The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF)

The PCF is a new way of thinking about the skills, knowledge and values social worker use in their practice.

It sets capability statements of what is to be expected for all stages of a social worker's career from entry into training to the most advanced level of a social work practitioner. It is a generic framework that applies to all social workers in all settings. As such it provides clarity for the profession and others in providing a shared understanding of what is expected of social workers across the profession and at different levels. It is a 'living' document, in that it is likely to develop as the profession develops. Application of this professional framework should improve practice and support continuing progression and professional development.

                         Rainbow 

(Click on the image above for a larger version.)

The PCF was developed by the Social Work Reform Board with extensive consultation and is now owned by TCSW on behalf of the profession. The TCSW website provides an interactive version of the PCF and several papers providing information about how the PCF works and its application.

The PCF guides learning and development through initial qualifying education, the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) and continuing professional development (CPD) throughout a social worker's career. It is a response to concerns about tick box and competence based approach of the National Occupational Standards (NOS) in social work education.

Structure of the PCF

The segments of the rainbow diagram reflect the 9 domains of the PCF which are then applied at 9 different levels through a social worker's career. 

The 9 levels relate to the complexity of work that someone with those capabilities would be able to manage. Progression between levels is determined by people's abilities to manage issues such as complexity, risk and responsibility in a range of professional settings. The PCF is a professional development framework, not an occupational framework, but enables practitioners and managers to understand what is expected at each level. The framework enables more flexible progression and values social worker's different strengths and ambitions by supporting workers to continue to progress as advanced and strategic practitioners and educators as well as managers.

The levels are:

Pre-qualification

  • Entry to training
  • Readiness for direct practice
  • End of first placement
  • End of last placement (qualification)

Post-qualification

  • ASYE
  • Social Worker
  • Experienced social worker
  • Advanced SW practitioner, Professional SW educator, SW Manager
  • Principal Social Worker, Strategic SW educator, Strategic SW Manager

The PCF will replace the National Occupational Standards for Social Work in England (although these will still apply in the rest of the UK) and is intended to represent standards or levels of professional practice rather than specific job roles. For example, a social worker may have the professional capabilities of an advanced practitioner but choose to work as an experienced social worker. The PCF may influence job roles as practice develops, and employers are already formally incorporating the PCF into appraisal schemes and job descriptions. 

Application of the PCF

The PCF is implemented through a holistic approach to learning and assessment. This reflects the reality of social work as a complex activity requiring an interplay of knowledge, skills and values. The elements of the 9 domains are interdependent, not separate; they interact in professional practice. In any situation/intervention/professional activity practitioners will be learning and demonstrating capabilities from a range of domains. 


An holistic assessment moves away from competence to capability, and reflects the desire for social work education and development to move away from a mechanistic 'tick box' approach to a more holistic approach. This approach expects educators, students and professional social workers to consider people's professional capabilities in a rounded way and recognise progression over time. It will also help people to identify areas for development. 


The capabilities are broader than competences, and enable progression. They are not designed or intended to be 'assessment criteria'. Assessing progress using capability statements is based on "making the important assessable rather than making the assessable important"..

This holistic approach reflects Munro's emphasis on assessing situations in practice through professional judgement rather than tick box criteria and prescribed tools.

For further details about application of PCF and the holistic approach, please see the following links:

  • http://www.collegeofsocialwork.org/pcf.aspx for an interactive version of the PCF and several articles about its application
  • www.skillsforcare.org.uk For application to ASYE
  • Several articles in Community Care ( use search facility) including:
    • "Guide to the Professional Capability Framework and the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment":  Dr Hilary Lawson; University of Sussex,  February 2013: available through  Community Care INFORM

Application to Social Work Education

The PCF at Initial (pre) qualifying level (see above) has been developed with the sector to inform the selection of students, the design and delivery of courses and assessment of students against nationally agreed capabilities statements. It provides a clear and comprehensive framework of what should be expected of students at every stage of their education and training from entry to final qualification. It will support programmes to identify and assess learning needs and outcomes and enable students to understand how they can meet and demonstrate these outcomes. It replaces the National Occupational Standards for social work in England and the DH Requirements for Social Work Training. It moves away from the concept of "competence" to that of capability, reflecting the move from a mechanistic 'tick box' approach to a more holistic approach as described above.

The PCF will:

  • Provide the basis for building an integrated, comprehensive and up to date curriculum
  • Provide a framework for 4 formal assessment phases; entry to the course; readiness for direct practice, end of first placement, end of last placement/qualifying level
  • Clarify shared expectations of what is expected at the point of  qualification
  • Establish a clear link between the degree and the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment  and improve overall consistency in curriculum design, delivery and assessment

Application to the ASYE

Newly qualified Social Workers (NQSWs) undertaking the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment will be assessed against the PCF statements at ASYE level. Click here for further information about ASYE.    

Application to CPD for All Social Workers

The PCF provides a framework for social workers throughout their career. It supports CPD and progression  by providing capability statements which:

  • enable social workers and their managers to  identify  and measure existing skills  and expectations in their current role
  • Enable social workers and their managers to identify 'gaps' and learning needs for future development.
  • Form the basis for CPD education and training providers and managers to design and develop courses for different groups of practitioners.
  • Encourage critical analysis and reflection throughout practice.

Click here for further information about PCF at post-qualifying level.

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