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The seven-eyed model of supervision

This widely used model developed over 35 years (Hawkins and McMahon, 2020) covers various modes that may be used in one-to-one supervision and supports enhanced relational practice.

These modes are combined with the draft standards for the NQSW supported year to make an at-a-glance way of ensuring supervision is comprehensive and relevant. This is covered further including the application of the Standards in Social Work Education ethics and using a case vignette in the suggested training session outlined for supervisors that are included on our website.

It is not necessarily intended that these modes are all used in each session, but it allows supervisors to monitor that supervision is holistic. For example, modes two and six of focusing on the NQSW’s strategies and interventions and the supervisor offering support and advice, may tend to dominate in a casework approach.

The following modes and linked NQSW characteristics will help prompt the conversations and approaches needed to help the NQSW to meet supported year practice expectations, ensuring a real focus on the person we work with and keep attention to the wellbeing of the NQSW.

Supervision focus and NQSW characteristics
1: Focus on the people using services and what and how they present 
NQSW characteristics:
Critical thinking, professional judgement and decision making
Communication, engagement and relationship-based professional practice
2: Focus on the NQSW’s strategies and interventions 
NQSW characteristics:
Promoting wellbeing, support and protection
Use of knowledge, research and evidence in practice
3: Focus on the relationship between the NQSW and people using services
NQSW characteristics:
Communication, engagement and relationship-based professional practice
Working with complexity in unpredictable and ambiguous contexts
4: Focus on the NQSW’s skills and wellbeing in relation to their role
NQSW characteristics:
Self-awareness and reflexivity
Critical thinking, professional judgement and decision making
5: Focus on the supervisory relationship
NQSW characteristics:
Use of knowledge, research and evidence in practice
Self-awareness and reflexivity
6: Focus on the supervisor offering support from their own experience
NQSW characteristics:
Working with complexity in unpredictable and ambiguous contexts
Promoting wellbeing, support and protection
7: Focus on the wider contexts in which the work happens
NQSW characteristics:
Professional leadership
Ethics, values and rights-based practice
NQSW supervision focus and characteristics of practice

The potential of the seven-eyed model for NQSW supervision

This model gives us a potential model to use as part of negotiating supervision in the context of evolving practice and policies. Using such a model could help us nudge supervision away from a case management focus that is too narrow and incorporate person-centred behaviours in line with national policy initiatives.

One such initiative is ‘The Promise’ implementation plan following the Independent Care Review which has been widely adopted across government agencies. The workforce plan centralises the importance of supervision.

‘things that matter to children, including how loved they feel, how their rights are upheld and how stigma is being reduced. This must emphasise support for the worker and their relationship with the child over-evaluation of performance‘.

The Promise, Scotland

Another organisation holding services accountable to policy intentions is Inclusion Scotland, the national disabled people’s organisation whose motto is “nothing about us without us”. This directly relates to the use of the model to bring the people who use services into the supervision process. They emphasise the vision requires a supported workforce.

‘people working in social work and social care support [should be] respected, valued and rewarded for the work they do. They feel and are empowered in their roles

Inclusion Scotland

The seven-eyed model explicitly prompts a focus on the wider issues including embodying professional values at mode seven. This is central to the BASW Code of Ethics.

‘Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to work with vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion‘.

BASW

The six ethical principles of the Standards in Social Work Education in Scotland are cross-referenced to this model. NQSWs will be familiar working with those throughout their training and they continue to support the journey through the NQSW supported year and beyond. They echo much of the above and are expressed as:

  • Social justice and equality
  • Respecting diversity
  • Human rights and dignity
  • Self-determination
  • Partnership, participation and co-production
  • Honesty and integrity

Reflective questions for you as a supervisor

Link

Information and links

Go to supervisor resource 14 – Implementation of good supervision

Adaptable materials for your organisation

We introduce two templates here for supporting effective supervision for NQSW. These templates are linked with the approach detailed in the effective supervision overview for supervisors. You may already be using different approaches and templates in your practice that fit with your organisation. Please also see the training material downloads which are linked with these templates.

Tools and template downloads

You can download and adapt the reflective journal for NQSWs. This is made up of the different reflective questions that we have introduced on the website. We will be updating this as our website develops so please check back for new versions.

Supervision templates shared by organisations in Scotland (coming soon)

We also recommend SSSC Supervision Learning Resource

Supervision and outcomes for people using services

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) found that supervision led to outcomes (measured by workers), including empowerment and participation of service users, fewer complaints, and increased positive feedback. However, they noted, that there is a lack of research on how supervision impacted the desired outcomes of those using services.

