A recent College of Social Work online debate highlighted a lack of consistency across practice educator assessments. Here, staff development officer and College representative Glynis Marsh looks at how we can achieve consistency across these assessments and ensure social work students’ needs are met.
It appears the loss of the Practice Teaching Award affected our professional commitment to such standards, writes Glynis Marsh (pictured left). The acquisition of placements became our priority and less attention was given to quality. Yet the Social Work Reform Board, Skills for Care and College all recognise that, as a profession, we need to promote good placements and challenge poor practice.
Well-managed placements help to develop competent social workers – our future workforce. To do this we need skilled practice educators who provide quality supervision and share their practice expertise in their relationship with the student. Social workers reflect on their early placement experiences during their career and build upon them. Positive, supportive and encouraging placements enhance their future practice. However, the experience can be damaging if practice educators do not adequately fulfil their duties.
Some students have complained of inconsistent standards of supervision, learning plans and assessments. Issues of power imbalance – in that students could potentially fail a placement based on the poor performance and judgement of the practice educator – have also been raised. Students feel very vulnerable and, in the current economic climate, under financial pressure if they need to extend their placements due to the failings of the practice educator.
Practice Educator Professional Standards (PEPS) have been developed to ensure quality placement experiences for all students. The standards acknowledge that work-based learning elements of social work qualifying programmes are critically important to the effectiveness of the profession.
PEPS were introduced to ensure that the profession had a consistent baseline of minimum standards for students on placement and that students receive critically reflective supervision by a registered social worker and a quality assessment. The practice standards of the practice educator must be regularly reviewed and found to be relevant and up-to-date. If the practice educator is based off-site, there must be a learning agreement with the line manager and work-based supervisor to ensure the student is properly managed and supervised. If concerns are identified about the practice educator, these need to be brought to the attention of the university and employer and decisions need to be made regarding reallocation of the practice educator, fitness to practise/conduct interviews and, where appropriate, referral of that person to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
To raise standards and improve consistency, we need to accept a shared understanding that a learning culture means prioritising our individual development. Practice educators must be able to complete high quality continuing professional development (CPD) activities. We need to take individual responsibility. The HCPC holds us individually accountable to maintain a high level of practice, with the support of employers and higher education institutions; we must all work together to ensure these standards are met. The College has published some guidance to help address this and offers support for students and practice educators through the resources on its website.
Practice educators should also be encouraged to connect with local networks for support. For example, Southampton, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth regularly run workshops, which are coordinated by the Practice Learning Coordinators Forum. This helps to standardise assessments and feedback processes.
Students have the right to challenge and demand a fair and proper assessment by skilled practice educators who are fit to practise. We have a responsibility to invest in the future of the profession and to get this right. Practice educators need to meet these standards and be accountable.
Main photo by David Oxberry/Mood Board/Rex