New qualifications Scotland’s social services workforce

The Scottish Practice Learning Project (SPLP) is currently leading work on the development of a major new set of qualifications for those working in social services and related professions who are supporting learning in the workplace. These will be called the Practice Learning Qualifications (Social Services) or PLQ(SS).

The framework for the PLQ(SS) was developed by the Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education (the Institute) and can be downloaded from the SPLP website at

With the support of Scottish Executive, funding work is now being undertaken on developing the core content areas of the qualifications, which will form the basis of programmes to be delivered through the four regional Learning Networks.

Arrangements for delivery of the PLQ(SS) through Learning Network partnerships are currently under discussion within the networks, and decisions are still to be made as to who will be programme providers in each area. This could be a local university, college or the Scottish Qualifications Authority in partnership with employers. It is anticipated that the new qualifications will be ready for delivery sometime next year.

All development work so far has been undertaken through a collaborative approach that has included a wide range of stakeholders, including employers, academic institutions and service users and carers.

The PLQ(SS) have been developed within a climate of immense change within social services particularly in relation to education and learning.

Since the 1999 publication of ‘Aiming for Excellence’, which set out the government’s aspirations for the social work profession, including the training of social workers, there have been many significant initiatives in Scotland, the aims of which have been to increase the confidence and competence of the social services workforce, raise standards of practice, increase public confidence in the sector and increase and retain the workforce.

All social service staff registered with the SSSC are now required to evidence that they have ‘contributed to the learning and development of others’ as part of their post registration training and learning (PRTL), irrespective of grade or position in their organisation. This underpins the development of learning cultures and learning organisations in social services. It also helps establish a sense of professional leadership and accountability for practice at all levels, and the key role played by continuing professional development (CPD) in the development of a confident and competent workforce.

The PLQ(SS) will be the first new qualification to be approved by the SSSC under its Rules and Requirements for Specialist Training for Social Service Workers in Scotland.

The Scottish Executive paper ‘Confidence in Practice Learning’ (January 2004) outlined a new framework for practice learning in recognition that the honours degree in social work introduced in 2004 would create new demands on practice learning and that a culture change around learning in the workplace was needed. As a result the Scottish Practice Learning Project (SPLP) was set up in June 2004 to deliver these policy objectives.

Recommendations outlined within ‘Confidence in Practice Learning’ include replacing the Practice Teaching Award with ‘a range of new, accessible and flexible qualifications which are more suited to the new approach to practice learning’.

The National Strategy for the Development of the Social Services Workforce in Scotland published in 2005 provided a clear plan of action to support the development of the whole workforce. It focuses on life long learning as an objective for all staff, within organisations that value and promote education and learning. It also requires ‘employers to have in place plans to support practice learning with evidence of the number of learning opportunities to be offered to meet specific demands, in line with the Confidence in Practice Learning paper’.

More recently, the Changing Lives report on the 21st Century Review (2006) stated that ‘social work services must develop a learning culture that commits all individuals and organisations to lifelong learning and development’. The Changing Lives Implementation Plan sets milestones for implementing the National Strategy for the Development of the Social Service Workforce, including the development of learning cultures and learning organisations and establishing new practice learning qualifications.

At each level of the PLQ(SS) there is a standard for ‘demonstrating appropriate leadership skills’, another core element of Changing Lives. This will underpin the concept of professional leadership as relevant to all staff, not just managers, reinforcing the message in Changing Lives about the development of leadership skills at all levels within organisations. Changing Lives also recommends the development of portfolios of knowledge and skills. The PLQ(SS) will require this and this is seen as a basis for ongoing work and development once a qualification has been obtained.

There are four stages of qualification within the PLQ(SS), each stage set at an SCQF level (from SCQF level 7 through to SCQF level 11) that reflects a range of roles and responsibilities in supporting learning in the workplace. The framework consists of a set of eight standards, the same for each stage, with associated learning outcomes for the appropriate level. Depending on experience and role within their organisation, workers will be able to undertake the PLQ(SS) at whatever stage is most appropriate for them.

The new awards will provide qualifications that recognise the role which will be increasingly played by staff contributing to learning in and for practice at all levels. It will therefore give staff whose activity in this area is not currently recognised a framework within which to extend their expertise in supporting the learning of others. Arrangements will be in place for recognition of prior learning (RPL) so that people who already have experience of supporting learning, such as SVQ assessors, can put that experience towards the new qualification.

Those who are new to practice learning will be able to undertake programmes that will be accessible in their local area, including by distance and e-learning. The four staged approach will allow everyone on successful completion, including service users, carers, and all social service workers, to gain academic credits for the part they play in supporting learning in the workplace.

People are becoming more familiar with the concept of the PLQ(SS) as flesh is put on the bones of the framework through the on-going development work. SPLP has been receiving positive feedback from many employers, including ADSW, who can see the future benefits of the qualifications to their workforce and their role in supporting the development of learning organisations, and the PLQ(SS) is starting to appear in staff training and development strategies and in plans to support practice learning.

SPLP will continue to endeavour to keep stakeholders informed of developments through its bulletins, newsletter and website. A briefing sheet on the PLQ(SS) with Frequently Asked Questions is also now available on the SPLP website.