‘changes to the supervisory process are not informed by the perspectives of service users and carers and miss a crucial aspect of understanding how supervision impacts on practice’

Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

Supervision can support social workers’ resilience

The people who use our services may benefit from a more resilient and stable workforce. Effective supervision has a clear role in supporting worker resilience. Child protection workers were less likely to leave their roles and community workers got significant protection from stress and burnout when given supportive supervision within an organisational culture positive about good supervision practice (Hawkins & McMahon, 2020).

These concepts are discussed further in the wellbeing and resilience section. Views from people who use services are also discussed in later sections. In the seven-eyed model section, we consider feedback from user groups including care experienced young people and adults with disabilities on supervision issues.

Reflective questions

  • How do you bring the views of people who use services into your supervision striking a balance between positive and negative feedback about services including your work?
  • Write down what you will do differently in your next supervision session to ensure that the view of the person using services is central?

Information and links

Go to NQSW Supervision resource 3 – Learning about supervision from the NQSW pilots

Negotiating supervision

It is important to negotiate the time, frequency, location, structure and content of supervision. Sometimes this is known as contracting, as social workers would often have had an individualised contract around supervision that meets their specific needs.

We have included more information and templates in the resources for supervisors on this website.

This has increasingly given way to organisational policies which have important functions about minimum standards and accountability to employees and the public. However, negotiating your own agreement about what you want to focus on within this wider policy can still be tremendously useful and will likely be seen as a sign of your interest and personal responsibility about your learning and development.

What supervision involves

There are some areas you could include and personalise to your needs, whether or not covered by an overarching policy. You might want to make them more relevant to your learning style, your locality or in case they were written for multi-professional departments, to your role as a social worker.

These headings are adapted for NQSWs from the Supervision Learning Resource (SSSC, 2016).

  • Arrangements for planned, frequent 1:1 supervision

There is no substitute for this and it is key to the wellbeing of NQSWs and the people who use our services. It should be a joint responsibility and major priority for both parties despite work pressures and technical hurdles that may be increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Arrangements for complementary supervision

This may be with a registered social worker if your line manager does not have this role and for group supervision and peer reflection which we have included on the website.

  • The link between supervision and other management processes

This might include any probationary employment period, any annual appraisal cycles, case allocation policies and any specific team or departmental goals or performance expectations.

  • Link with your expectations, support and CPL as an NQSW

If you are feeling comfortable with your supervisor this may include sharing your last individual learning plan you worked with at your final placement and adapting it for your new role, to show where you have developed and what you are still working on.

  • The purpose and content of sessions

This might include models used and how time might be divided between the normative, formative and restorative functions discussed further below in supervision models.

  • The role of standards and ethics specific to the NQSW role

This might include how you think about these in any model of supervision that you both agree to use eg see the section on the seven-eyed model which may help with this.

  • Administration issues

This might include issues such as an agenda and any cases identified for deeper analysis and reflection. This gives a supervisor time to read case notes and avoids spending most of the time in sessions describing case backgrounds. It also allows more focus on your assessment, interventions and support needs.   

Using supervision effectively

Contracting or negotiation for each supervision relationship sometimes gives way to carefully developed organisational policies to which staff must adhere. However, if that does not cover negotiation around responsibilities and roles, session formats, regulatory and accountability issues and the supervisory relationship those things still require individual attention.

Even with all those things in place supervision could still be somewhat  compliance-based unless both parties invest in the relationship including taking some risks. For you, it might be taking risks on talking about things you may worry that would impact on any assessment of your confidence or competence in your new identity as a qualified worker.

It is usually safer to take the risk of talking about difficult issues. Examples of this are:

  • Difficult issues with colleagues, managers and the organisation
  • Themes arising across multiple cases eg engagement issues  
  • Strong feelings eg anger or embarrassment in your work
  • Self-care, stress levels, time management, workload
  • Personal issues that impact work or vice versa
  • Feeling awkward about a case or potential ethical dilemmas

In a scenario where you may receive some feedback that leads to you feeling less confident, try to have a conversation about exactly that issue with your supervisor as they may be unaware of the impact on you.

When we are on a new learning curve early in a career, we may be more alert to criticism or we may need to help our supervisor understand our communication style, what we want more of and what we find more challenging. Conversely, it might be difficult for a supervisor to firmly challenge any concerns with new team members in case this is perceived as strong criticism.

