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Place, space and time: Reflections on the bespoke Practice Supervisor Development Programme

23 July 2019

Jo WilliamsJo Williams

Providing Practice Supervisors with a place, space and time to learn, develop, reflect and network with other social workers, away from the workplace, is an incredibly valuable backdrop to the Practice Supervisor Development Programme.

This week marks the anniversary of my interview for the role of Delivery Lead for the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP), which seems an appropriate milestone to stop and reflect on the journey so far. I continue to feel a sense of pride and fortune to be involved in such an important programme and my travels around England, observing the PSDP in action, have reflected this.

I am consistently reminded what an amazing profession social work is and it is always a pleasure and a privilege to encounter such incredibly dedicated, talented and humble Practice Supervisors along the way. I have been really struck by the hunger for this development opportunity and the participants’ enthusiasm and drive to learn and apply their ideas to practice, often within stretched local resources and challenging contextual systems. What is evident from feedback at this juncture, is that providing Practice Supervisors with a place, space and time to learn, develop, reflect and network with other social workers, away from the workplace, is an incredibly valuable backdrop to the programme.

A testament to the promising initial feedback from the programme and the commitment to investing in social work continuing professional development (CPD), is that extension funding was awarded for additional cohorts. This has allowed an opportunity to deliver six ‘bespoke’ programmes for local authorities who identified as being able to benefit from additional places, such as those focusing on developing and improving social work supervision and practice. As with the generic PSDP, we started with a pilot bespoke programme and this was with Birmingham Children’s Trust. This enabled us to learn about what was needed, in order to gain the right insight into the experiences of Practice Supervisors and achieve the best approach to bespoke delivery, to help them to navigate challenges within their local context.

The pilot started in March 2019 and will be complete by the end of July. The shape and outline of the bespoke programme is the same as the generic PSDP, with some additional aspects, to explore and address local needs. This included an initial consultation with senior colleagues at Director level to hear more about their improvement journey and what they hoped the PSDP would contribute to this. The Director was then invited to attend at the beginning of day one and during day five of the face to face teaching days. This provided an opportunity for them to share their hopes for the PSDP with participants and then return to hear what had inspired them and what their ideas were for shaping and influencing the practice system. The ‘courageous conversation’ that we held for the pilot, will remain a memorable PSDP moment for me, as I experienced the start of the process for participants’ ‘learning transfer’ and a commitment to helping them achieve this. The Director who participated in this reflects as follows:

‘I was really pleased to hear the feedback on day 5 – the key messages for me being that our staff had used their time well to consider how they lead, and I know that they have taken a lot of learning too. Their feedback, some of which is very practical, will influence the whole system going forward. Amazingly, I saw the growth in self-belief and confidence in my staff when I returned, it will be important to enable this learning in the workplace.

I have made a commitment to take a number of suggestions forward, such as how we don’t only lead, but how we support our staff. I was also very proud to find that we have quite an untapped resource of skill, insight and talent. The most important thing for me is that my staff are empowered to use their learning back in practice. Being able to have such a bespoke model of learning provides us with this opportunity. I will support our participants in running regular learning and reflection sets, we won’t lose the learning.’

We also decided that a Principal Social Worker would attend the five face-to-face days, not only as a means of helping participants to think about embedding ideas from the PSDP, but also to provide a learning loop back into the programme, to help us consider how to shape a bespoke programme. This provided invaluable support to us as facilitators, as it enabled us to capture key themes as they arose. The Principal Social Worker who attended the bespoke pilot has reflected on the benefits of the programme as follows:

‘The PSDP offers busy managers and Practice Supervisors a chance to reflect and develop their supervisory practice and it does this in a way that encourages reflection and curiosity. I especially like the way it begins with the self and how your own identity informs your practice and supervision as a manager, before going on to examine one-to-one supervision, group supervision and team culture, with some interesting discussions about the wider organisational and professional contexts in which children’s social work practice occurs. The sessions are designed around and informed by theoretical approaches, research and practice methods but these are used with a ‘light touch’ that focuses on how they are tools to help analysis and reflection. This helped us to get the most out of these ideas and approaches. The facilitators model the reflective, open and engaging approach they discuss in the sessions. This has created a welcoming environment in which to step away, think and question.’

