences of being on the course.

Left to right: Suzi Rockett and Lisa Thornton

Suzi Rockett, Social Work Practice Development Manager at Barnsley Council

The thing that I’ve really liked about the programme is emotional containment, the job is very demanding, newly qualified social workers (especially in a pandemic) are working at home on their own – quality supervision is so much more necessary.

My experience on the PSDP was very intensive, which on reflection I don’t think any of us delegates were really prepared for. From the very second, it started, it was jammed packed for the full five days. Timekeeping was dead strict - no social work clocks on this course folks! In fairness, it needed to be as the course covers so much.

We started by spending time reflecting upon ourselves and how to become emotionally intelligent and reflective managers. There were then opportunities to promote critical analysis and thinking, explore supervision in-depth and promote evidence-informed practice for our teams and organisations. We also looked at shaping and influencing practice, developing excellent practitioners and emotionally intelligent practice supervision. I’ve come back with lots of tools, models and new ways of thinking, which I am just starting to share and pass on my learning.

What was really good was it challenged my own practice, and how I can deliver my own supervision and training differently, for example, the courses I deliver to practice educators. I can share the learning not only with our managers, but also our experienced practice educators, students and our newly qualified social workers (NQSW).

I have started to incorporate this into NQSW supervision sessions and in particular focusing on the emotional impact of social work, and emotional containment. One easy change I made was to start using genograms (also known as family trees) more often in supervision. Genograms are diagrams that map out relationships within a family and across generations (usually three). I use this as a tool to increase the supervisee’s understanding of the key issues in a child’s story. It really does get people to start thinking more deeply and critically about their cases, as this lends itself nicely to thinking about what supervisees know about a family and what they need to know.

To find out more about the impact of the PSDP, watch Suzi’s video on the Practice Supervisor website.

Lisa Thornton, Practice Consultant at Lincolnshire County Council

I attended the PSDP pilot as I was new to my post and our local authority was keen to see what this looked like and how we could benefit.

Reflective one-to-one development sessions were offered as a follow up from the PSDP. Prior to the first meeting, there was the expectation for me to review my individual development plan that I had completed as part of the programme. This gave me the opportunity to revisit goals that sometimes if we are not mindful, can become good intentions. The approach in the sessions was similar to that taken during the programme – focusing both on my developmental needs, as well as the context and wider system, and the way this all works together.

One of the really helpful aspects of the development sessions was the technology. They were conducted through Zoom which was easily accessible, making them time efficient. I met with my consultant on two occasions, with each session lasting for an hour. The initial consultation covered background information – my role in the organisation, length of time as a Practice Supervisor etc. We then went on to some of the key learning points from the programme and how I was being able to put these into practice. I had had the chance to look at the material from the programme and put together some of this to use as part of our practice supervisor network meetings.

I am also looking at the possibility of lunchtime learning sessions where again this material could be used. I was particularly impressed by the way that all of the material was linked to the Post Qualifying Standards: Knowledge and Skills Statements, so again this is supporting practitioners to evidence best practice. I have used aspects of some of the material in group supervision sessions, such as The Supervision Cycle (Morrison, 2005), where we were able to talk about the importance of reflection and what can happen if there is a ‘quick fix’. This fits in well with using Signs of Safety as far as considering hypotheses and then again links in with the importance of thinking about the impact of bias.

The consultation has the benefits of being a two-way process. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the programme and my intentions but also feeding information back to Research in Practice and the PSDP team as far as what is being used. This allows this information to guide the programme to evolve. It also gives the added dimension in that the consultant has full knowledge of the programme and so is able to explore certain areas that might not be captured from regular supervision from your organisation.

My second consultation allowed me the opportunity to look at where I had got to, what I was finding useful, what challenges I had come up against and more importantly, ideas and ways to overcome these. Again, this reinforced some of the key messages from the programme including the links between what is happening within the organisation, how this can affect the practitioner, and the direct impact of all of this for the children and families that we work with. Most importantly, I recall what came from the Children's Workforce Development Council: ‘Many supervisors punch above their organisational weight, frequently having a much greater influence on staff and practice than they think.’

I have really valued these development sessions as an opportunity to have that safe space to reflect on my learning and keep myself on track with some helpful guidance and direction and would see it as an efficient, essential and effective part of the programme. Seize the opportunity and you will reap the benefits!

To find out more about the impact of the PSDP, watch Lisa’s video on the Practice Supervisor website.

The deadline for spring nominations is 30 April 2021. To find out more, visit the Research in Practice website or contact

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