It’s best to deliberately discuss how to manage constructive criticism ahead of time and say what approaches may work best for you.

Your supervisor may be highly experienced and you may well find supervision very useful. It is still worth having a discussion about your individual styles and approaches and how you might negotiate the relationship to work best for you, so you feel like you are taking an active role in your own development. Doing this consciously can help avoid solely describing casework activities and enable more reflective, meaningful and challenging conversations.

Reflective questions

  • Read your organisational policy around supervision. You may have to search on your organisation’s intranet or ask your manager for it.
  • Perhaps it was discussed during induction activities when you were taking in lots of new information and now would be a good time to revisit it.

Go to NQSW supervision resource 9 – Virtual supervision

Developing professional knowledge

Supervision is an important component of shaping professional knowledge and development as an NQSW’s practice develops. Professional knowledge is drawn from theories, research findings and practice experience (Drury and Hudson, 1997); those forms of knowledge include: theoretical knowledge, personal knowledge, practice wisdom, procedural knowledge and empirical knowledge.

The SSSC guidance for professional learning is included on the NQSW requirements page. This reinforces the message that professional learning takes many different forms.

Feedback from the pilot work was that NQSWs wanted to move away from what feels like academic training and learning. Setting up and running a peer group (see the peer reflective practice section) with other frontline workers creates reflective and action learning. The SSSC refreshed approach to CPL is about recognising and recording when learning has taken place and logging this accordingly.  

IRISS, argues that practice wisdom integrates a wide range of knowledge. This will include theories and relevant research to our thoughts and feelings in response to casework. Study participants reported that evidence was relevant information from case histories, notes, observations and reports from other professionals but less from theoretical or research sources.

After qualifying, we can still benefit from support to maintain your awareness of research knowledge and to become more skilled at making connections between casework activities and the human factors that inform our decision making.

Supervision is not the only way for workers to develop their professional knowledge and other methods are often used to complement staff development. Tsui et al (2017), argues that a ‘future path of supervision will be a form of organisational learning, where social workers rely not only on supervision, but also mentorship, consultation and coaching’.

The SSSC approach to continuous professional learning (CPL) is about recognising and recording when learning has taken place and logging this.

Developing your knowledge may include visiting and creating learning accounts at resources such as Social Service Knowledge Scotland (SSKS). A specific guide for NQSWs is also provided by SSKS.

Lightbulb

Useful ideas

  • We recommend the SSSC MyLearning app which puts your learning at the centre.
  • This is a smartphone-based service available to anyone.
  • The app helps you record your learning whenever and wherever it happens.
  • You can get reminders to reflect on your learning activities.
Network of social workers

Shared by NQSWs

Head icon with gears to indicate rflective thinking

Reflective questions

  • Reflect on how you record your learning from practice
  • When does learning happen for you?
  • What different ways of developing your knowledge and skills can you think of?
  • How could you evidence that in your learning logs?
  • How can you continue to access knowledge to support you to improve work with people who use services and contribute to your organisation’s learning?

Go to NQSW supervision resource 7 – NQSW wellbeing and resilience needs


Developing social work identity

The development of a professional identity based on social work values is important for NQSW and closely linked to job satisfaction. Supervision can also play an important part in supporting the development of values and professional identity.

Recognition of the need for protected time and space for focused reflection, particularly for supervisors, needs to be embedded in social services including both experiential training for supervisors as well as further recognition of the value of team and group supervision (Hawkins et al., 2020).

We include some ideas to think about professional identity here and some relevant links to reports and research in this area.

Maintaining your social work identity

As an NQSW you should be supported to maintain the contribution of your professional training, values and ethics even when practising in generic assessment or intervention roles in integrated multidisciplinary teams. This includes having access to professional supervision with a social work supervisor where the line manager is not a registered social worker.

As mentioned in the What is supervision? resource social work has been evolving for over a century and an important part of developing a professional identity is connecting with the development and wider state of the profession beyond individual localities and roles. This may include connections with local, national or global social work organisations and awareness of what their stance on supervision is.

The employer’s role

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) highlights the responsibilities of employers which includes a framework for supporting good practise that takes account of ethical principles and ensures ‘effective induction, supervision, workload management and continuing professional development’.

