Open Forum – 5 October

Collaboration with universities is crucial to guarantee quality student placements, writes Janet Lancefield

With the increasing number of students on social work courses and the growing number of courses, placements are being asked to take students all year round. Before a placement has finished some agencies are asked to take another student.

Does a team ever get “back to normal” or is having a succession of students becoming the norm? Until recently, many teams would take one or two students a year. “Having a student” was something of an event, to be anticipated or worried about, and certainly prepared for, weeks before it happened.

With continual student placements, agencies and teams will build up expertise, but there is also a danger of routine and burn-out. What time do agencies and practice teachers have to reflect or simply to catch up on other work between students?

It is imperative that practice teachers are given workload relief so that they can help their students to experience quality placements. If managers know their team will have a defined number of students in a year, workload relief and development days may be easier to plan than in the days of the occasional student placement.

Students with ideas and enthusiasm may be good for teams and for service users, but the downside is that service users are repeatedly experiencing people working with them who may only be there for a few weeks or months, or they are constantly being asked for permission to be used as a “case study” or to have someone else there to observe the student’s practice with them. How can we support service users as they help us to train our students?

In these busy times, targeted funding to enable support, training days and preparation sessions for agencies and service users – as well as for students – is more important than ever. Good collaboration and partnership with the universities is also vital if we are to ensure that the valued process of quality student placements can be maintained.

Janet Lancefield is a tutor and practice teacher for social work programmes at the University of Teesside

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