Showing our workings out – an update on the PSDP so far

24 October 2018

Dez HolmesDez Holmes

It has been a busy six months since we were awarded the contract to develop and deliver the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP), and now is a good point to share our journey so far.

We are committed to ‘showing our workings out’ as we go – not only because it’s the right thing to do when receiving an investment of public money, but also because sharing our learning is helpful to others working in this field, and because it role-models the kind of openness that is so important in Practice Supervisors’ role.

We wanted to design the PSDP in a way that honoured the various different sources of knowledge, and respected the wealth of existing activity in this field. To that end, we spent the early summer undertaking an intensive engagement and scoping phase. This involved:

  • A survey of 280 colleagues in local authorities (LAs), from newly qualified social workers (NSQWs) to Directors of Children’s Services (DCSs).
  • Consultation with approximately 100 children, young people, parents and carers – for which we are hugely grateful to Barnardo’s, Become, NCLBF/Catch 22, Family Rights Group, Grandparents Plus and TACT.
  • Four focus groups across the country, involving 37 supervisors and managers.
  • A call for continuing professional development (CPD) examples from LAs and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).
  • Two rapid literature reviews of current research (one on supervision and one on CPD for social work management and leadership) conducted by the University of Sussex.
  • A desk-based review exploring selected Ofsted reports, improvement plans, social work health checks and peer review reports - alongside interviews with key practice leaders.
  • Establishing a Practice Reference Group, with Principal Social Workers (PSWs) and supervisors representing every region, to keep us grounded in the realities of practice.

Interestingly, in terms of the messages emerging from these multiple sources of knowledge, there was a high degree of congruence. The key themes emerging form the scoping phase that have informed our development include:

  • The centrality of honest, trusting relationships – at all levels of the system – characterised by high support, high expectations and respectful challenge.
  • The need for emotionally literate, reflective, curious supervision which promotes critical thinking, hopeful practice and wellbeing.
  • The critical importance of professional leadership, and the need to develop supervisors in a way that that foregrounds social work values and ethics as well as drawing on leadership theory more widely.
  • The role of systemic thinking; supervisors are part of the family’s system and part of the organisational system. This kind of thinking also invites us to notice how ‘parallel processes' occur – i.e. that the behaviours and patterns between supervisors and supervisees can mirror the behaviours and patterns between practitioners and children/families.
  • The crucial role of organisational culture in enabling all of the above; whilst the PSDP is designed to provide CPD for new supervisors, senior colleagues will have a key role in creating the conditions in which participants can apply their learning.

Under the steer of The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, we spent the latter part of the summer developing programme materials and evaluation tools, supported by our Academic Reference Group (representing our network of Local Delivery Partners), our Practice Reference Group and a number of PSWs who kindly volunteered their time. We are grateful to colleagues at HEIs and Teaching Partnerships who shared their research for inclusion, to everyone who has agreed to be filmed/recorded – in particular to ‘Annie’ (a mother with first-hand experience of the children’s social care system). 

After much modelling, feedback and refining, we finalised the model of the programme: the PSDP comprises five days of face-to-face learning, a series of small group practice development sessions, 1:1 reflective sessions and a programme of self-directed study (including preparatory exercises). The whole experience will take four to five months. 

We tested this programme with 16 supervisors, representing 14 LAs and two independent trusts, in October. These wonderful colleagues not only engaged in their own intensive learning experience (compacted into just two weeks) but also acted as critical friends, providing invaluable feedback that we are now using to refine the materials ahead of the national launch. Their positive feedback and sage advice has allowed us to reduce the volume of content, extend some of the experiential learning activities and feel confident in our decision to include a residential element to the programme.

Meanwhile, we have been working hard to ensure that every LA/Trust wishing to take part has had a chance to nominate participants. We are delighted that all bar a handful of LAs/Trusts have now booked their places on the programme, and are also nominating ‘waiting list’ participants.

Our first cohort starts in early November in London, delivered by Goldsmiths University, and the second starts in Manchester a week later, delivered by the Greater Manchester Social Work Academy. A further 20 cohorts will undertake the programme over the next eight months, and work will soon begin on developing the open access mini-site which will ensure that a suite of CPD resources are available to all.

Our next blog will share the experience of participants, and we will keep sharing our learning at each stage of this exciting project.

About the author

Dez Holmes is the Director of Research in Practice and Research in Practice for Adults.

Related resources

The Practice Supervisor Development Programme is a significant investment by the Department for Education and aims to provide high-quality continuous professional development to up to 700 social workers taking up their first role in which they are responsible for supporting and developing the practice of others.

Find out more about the programme.

Visit the PSDP website

For more information regarding the PSDP see Frequently Asked Questions.  


Practice Reference Group

With thanks to the Practice Reference Group, with representation from every region, to keep us grounded in the realities of practice. This included:

North Somerset Council, Devon County Council, Doncaster Children’s Services Trust, Hull City Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, Southampton City Council, Brighton and Hove City Council, West Sussex County Council, East Sussex County Council, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, Manchester City Council, Lancashire County Council, Darlington Borough Council, North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council, Norfolk County Council, Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Derbyshire County Council, Leicestershire County Council, Telford and Wrekin Borough Council, Waltham Forest London Borough Council Wandsworth London Borough Council.

Programme testing

With thanks to programme testing group, including:

Slough Children’s Services Trust, Norfolk County Council, Lancashire County Council, Essex County Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Coventry City Council, Sandwell Children’s Trust, London Borough of Lambeth, Lincolnshire County Council, Wigan Council, North East Lincolnshire Council, Surrey County Council, London Borough of Bexley.

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