The social work interest group of Unison Scotland developed a position statement for professional supervision in social work in 2006, which states that professional supervision involves:

  • quality assurance, including accountable and evidence-based practice
  • learning and development, including developing individuals personally and professionally and ensuring that the social worker and agency maintain up to date knowledge about research, evidence and practice
  • support, including identifying resources to respond to stressful situations and constructive challenge in the interests of client, worker and agency
  • shared decision making, including ensuring peer and management review of professional decisions and mutual learning and development.

The supervision policy of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) suggests these key needs of social workers: 

  • receiving regular, planned, 1:1 professional supervision from registered and appropriately experienced social workers.
  • having routine opportunities for peer learning and discussion in the workplace and through professional networks.
  • developing and maintaining relevant skills, knowledge and understanding to do their job through continuing professional development.

Reflective questions

  • Listen to the Helpful Social Work Podcast episode 8b on Supervision (20 min) and then think about the reflective questions shown below.
  • Think about the concepts in the podcast applied to NQSW
  • How you would feedback to your supervisor on what does or does not help you progress?
  • How you might have input into the agenda to use the time in the best way possible for you?
  • Write some of these ideas down so you can take them to your supervisor for further discussion.

Information and links

Professional identity and self-care

Find out about the sessions on professional identity and self-care that were run in our pilot work by Pearse McCusker and Martin Kettle. You can download the information below.

Go to NQSW supervision resource 5 – Learning from reviews of practice

Defining supervision in social work

“Supervision is a forum for reflection and learning… an interactive dialogue between at least two people, one of whom is a supervisor. This dialogue shapes a process of review, reflection, critique and replenishment for professional practitioners… It is accountable to professional standards and defined competencies and to organisational policy and procedures”.

Davys and Beddoe 2020, p.22

How we define supervision shapes expectations of ourselves and others in supervision sessions. There are many different definitions of supervision, all stress the goal of benefitting people who use services and their carers.

This definition highlights accountability and the link between supervision and performance review or appraisal processes:

“Supervision is a process which aims to support, assure and develop the knowledge skills and values of the person being supervised (supervisee), team or project group. It provides accountability for both the supervisor and supervisee in exploring practice and performance. It also enhances and provides evidence for annual performance review or appraisal; it sits alongside an organisation’s performance management process with particular focus on developing people in a way that is centred on achieving better outcomes for people who use services and their carers.”

SSSC Supervision Learning Resource

This definition focuses on social worker support to strengthen ethics:

“Supervision is the systematic, reflective process which supports social workers to make ethical decisions. It also improves confidence, competence and morale, leading to a better service for those who use social work services.”

BASW Supervision Policy

This definition focuses on relationships within the wider context:

“Supervision is a joint endeavour in which a practitioner, with the help of a supervisor, attends to their clients, themselves as part of their client-practitioner relationships and the wider systemic and ecological contexts, and by so doing improves the quality of their work, transforms their client relationships, continuously develops themselves, their practice and the wider profession.”

Hawkins and Shohet (2012)

The development of supervision in social work

In the late 19th century, volunteer social workers gathered around experienced leaders in an apprenticeship model and supervision was concerned with adherence to agency policy and the distribution of resources.

At the turn of the century evaluation of the perceived worthiness of clients needing help turned to greater examination of the causes of poverty and social justice. From the 1920’s onward, social work supervision was strongly influenced by growing psychoanalytic thinking.

From the 1980’s onward, in common with the rest of the public sector, supervision was increasingly concerned with ideas influenced by private sector concepts around performance and accountability.

Supervision has been described as “the most original and characteristic process that the field of social casework has developed” (Robinson in Davys and Beddoe, 2020).

Reflection is part of social work DNA

Reflection is an important part of supporting social work organisations’ core mission to serve communities, (Baines et al. (2014) in Hawkins, et al. 2020). Supervision has been shown to offer an important mediating role in supporting social workers to remain true to their principles. It prevents a focus on purely outcome-driven cultures supporting a more reflective, holistic focus on the supervisee and their practice.

Kolb’s experiential learning cycle  

The learning cycle underpins much of the theory of supervision and professional development in social work. It involves four stages, namely: concrete learning, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation. (Kolb, 1984).

From the 1980s, various writers developed Kolb’s ideas to inform social work supervision, notably Morrison (2001). Models were set out to help social workers and the wider helping professions improve supervision practice, the different processes and roles involved.  

Honey and Mumford (2005) learning styles are familiar to many social workers. Various questionnaires based on this are available online which can be used with new workers. This may be helpful when the NQSW or supervisor is familiar with these learning styles.

