Research into practice

The 1997 report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher
Education, Higher Education in the Learning Society, chaired by Sir
Ron (now Lord) Dearing, has led to a series of initiatives. These
include the development of personal development planning (PDPs),
which provide “a means by which students can monitor, build and
reflect upon their personal development”.

PDPs are a means of promoting greater responsibility for students’
own learning and also form the basis of a strong CV to support
future job applications.

Within higher education, there has already been considerable
development across the sector in exploring creative ways of using
the opportunity that PDPs offer. The Learning and Teaching Support
Network, for example, has invested time, energy and resources into
enabling higher education institutions to develop PDP packages to
meet the needs of students.1

Reflective practice, which is at the heart of PDP, is hardly new to
social work education. DipSW programmes have been stressing its
importance for years. Nevertheless, this is still an issue that is
challenging programme developers for the new social work

The general framework for the new degree has become clearer, with
National Occupational Standards, Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
benchmarks and the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) all
providing fascinating hurdles for the academic steeplechasers to
clear, in the run-up to the academic validation of the new

The balancing act between college-based and practice-based learning
is intended to maintain the practice focus of all social work
training and education, but this 50-50 arrangement is causing some
academics to question how they will coach students to a degree
level of academic competence in the time allocated.

Unfortunately, the impetus for achieving an integration of PDPs
into academic programmes, scheduled originally to become mandatory
by 2005, has faltered. No longer compulsory, PDPs are slipping down
the priority list for some higher education institutions, although
there is still every chance that searching questions about them
will be asked in the next round of quality assurance reviews.

The new social work degree, however, should welcome PDPs. Here,
surely, is an opportunity for a structured approach to reflective
practice that encompasses academic and practice learning, as well
as drawing on a range of previous experience and developing skills,
which students can use during their training. This will be
particularly important if we have a higher proportion of younger,
less experienced students coming on to this award at undergraduate

A comprehensive PDP scheme will help them reflect much more deeply
on the skills that they bring. It will also help them draw up
realistic action plans, in consultation with academic tutors and
practice supervisors, to ensure that these skills are developed and
enhanced to degree level in both academic and practice-based work.
Furthermore, a well produced PDP scheme will enable students to
build their CV throughout the award, so that when they come to
apply for jobs much of the work will already have been done in a
detailed and reflective way.

Staffordshire University is working on plans to introduce a formal
PDP into its new social work degree, and to make it of equal
relevance to students taking degrees in applied social studies, law
and advice work. Anyone interested in developing similar packages
is invited to contact me.

1 The Learning and
Teaching Support Network at

Bernard Moss is a principal lecturer in social work and
applied social studies, and a learning and teaching fellow at
Staffordshire University. He can be contacted at

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