By Nimal Jude
So here I am, sitting in my own office at Goldsmiths, in the University of London. It’s the summer holidays and the university is quiet. There is nobody interrupting me every five minutes with real time updates on a crisis, while I try to quality assure a newly qualified social worker’s assessment, a pile of application forms catching my eye as the phones and e-mails ping in harmony.
I’m used to the buzz of open plan working. I’ve never known anything else during my 15 years of practice.
Here I can open the window, I can eat at my desk, I can play gentle music and I could go the whole day without talking to anyone.
Centre of excellence
I came to be sitting in this quiet office after Goldsmiths, together with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London Borough of Lewisham and the London Borough of Southwark, was selected to build a centre of excellence as part of a pioneering nationwide pilot to improve social work education. The South East London Teaching Partnership is one of four such pilot schemes across the country, launched following a tendering process which began with 24 applicants.
Managers and practitioners across the adults’ and children’s departments of the three local authorities are working together with academics to deliver part of the course teaching to social work students at Goldsmiths. They will bring live practice experience to complement the academic input.
From January, academics at the university will join reflective practice supervision groups within the three local authorities to facilitate the application of theory and research. At the same time they will be developing a better understanding of the practice issues faced by social workers day to day.
By working together as practitioners and academics, we have created space for more open dialogue about what we share in terms of values, knowledge and skills and what students and social workers need to become accomplished practitioners. We want to provide opportunities for social workers to broaden and build their practice throughout their career with the opportunity to specialise as they mature in their practice.
The journey that led me to this office and to take part in this innovative new way of training social workers began with the recommendations from Professor Eileen Munro’s final review of child protection in 2011. She said in order to help improve the quality of student placements, employers should be able to apply for special teaching organisation status, much like the teaching hospital model.
In December 2014, the Department of Health and the Department for Education produced a report considering how formal teaching partnerships between employers and higher education institutes could be developed and tested.
In February 2015, the social work reform unit within the Department of Education invited partnerships to express an interest to “test and refine new and innovative approaches to deliver high quality training for social work students and qualified practitioners”.
Through the teaching partnership model, the government hoped to review and evaluate the way the social work education fund is deployed.
Aims of the partnership
The South East London Teaching Partnership aims are to ensure:
- Student recruitment is robust, value based and to the highest standard using verbal reasoning test, role-play, group exercises and written tests.
- Provision of high quality final year statutory placements within the three local authorities
- The chief social workers’ knowledge and skills statements are embedded across the partnership at all levels.
- Strengthened opportunities for social work practitioners and managers in statutory settings to be trained as teaching consultants and teach on core social work programmes at Goldsmiths University of London.
- A staff progression and retention strategy and continuing professional development plan with clear career pathways to direct practice specialist, management and practice education.
- Open opportunities for social work academics from Goldsmiths to share research expertise, facilitate reflective practice groups and engage in statutory practice.
- Collaboration between local authorities and students on research proposals to strengthen opportunities to produce significant and valuable research.
The partnership has already achieved our target to provide final year placements to 50% of students currently enrolled with Goldsmiths. Goldsmiths has continued to increase the percentage of students who complete both placements in a statutory setting (87% in 2013 / 2014 to 95% in 2014 / 2015).
While my old colleagues enthuse about my new office, I wonder if I will ever get used to working in peace and quiet. The truth is, I miss that heady adrenaline and cortisol cocktail. It makes me wonder whether we are teaching students how to deal with what seems to be a constant adrenaline rush. It’s different to prioritising and diary management. I ask myself, do you need to be an adrenaline junkie to withstand social work? And are we signposting practice educators enough to help students through this physical chemical reaction?
I feel like the partnership is on the runway gathering speed, waiting for the students and teaching consultants to start so this pilot can really take off. This is an exciting journey for the South East London Teaching Partnership and we are hopeful we can provide ideas for changing and improving social work education and continued professional development for practitioners at all levels.
Nimal Jude is the interim project lead for the South East London Teaching Partnership. She has a background in local authority children’s services as practitioner and manager. She is passionate about social work education and the development of social work as a united profession.