Learning styles can change over time and one is not more important or desirable than another. For example, a social worker might develop a more balanced mix of styles or have a different style at points of their career. Being aware of areas that we can develop in is an important aspect of learning and professional development.

The four styles relate to preferences for the above parts of the supervision cycle:

Experience – Activist style

Reflection – Reflector style

Analysis – Theorist style   

Action Plans – Pragmatist style

Each learning style will have favourable and unfavourable activities as described by Grace (2001).

  • Activists may favour new experiences and activities including role play, short term tasks and being thrown in at the deep end. They may be less likely to learn from lectures, reading, observing, analysing data, prescribed activities and frequent repetition.
  • Reflectors may favour activities where they can observe other people first, being given preparation and discussion time and audiovisual aids. They may be less likely to learn from role-playing in front of others, being ‘thrown in’ and having to make shortcuts due to time pressures.
  • Theorists may favour situations where they have to think through complex analyses, a clear purpose, interesting tasks regardless of relevance to the role and accessing models and theories. They may be less likely to learn from unstructured situations and decision making without a policy context and with complex emotional overtones.
  • Pragmatists may favour exercises where there is high relevance to their role, situations where the implementation is as important as the learning content, creating action plans and learning from coaches and mentors. They may be less likely to learn from situations with no clear goal or reward and learning from people outside their field.

Ideally, over time we adopt skills, that may come less naturally at first, as we learn from colleagues, supervisors and people who use services.    

 

Reflective questions

  • Where do you fit in the above continuum?
  • Either using this or another model, reflect on your strengths
  • Do you think your style has changed over time?

Information and links

  • Please remember that clicking on any of these links will take you to information and sites external to the SSSC NQSW website.
  • BASW Supervision Policy
  • Davys, A., & Beddoe, L. (2021). Best practice in professional supervision: A guide for the helping professions (2nd ed.). London: Jessica Kingsley
  • Hawkins, P. & Shohet, R. (2012) Supervision in the helping professions (4th ed.). London: Open University Press
  • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall
  • Morrison, T. (2001). Staff Supervision in Social Care. Brighton: Pavillion
  • SSSC (2016) Supervision learning Resource

Go to NQSW supervision resource 2 – How people using services benefit from supervision

Different models of supervision

Many different models help explain the interaction between stakeholders and the different functions of supervision. Supervision policies often refer to a three or four-function model of supervision.

Morrison (2010) identified management, professional, and developmental aspects and added the role of mediation in recognition of the role of supervisors. He saw supervisors as the main link between frontline workers and management structures. 

These multiple dynamics of supervision are set out by Kettle (2015), who highlights that a “task-focused approach fails to take account of the interaction between these functions,” or to “situate the dynamics of the supervisory process within the wider organisational or inter-agency context”.

Proctor (2008) advocates a three-part supervision model that has been influential, and these terms are often discussed in wider literature including the very helpful SSSC Supervision Learning Resource (SSSC, 2016).

The key domains are shown in the table below.

Normative  Ensures that staff work within a safe framework for practice   Maintain trust and professional standards   Exploring options within the supervision session
FormativeThe learning function   Sharing knowledge and skills and experiences   Problem solving and skills development   Assist with understanding the people who use services better   Explore alternative ways of working  
Restorative  Support for personal/professional development   Building morale and confidence   Ensure staff function within a safe framework for practice   Maintaining their professional standards  
Supervision Domains

Proctor (2008)

Developing different methods of supervision

A learning organisation will use multiple methods to support staff development rather than expecting everything to be provided by a line manager in individual supervision (Tsui, 2017). This may incorporate peer and group approaches, mentorship as well as consultation and coaching. Peer group work is explored in the training outline for NQSWs. The supervisor training sessions included on this website has a focus on individual models that help to take account of multiple needs.

Heron (2001) set out a model which helps us think more about the variety of interventions that might happen in supervision. Both authoritative and facilitative interventions are needed but some of the facilitative needs may also be achieved in peer-group work (particularly cathartic and catalytic interventions).

Authoritative interventions
Prescriptive – Explicitly direct the NQSW by giving advice and direction
Informative – Provide information to instruct and guide the NQSW
Confronting – Challenge the NQSW’s behaviour or attitude
Facilitative interventions
Cathartic – Helping the NQSW to express/overcome thoughts or emotions that they have not previously confronted
Catalytic – Help the NQSW reflect, discover and learn for themselves. Move toward self-reflection, self-direction and self-awareness
Supportive – Build up the confidence of the NQSW by focusing on their competence, qualities and achievements
Authoritative and Facilitative Interventions

Heron (2001)

Developmental models

There are several developmental models which are helpful when thinking about the domains of motivation, autonomy and awareness in supervision.