The generic PSDP offers participants two one-to-one reflective coaching sessions, aimed to help them explore their own learning and development plan and bring dilemmas to reflect on, in addition to modelling approaches to reflective conversations. For the bespoke programme we trialled offering an additional session prior to the first day, in order to engage participants before the programme started and establish their individual aspirations for the programme. This enabled us to draw out themes in relation to some of the challenges they were facing and balance their hopes for the programme with those of their senior managers. Our intentions in working in this way, has also aimed to reflect some of the theoretical themes underpinning the PSDP, namely working with the whole system and taking a relationship based approach to working ‘with’ people. A pilot participant reflects on their one-to-one session as follows:

‘This was a really positive session. [The facilitator] modelled some of the approaches and techniques discussed on the course to help me explore and examine a dilemma within my role, and to consider the personal, professional and organisational dimensions in which this dilemma arose. This helped me to think things through in a manner I had not been able to do prior to this. This will inform my practice in respect of the issue discussed, but in particular it reminded me how powerful, open and reflexive questions can be and how this approach to helping people to think things through for themselves, can be much more helpful for people, than telling them answers or jumping to solutions.’

A general aim of the PSDP is to develop a ‘Community of Practice’ across each cohort and within regions of the country. This ethos has generally been welcomed by the profession and an advantage for the bespoke cohorts is that they have been able to establish new relationships with peers from within their own organisation. The hope here is that together, they will collectively have an opportunity to have a real influence on supervision practices. It was rewarding to see the richness of group learning unfold over the course of the programme, particularly whilst exploring models for group supervision. A participant from the pilot reflects:

‘I have enjoyed learning about new practical methods that I can use in order to provide more reflective supervision and to be able to record this. This has allowed me to think about the balance in supervision between managing risk and case discussion and allowing workers to reflect upon their own practice and the impact of bringing ‘self’ into supervision sessions. This was particularly helpful on day four where I was able to discuss within a small group, a case scenario for an Assisted and Supported Year in Employment that I had worked with, which allowed me to think about how my own professional value base had impacted on how I worked with them. Having a group setting and the opportunity for group work, allowed for ideas to be shared about best practice and what good supervision/supervisor should look like.’

We have learned some valuable lessons through the delivery of the pilot bespoke PSDP. Consultation with participants and senior managers has enabled us to co-create the focus of sessions and ideas for practice. This has also been important in engaging busy practice supervisors in preparing for their own learner journey. Opportunities for shaping and influencing the practice system are also enhanced through facilitating conversations between participants and their leaders. Most importantly, creating the right environment and sufficient time and space, provides practice supervisors with the potential and opportunity to flourish.


About the author

Jo Williams is the Delivery Lead for the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP). She works for the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, who are part of the PSDP consortium.

Twitter: @jo_willliams #PSDP


Practice Supervisor Development Programme

Research in Practice, together with consortium partners, are delivering a national Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP) funded by the Department for Education. The programme aims to provide high-quality continuous professional development for up to 1,000 newly-appointed Practice Supervisors. These are social workers taking up their first role in which they are responsible for supporting and developing the practice of others and who have been in their role for less than twelve months. Currently over 300 Practice Supervisors have taken part.

The wholly not-for-profit consortium led by Research in Practice includes: The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation TrustUniversity of Sussex and Goldsmiths, University of London. The consortium will work with a number of skilled ‘local delivery partners’ comprising universities, Teaching Partnerships and trusted CPD providers in every region.

Find out more about the PSDP.

Frequently asked questions about the PSDP


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