Learning Networks

A profile of the role learning networks can play in supporting the development of social services staff

The Scottish Practice Learning Project (SPLP) is a joint initiative between the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and the Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education (the Institute). A key role for the project is to promote a learning culture and develop learning networks.

What is a Learning Network?
Learning Networks are specific partnership networks with responsibility to:
– improve quantity, quality and diversity of practice learning opportunities
– develop systems to embed continuing professional development for all social service workers
– support all partner organisations in meeting the registration requirements for their staff
– help partners achieve workforce planning and development.
The Learning Networks will be a combination of resources and support systems designed to meet local need and to achieve each of the identified responsibilities.

Why have Learning Networks?
The challenges facing all social service sector employers and workers are significant. The aim of Learning Networks is to support these following challenges:
– meet the requirements of the Codes of Practice for Employers and Social Service Workers
– shift the emphasis from providers of care and make sure service users and carers are empowered to lead the progress of services
– change how we work to better integrate all related services, for example, health, education, housing and community justice
– meet the qualification requirements for registration that will deliver a competent, confident and valued workforce
– establish management information systems that can accurately predict skills gaps and future workforce development requirements
– ensure that work based learning and continuing professional development for all workers is comprehensive, efficient and integrated
– deliver a workforce fully prepared to meet the challenges and demands that lie ahead.
The foundation for this will be regional partnerships based on specific local authority boundaries.

Who will be the partners in Learning Networks?
In each partnership there will be a formal partnership that has come together with a mixture of funding from the Scottish Executive and money or ‘in kind’ contributions from partners to meet the objectives of Learning Networks.

All care providers private, voluntary and statutory have an equally important part in Learning Networks as do providers of higher, further and vocational education. Interests in housing, health, early years, education and other related services will all have a large part to play.

It is not essential to be a full partner in a Learning Network to benefit or contribute, although those receiving direct funding will have to be part of the formal partnership. The aim is to enable developments that achieve outcomes without unnecessary bureaucracy.

The Regions
There will be a Learning Network established in each of the four regions covering Scotland.
– Region One: Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City
– Region Two: Angus, Dundee, Perth & Kinross, Clackmannan, Stirling, Falkirk, Fife
– Region Three: Borders, East Lothian, Midlothian, Edinburgh, West Lothian
– Region Four: Dumfries & Galloway, South, East and North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire, West and East Dunbarton, North and South Lanarkshire, Argyll and Bute, Glasgow (The name of your local contact can be obtained through the SPLP address below.) {mospagebreak}

How might Learning Networks deliver the objectives?
The Learning Networks are at a very early stage in their development and it is sometimes difficult to imagine how they will be able to meet the above objectives.

We have set out a career pathway below to illustrate how the Learning Networks will work in practice.

“I would like to work with people”
This phrase is very often the starting point in an individual’s pathway to social services work. Different people reach the decision to be a paid worker at different points in their life. Some will know from a fairly early age that this is what they want to do. Many people will make that choice through life experience and often after a period of volunteering.

In this scenario our volunteer is Alison. She wants to work permanently in the social services and applies for a post as a housing support worker. Having been successful in the interview Alison starts work and attends an induction. Her employer understands that working in partnership is closely linked with the local Learning Network. It is through the network that the reality of common standardised induction is achieved.

There are some specialist aspects in relation to the particular users of the service that are delivered by the employer themselves but the introduction to the value base, the Codes of Practice and the individual’s responsibility for learning are reinforced in collaborative sessions put together by members of the Learning Network.

“I haven’t studied since I was at school”
During the induction Alison realises she doesn’t feel confident, some of the expectations of how you might write in this job are new and a bit daunting. The mentor organised through the Learning Network and her own supervisor are aware of these potential problems and Alison attends the Return 2 Learn programme. This course is the first that Alison has taken part in since leaving school and it helps her to identify the gaps in her current skill level and prepares her for the journey that lies ahead.

“I need to be qualified to register with the SSSC”
Alison realises that she has to start working towards a qualification as housing support workers must register with the SSSC. Her employer is a small agency and is worried about how they might resource their workforce to achieve this. This is another area where the regional Learning Networks can help. The network, along with the other Learning Networks in Scotland has ensured that access to qualifications is flexible and the resources for underpinning knowledge and assessment are shared. Through this support Alison is successful in achieving her SVQ level 3. {mospagebreak}

“I would now like to work in a different type of service”
Alison now wants to change direction in her career; she wants to work in a different setting with a different service user group. This is made easier because she can build on the SVQ gained in previous employment by undertaking a ‘skill set’ suitable to her new line of work. Skill sets are best understood as the particular and specialist skills and knowledge required to work with specific groups e.g. there is a core set of skills for working with people but specialist skills for working with different needs. The Learning Network supports workforce movement and planning and is delivering a range of skill sets with local colleges and employers.

“I want to continue to develop my learning”
It often happens that some learning leads to a desire for more and Alison wants to progress both in her career and academically. Again the Learning Network can help. As part of the service offered to the members of the Network there is assistance available in turning accredited and experiential learning into a claim for credit against the Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF) using the new Recognising Prior Informal Learning (RPL) format. In this way the qualification and experience is converted into a portfolio of evidence and, if appropriate, is assessed for advanced entry into the honours degree in social work. Whilst undertaking her degree Alison has several practice learning opportunities and the Learning Network plays a role in ensuring the supply of high quality and varied opportunities. Alison is successful in achieving an honours degree in social work.

“I am confident and competent, how can I pass on my skill and knowledge?”
Alison has made great progress but has not forgotten how the help and assistance of experienced workers aided her early and continuing development. She would like to contribute to the learning of others. Contact with the Learning Network helps her clarify the way forward. The Networks deliver the Practice Learning Qualifications (Social Services). This qualification is available at four levels in the SCQF and is designed to enable workers at different levels to contribute to and support student learning. Credit rating and SCQF levelling has been agreed as follows:
Stage 1 – SCQF level 7 which is equivalent to the first year of an honours degree (20 credits);
Stage 2 – SCQF level 9 (ordinary degree – 40 credits);
Stage 3 – SCQF level 10 (honours degree – 60 credits);
Stage 4 – SCQF level 11 (Masters – 60 Credits).
The PLQ (SS) can be achieved over time in different ways including elearning and group learning.

“I want to ensure workforce planning informs future service delivery”
Alison is now a strategic manager and is in the process of preparing a committee paper for the development of a new service. She wants to ensure that the planning for service delivery is properly informed by the workforce information made available by the Learning Network. Her report identifies the expected numbers of individuals qualifying with the appropriate qualifications from local universities and colleges. The committee is in a better position to understand future workforce numbers and allows planning to fill the vacancies that will be created in developing this new integrated service.

Further Information
Scottish Practice, Learning Project, Compass House, 11 Riverside Drive, Dundee DD1 4NY. Telephone: 01382 207339, Fax: 01382 207215, Email: [email protected] or Web: www.splp.uk.com