As with all models it aids our thinking rather than having a linear or universal application. Factors including career history, such as a prior experience of the care sector, may impact our developmental journey.

The categories set out in the table below are adapted from a model advanced by Stoltenberg and McNeill (2010).

Level 1 self-centred (Can I make it in this work?)
We may be focused on getting it right and the feeling of ongoing assessment or may be frustrated by not being able to get on with it after intense assessments and scrutiny in successive placements.
We may be feeling overwhelmed at times by greater caseloads and conflicted about doing a ‘good enough job’ rather than a comprehensive one.
The supervisor provides a safe and structured container with regular positive feedback.
Level 2 Client-centred (Can I help this client make it?)
The supervisor may be less structured and reduce direct advice, legislation and policy guidance.
Support is offered for occasional swings between feeling skilled and not able to cope with the role and needing to negotiate or ask for help.
As the supervisory alliance grows it is seen more as support for practice than continuous assessment by the organisation.
Level 3 Process-centred (How are we relating together?)
Supervision becomes a joint task, more co-productive and with more power balance.
Supervisees are less likely to use individual theory or prescribed forms of assessment and intervention as they become more comfortable with using their strengths and different range of styles in client work.
They become more self-supervising of casework and their overall development
Level 4 Process-in-context centred (How do processes interpenetrate?)
As a supervisee’s skills become more refined they become integrated with the worker’s effective use of self.
They come knowing how they want to use the session and the supervisor’s strengths.
The supervisee may be a supervisor or practice teacher themselves by this point.  
Levels of Supervision

adapted from Stoltenberg and McNeill (2010)

Reflective questions

  • Of the Heron categories set out above note which interventions you feel are most helpful and which you may be resistant to.
  • How could the alliance with your supervisor progress to asking for a balance of these interventions including ones you may find difficult?
  • Think of different situations over the last month, did you need or desire different supports for them (e.g. direct advice, questions, encouragement)?
  • What situations required which kind of support?

Go to NQSW supervision resource 11 – Seven-eyed model for one-to-one supervision

The seven-eyed model

This widely used model developed over 35 years (Hawkins and McMahon, 2020) covers various modes that may be used in one-to-one supervision and supports enhanced relational practice.

These modes are combined with the draft standards for the NQSW supported year to make an at-a-glance way of ensuring supervision is comprehensive and relevant. This is covered further including the application of the Standards in Social Work Education ethics and using a case vignette in the suggested training session outlined for supervisors that are included on our website.

It is not necessarily intended that these modes are all used in each session, but it allows supervisors to monitor that supervision is holistic. For example, in the literature mentioned above, modes two and six of focusing on the NQSW’s strategies and interventions and the supervisor offering support and advice, may tend to dominate in a casework approach.

The following modes and linked NQSW characteristics will help prompt the conversations and approaches needed to help the NQSW to meet supported year practice expectations, ensuring a real focus on the person we work with and keep attention to the wellbeing of the NQSW.

Supervision focus and NQSW characteristics
1: Focus on the people using services and what and how they present 
NQSW characteristics:
Critical thinking, professional judgement and decision making
Communication, engagement and relationship-based professional practice
2: Focus on the NQSW’s strategies and interventions 
NQSW characteristics:
Promoting wellbeing, support and protection
Use of knowledge, research and evidence in practice
3: Focus on the relationship between the NQSW and people using services
NQSW characteristics:
Communication, engagement and relationship-based professional practice
Working with complexity in unpredictable and ambiguous contexts
4: Focus on the NQSW’s skills and wellbeing in relation to their role
NQSW characteristics:
Self-awareness and reflexivity
Critical thinking, professional judgement and decision making
5: Focus on the supervisory relationship
NQSW characteristics:
Use of knowledge, research and evidence in practice
Self-awareness and reflexivity
6: Focus on the supervisor offering support from their own experience
NQSW characteristics:
Working with complexity in unpredictable and ambiguous contexts
Promoting wellbeing, support and protection
7: Focus on the wider contexts in which the work happens
NQSW characteristics:
Professional leadership
Ethics, values and rights-based practice
NQSW Supervision

More about the model

This model gives us a potential model to use as part of negotiating supervision in the context of evolving practice and policies. Using such a model could help us nudge supervision away from a case management focus that is too narrow and incorporate person-centred behaviours in line with national policy initiatives.

