Lynne Wilson is a senior social work lecturer at the
University of Lincoln. She has extensive experience as a social
worker with children and families, with a special interest in
adoption and residential child care. She has also worked as a
training officer for social services, specialising in child
Karen Hillison is a practice teacher in a family
assessment and support unit at Hull University. She has extensive
experience in statutory social work, specialising in adults and
mental health. She is also a practice teacher and contributes to
training, development, assessment and support in practice teaching
and placement development.
In recent years, Hull’s schools have attracted more than their
fair share of negative government and media attention, with
attention focused particularly on teenage pregnancy, truancy,
bullying and children’s behavioural problems.
Despite this, Hull has pioneered several innovative projects in
schools. For example, one secondary school has a well-established
multi-agency support team, and three of its other secondary schools
are developing behavioural and emotional support teams. This
commitment and openness to new ways of working formed the
background to a collaborative project that brought several of
Hull’s schools together with learning services, social services and
the social work programmes of two local universities to offer
social work students practice placements based in schools.
Although not an entirely new venture -Êstudents have
occasionally been placed in residential or mainstream schools –
such placements had been largely ad hoc, and the particular
benefits and issues arising from inter-professional working and
learning had not been considered.
Some benefits to all participants were immediately apparent:
- Reduction of teaching time needing to be spent on pastoral
- Stronger links between local child care teams and schools.
- A range of high quality placements for social work students,
emphasising inter-professional learning and working.
- Children and families could receive more consistent approaches
from more accessible and less stigmatising sources.
In 2002, the first 12 social work students undertook placements
(both first and second practice placements) in several primary and
secondary schools within Hull. During 2003-4, a further 20 students
have successfully completed placements in a widening number of
The pilot project has been evaluated, with participants’
experiences and the key themes that arose being collated and fed
back into the project.1 This was achieved through
workshops, conferences, and steering groups. It was recognised that
there was a steep learning curve in developing quality practice
placements that were relevant and well-supported, and would be able
to demonstrate the positive contribution of social work within a
school setting. The feedback enabled early concerns relating to
preparation, induction, and identification of learning
opportunities to be tackled, with further guidelines and support
being incorporated accordingly.
Problems in the beginning included whether a desk would be provided
(most teachers don’t expect one), keeping notes on file, whether
there would be enough sustained work to provide evidence of meeting
the placement practice requirements, and negotiating the parameters
of confidentiality. There was also the thorny problem of what would
happen during school holidays.
Partly in response to these hurdles a link social worker based in
the local child care team was identified for each placement. This
worker provides a crucial professional support to the student as
well as ensuring that additional training or experience could be
offered to supplement any perceived “gaps” within the school
setting. It has also helped to forge closer working relationships
between schools and their social services team.
A small team of “long-arm”practice teachers have supported the
school-based students, building on their previous expertise and
knowledge of educational settings. This has been crucial in
effective negotiation and mediation between all parties to ensure
an appropriate and successful placement.
Each placement has had a named school-based supervisor available
for supervision and support. This has sometimes been a head or
deputy head teacher in primary schools, or head of year or of a
specialist team in a secondary school. This commitment has been
essential for the success of the placement and has provided a vital
life-line in what can often be an “alien” environment for
practising social work.
Social work students have wide-ranging learning opportunities. Some
students have participated in existing projects such as
anti-bullying initiatives while others have had to be very
proactive in forging a role and developing new strategies and
services such as pupil drop-ins. As such, it appears that students
who are more creative and proactive are finding the placements more
Examples of students’ work include:
- Individual work:counselling, supporting behavioural plans,
assisting pupils with special needs, supporting school attendance
and so on.
- Group work:friendship groups, anti-bullying work, contributing
to personal, social and health education classes.
- Supporting parents and carers:parent drop-in centres,
home-school liaison, initial assessments.
- Strengthening links with social services:following up
referrals, child protection, looked-after children.
One student wrote: “I introduced many pupils to Connexions and
set up a surgery. I also ran a drop-in centre. Students benefited –
one pupil’s attendance rapidly improved. I worked with him and his
family to improve his school life”
A primary school head teacher reflected: “It has given time and
commitment to further develop and strengthen links in an area of
Hull where families are resistant and mistrustful of social
There have been numerous examples of the impact on individual lives
and experiences of children and young people in Hull’s schools. The
social work presence in schools is also having a long-term impact
-Êsocial problems are being reduced and educational attainment
is improving. Barriers are breaking down between different
professionals as inter-professional knowledge is increased.
Children and families are more able to access services and support
in a less stigmatising context, often when the threshold for
accessing statutory services would not be reached.
Finally, the project has been successful in ensuring that the
placement of social work students in schools is now firmly on the
map in Hull. As we move into longer practice placements, the
potential for more in-depth and preventive work will
More schools are keen to become involved as are neighbouring
councils that are also expressing interest and beginning to develop
their own placements. Increasingly, students from both local
universities are recognising schools placements as a positive
Nationally this development provides valuable lessons, and is
rapidly becoming a proven example of good practice within an
Schools in Hull have been pioneering a wave of new practice
learning opportunities for social work students from the city’s two
local universities. These practice placements have had a positive
impact both on the school and on wider multi-disciplinary
relationships. This article looks at the success of the scheme and
at some of its essential components.
1 J Parker, K Hillison, and
L Wilson “SWiSP: The Social Work Students in Schools Project”, in
Practice, 15 (4), 2003, 69-87, 2003
J Weinstein, C Whittingham, T Leiba, Collaboration in Social
Work Practice, Jessica Kingsley Press, 2004
Contact the authors