Training is no magic wand

Is staff training a “magic wand” that miraculously produces results for people living with dementia? The answer from Professor Claire Surr, who gave UKDC’s annual Tom Kitwood Memorial Address, was a firm “No”.  The thrust of her talk on dementia training and education was that effective training is not just a matter of what you learn but how you learn, the motivation to learn, and the institutional and cultural investment in learning and its translation into everyday practice.

Surr’s thinking about staff training evolved from the “What Works in Dementia Education and Training?” study she led at Leeds Beckett University, the 2009 National Dementia Strategy that first made training a policy priority, and the resulting Dementia Training Standards Framework with its requirement to train staff in 16 different content areas.

“One of the challenges we found in the What Works study is that a training programme covering everything is not effective because effective training is about depth and not breadth,” Surr told UKDC delegates.  “Training needs to be tailored to the staff attending it; generic training that covers everybody doesn’t work.”

She is an advocate of “implementation science” as a lens through which to see the various factors that enter into an effective training programme, not just the “capability” among staff to do something new as a result of it, but the “opportunity” to do it in their specific organisational culture, and the “motivation” to do it which will be heavily influenced by the first two factors.

Among the key considerations, Surr said, was the need for good facilitators and a learning culture in which managers prioritise training and provide the conditions in which staff can implement what they have learned and try out new things.

“In the What Works study clinicians were just told to go and facilitate training sessions, which put them under huge pressure to do something that was beyond their skills base.  To do it well you need the skills and resources and the investment in you to do the job.

“Supportive management is crucial as well as the mechanisms to embed new approaches.  We need to think about what needs to change to make them work rather than thinking they can be put into practice by waving a magic training wand.”

For more information, see Surr et al, ‘Good dementia education and training’, p25-28, JDC July/August 2023, and her new book with Isabelle Latham and Sarah Smith, ‘Education and Training in Dementia Care: A Person-Centred Approach published by Open University Press.