One such initiative is ‘The Promise’ implementation plan following the Independent Care Review which has been widely adopted across government agencies. The workforce plan centralises the importance of supervision.

‘things that matter to children, including how loved they feel, how their rights are upheld and how stigma is being reduced. This must emphasise support for the worker and their relationship with the child over-evaluation of performance‘.

The Promise, Scotland

Another organisation holding services accountable to policy intentions is Inclusion Scotland, the national disabled people’s organisation whose motto is “nothing about us without us”. This directly relates to the use of the model to bring the people who use services into the supervision process. They emphasise the vision requires a supported workforce.

‘people working in social work and social care support [should be] respected, valued and rewarded for the work they do. They feel and are empowered in their roles

Inclusion Scotland

The seven-eyed model explicitly prompts a focus on the wider issues including embodying professional values at mode seven. This is central to the BASW Code of Ethics.

‘Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to work with vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion‘.

BASW

The six ethical principles of the Standards in Social Work Education in Scotland are cross-referenced to this model. NQSWs will be familiar working with those throughout their training and they continue to support the journey through the NQSW supported year and beyond. They echo much of the above and are expressed as:

  • Social justice and equality
  • Respecting diversity
  • Human rights and dignity
  • Self-determination
  • Partnership, participation and co-production
  • Honesty and integrity

Reflective questions

  • Think about how you ensure the views of people who use services are central in your practice. What else could you do?
Link

Information and links

Go to NQSW supervision resource 12 – Peer-group reflective practice

Thinking about peer supervision

From the development of supervision discussed in the What is supervision? resource, we can see that group supervision preceded individual models and it has benefits as well as potential risks. It can ‘let in more light and air’ (Proctor, 2008) and may reduce the risks from inadequate individual supervision but it should not replace this.

NQSW who feel their supervision is inadequate should raise this in their organisation and continue to escalate this issue if unresolved, because it is core to our professional development and the safety of those who use services.

Nevertheless, whether with an expert facilitator (for specialist interventions) or among peers for reflective practice it can increase confidence, support learning cultures and help us broaden our perspective. Supervision and support for peer-based reflective learning, when well designed and facilitated, can create spaces to ‘stop and think’ (Davys and Beddoe, 2021).

“The session allowed me to learn more about the idea of peer supervision and showed me a new way of working with others where we can support each other without influencing others’ decisions and projecting our views into their work.”

NQSW involved in peer group supervision test session

Learning together

There is also renewed interest in communities of practice which may be organised around specialisms or other subjects and are more learning focused. Meanwhile, action learning principles in groups can be empowering and a safe way to increase accountability in learning and implementing new roles and skills. 

Generally, group work requires strong boundaries and attention to group dynamics which could destabilise an activity that requires an element of vulnerability with peers. For example, most of us at one time or another, but perhaps more often early in our careers, may struggle, perhaps without cause or evidence, to believe our work is ‘good enough’ or else we question our skills.

At such times it can be extremely helpful to share these within a peer group and get a sense that these are shared struggles. Structure helps to contain risks where participants may, in understandable frustration, introduce unhelpful comparisons, give unsuitable advice or spend time complaining about the organisation.

There may be inconsistent commitment if some participants are reluctant, so group work would ideally be a positive individual choice with organisational support and the joint ownership of a clear contract essential.

There is more information on using peer group reflective practice and a suggested learning exercise included here.

“Most helpful was the peer group reflective practice approach. This was a new method and I enjoyed exploring this. I would like to set this up within my workplace so this will be appearing on my next supervision agenda if not informally before.”

NQSW involved in peer group sueprvision test session

Approaches to peer learning

There is a great variety of approaches to group supervision and in some areas of the helping professions including some social care settings, this might be the main way of delivering supervision. In social work 1:1 supervision is the dominant model and essential for NQSWs. However, group supervision models and specifically peer reflective practice are highly complementary without compromising organisational accountability.

Peer groups have identified some of the advantages and disadvantages of group supervision including greater insight, reduced isolation and organisational learning with problems such as competitiveness, judgements, time commitment and ‘groupthink’ (Hawkins et al. 2020).

The authors go on to suggest group dynamics of between four to seven peers with shared values, clear contracts with simple but firm ground rules. They suggest that a time for social connection at the beginning helps to avoid going off-topic later.

Action learning sets

Having time for feedback at the end helps to identify any discomfort or breaches of ground rules. Of course, groups require regular review and need to be situated in terms of the expectations of employers, regulators and those who use services.     

