Face-to-face vs E-Learning – Safeguarding and the Care Certificate in times of Austerity

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As a result of recommendations from the Cavendish report, the Care Certificate was introduced. It standardises and sets out the basic level of training expected across health and social care with 15 new standards that workers must adhere to. It should form part of (and improve) a new employee’s induction process. Within the 15 Care certificate standards are Standard 10: Safeguarding Adults and Standard 11: Safeguarding Children.

However, I believe that, the introduction of the Care Certificate in a time of austerity (with all the best intentions) has influenced and accelerated changes in the delivery of safeguarding training. Changes that reduce the opportunity for reflection and discussion in a safe environment which is essential in safeguarding training due to the emotive nature of the subject.

The requirement for all health and social care staff to undertake a basic level of both safeguarding adults and children has led to an increase in the use of e-learning for safeguarding training to save both time and money.

Best practice?

Having used e-learning as a practitioner and as a manager trying to minimise the financial impact of both sourcing training and the time taken for staff to attend, there are undeniable benefits. If it’s well designed it:

  • Is cheaper than face-to-face training
  • Provides consistent delivery of information
  • Can be explored at the learners own pace
  • Is easy to track and evidence ‘completion’ for employers
  • Is easy to update
  • Is accessible
With that said, why wouldn’t you adopt e-learning as an organisation? Well lets consider the more-often-than-not true application of online courses. If you’re reading this as somebody who’s been asked to, or who asks their team to complete online courses you’ll no doubt recognise this next list. The risks with e-learning are:
  • Staff ask somebody else to complete the course for them.
  • Staff click through the information without reading, complete the multiple-choice questions, do something else whilst any interactive content such as videos play and achieve their pass-mark by best guesses and luck.
  • Staff open up a new tab, google the answers (“self-directed learning”) and pass without absorbing and considering what is meant to be learnt.

I’ve watched staff do all of the above and in all three examples it turns it from a learning opportunity to a waste of staff’s time and employers money. The benefits are further undone if the online courses are not updated on an ongoing basis to reflect changes in legislation, policy and procedures.

In practice the informal feedback about online safeguarding training I’ve gained is it leaves staff feeling unskilled and unprepared. Is this what we want with something as important as the safeguarding of adults at risk and children?

Why face-to-face matters, especially in austerity.

I believe that face-to-face learning is essential, for both the delegates and the people we support. An e-learning package cannot identify poor attitudes, poor communication skills, ineffective multidisciplinary working and poor communication in the same way an experienced safeguarding trainer can. A trainer can facilitate learning that fosters a positive culture around safeguarding by directly challenging stereotypes, outdated views and attitudes that would be to the detriment to those we support.

Abuse is an emotive subject and staff must be encouraged to reflect on their reactions and responses when receiving disclosures, or their assumptions when assessing risk. Trainers can deliver training that build different learning styles into the training package and reach all delegates in a way that e-learning cannot. Face-to-face encourages questions, conversation and the opportunity to remind staff that they have the privilege of potentially saving lives with their interventions.

The pressure to reduce budgets creates a pressure on trainers to deliver more learning outcomes in a reduced amount of time. This leads to a compromised training package that rushes through slides and cuts available time for staff to reflect and discuss the emotive elements of safeguarding in a safe and protected learning environment. With an emotive subject such as abuse it’s important allow staff time to ask questions, explore feelings and improve their practice.

In practice we know that poor training can lead to staff using an unintentionally judgmental approach to questioning a service user about safeguarding, not recognising risks or responding as required when somebody discloses abuse or the impression given off when approached by a service user that staff do not have the knowledge to keep somebody safe. This can halt a potential disclosure and can destroy a therapeutic relationship. The resulting breakdown in communication (I believe communication is the foundation of effective health and social care) can cause the individual to stop disclosing or stop engaging in the safeguarding process which puts any victims or potential victims of abuse in greater risk.

Employers, say “Goodbye Training Matrix” for your staff and your service users.

Considering regulatory bodies such as the Care Quality Commission expect to be speaking to staff who not only do the right thing but know why they’re doing it, health and social care employers should know that gone are the days where a training matrix is enough to evidence training. A training matrix full of e-learning evidences only a staff member’s ability to click through something.

I recommend you use a “fitness to practice matrix”: Create something where you can evidence that your staff have completed some learning then that you’ve spent time with them ensuring they understand what they’ve learnt and can or have put it into practice.

E-Learning still has its place and can be used effectively to reduce costs and facilitate staff development. However I’m arguing that it should not replace face-to-face with safeguarding training. I believe its benefits can be maximised by using the following model:

Why short change your organisation, staff or service users by commissioning inadequate training packages? Strengthen your training and your staff will be happier, better equipped and as such, more motivated to support your service users in an effective manner.

Your staff will hopefully feel more valued and supported, chances are you’ll retain more staff too; so you have an opportunity to satisfy the manager inside you by saving money and supporting your staff. You have an opportunity to satisfy the practitioner inside you too by potentially saving lives which is why we start working in health and social care in the first place. Do the right thing and strengthen your safeguarding training for you, your staff and the people you support.


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Philip Winterbottom


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