Action learning sets (Revans, 1998) have been used in social service settings in areas of leadership development, integration, undergraduate training and NQSW supported years in other UK nations. As a voluntary reflective learning opportunity in addition to line management supervision, it has principles that can help support broader development:

  • There is no learning without action and no sober and deliberate action without learning.
  • Adults learn best when they are directly involved in their own learning about a current life situation.
  • Adults who voluntarily choose a learning experience usually learn more readily.
  • Applying that learning in the workplace makes it more personally meaningful and of greater benefit to the organisation.

Individuals usually voluntarily, join a group of four to eight people who meet regularly, agree on ground rules and ways of working. They bring specific topics they want to work on and listen to without interruption. Respect for other individuals, the issues they face and their perspectives are key components.

Presenters take a turn to present an issue or situation openly focusing on a live exploration about the dynamics of a problem which in social work groups Patterson (2019) has called a space for ‘thinking aloud’. Where all members are trained in this approach and highly committed to the regular group meetings a peer enabler may help define problems by using open questions such as:

  • How does that make you feel?
  • How do you want things to be?
  • What other options are there?

Effective peer group learning

Prior training, high commitment to closed sets and risk of unequal power dynamics between members can be an issue in such groups. In the basic peer group model, set out below, this is overcome by asking members to put the enabling questions to themselves. In this way they reduce fears of being scrutinised or judged but instead allowing all members of the group to reflect on how the issue presented has impacted them and their cases.

As reflective practices are a core part of social work training and formation using these skills applied to the self would be familiar to participants and not require new resources (e.g. training) other than the group space and contract.

Open groups can also sometimes better accommodate crisis and business needs and allow for groups of up to 10 members where four to seven are likely to turn up to any given session. During our test sessions, some supervisors had noted a culture developing where NQSWs felt that attending groups signalled they were perhaps not ‘busy enough’ leading to management intervention to encourage group work.

Structured peer group reflection

Peer group reflective models including action learning principles also meet the ‘restorative’ needs of a demanding profession and consequently learning and mutual support to address the emotional demands of social work, reflection and mutual learning are preferred over managerialist models of supervision” (Boahen et al, 2021). Their reflections on using such group models includes running with or without a facilitator or enabler role.

A more flexible open group model particularly suits groups of NQSW and was well received in testing while developing this resource including an outline training session (link). This could be used in your organisation to increase NQSW’s awareness of supervision and familiarity with peer group reflection that can be adapted to suit local contexts, including online groups, see also the section on virtual supervision issues.    

In this basic model, each person briefly reflects on an issue from their role and casework. In place of any questioning by an enabler, each member, in turn, speaks from their own experience about how the themes raised by the presenter affect them in their practice. It is helpful if any speaker is reflecting from the ‘I’ place rather than generalising and including issues with values and feelings (cathartic). The presenter then summarises any learning from going around the group (catalytic) and includes what actions they will follow up on in their own practice. The cathartic and catalytic interventions are discussed in the section on supervision models.

This may seem relatively simple but it can take practice and discipline as social workers to stay with this mode and prevent it from turning into a wider discussion or analysis. This structure avoids NQSWs being ‘put on the spot’ by external questions about their case and equalises any power dynamics and  shared time for NQSW practitioners.

It helps create a culture of reflection rather than advice-giving and problem-solving which if required should be sought from a supervisor, senior practitioner, or other mentors as per organisational policies. The group needs to agree that anyone can gently remind others of the contract if such questioning begins.

The aim is to move from the mere description or ‘presenting the case’ to a more vulnerable self-analysis of interaction between ourselves and those who are using services, other professionals and our organisations without judgement of the parties.

‘the group session showed me a new way of working with others where we can support each other without influencing others’ decisions/projecting our views into their work’.  

NQSW participant in test session 2021

There are benefits of NQSW groups in common skills, values and adherence to codes of practice including understanding confidentiality.

The challenges include changing from activist styles that may be helpful in crisis management or pragmatic styles that might be used for case conferences to reflective styles, see learning styles in the What is supervision? section.

Successful peer group reflective work requires trust to deepen further which can be of significant benefit. The whole group learns from each issue raised as they are applying it to themselves in the process.

Reflective questions

  • Think about and then discuss in your next supervision session with your line manager:
  • What would be required for you to start a peer group reflection within your organisation?
  • Who would you approach?
  • What would you need to consider?