Geraldine Crewes (pictured) qualified from the University of East Anglia as a social worker in 1991. She then worked as a probation officer and a practice development assessor within the probation service. In 2004, she started at Cornwall Council as a children’s social worker. Since October 2007 she has been on secondment for three days a week teaching alongside academic staff at Cornwall College Camborne as one of a team of practice learning managers, on the social work degree course.
How do you think students benefit by having you there?
A major advantage for students is that the practice learning managers have all either been in practice or, like me, are still part-time in practice. A minimum standard of the practice learning manager (PLM) post is that we have all gained the practice teacher award. While this isn’t asked for by all colleges offering social work degrees, it is a significant factor in protecting the education learning agenda for students, and it’s a minimum requirement at Camborne.
Because we’re coming from a position of experience we can help them make the connection between what they learn academically and then link it to practice. I also like to think the PLM team’s breadth of experience shows students that social work opportunities are broader than just statutory social work. And of course, there’s also the huge benefit of being able to illustrate theory with current examples of what I see in practice, and relating that to legislation as it currently is and as it changes.
What are students most concerned about when they start their placements?
For many students this might be their first experience in having direct contact with service users. They’re often anxious about “getting things right” and not appearing ignorant. Lack of confidence in their abilities is a struggle for many, which is why we ask them to prepare themselves by looking at their strengths and the experience they already have, and then to examine the areas they need to enhance and work on.
How do you and the academic staff interact in teaching?
PLMs are not part of the academic staff – their responsibility is to manage students’ practical learning as part of the Foundations for Professional Practice Module. This involves setting up placements suited to individual learning needs. We also do some joint facilitating with the first years in particular: the tutor will lead, and we’ll assist in getting students to relate their academic theory to their practice. I meet with students individually on a regular basis and with their academic tutor throughout the year to review their progress.
What do you think of the content of the social work degree course you teach on? Which areas are strong and which could do with more development?
The course content is reviewed every year and feedback from students, placement supervisors, academic staff, service users and carers all play a major role in evaluating how effective the course is and what we might need to update. The course is good in ensuring that service users and carers play a fundamental part in its delivery and if anything, this is the one area which we continuously need to keep promoting. I would like to see more younger service users such as care leavers and young carers encouraged to be more actively involved in the course delivery and helping us to improve on our work with our service user group.
Are there some things that quickly become out of date on degree courses, such as training on new government policy?
We model the “self-directed learning” ethos, which we encourage in students. This helps us to update our knowledge of changes that are occurring and which affect social work. Working closely with service users and carers gives us a good insight into developments that are happening and which we need to take into account. We also have lots of opportunity to see students in placement settings and also meet with practice supervisors. Our stakeholder group plays an important part in overseeing and monitoring the quality of practice and university-based learning which is offered. This group includes service users and carers, local agencies and organisations, student representatives and Plymouth University and Camborne College staff.
As a social worker practicing in the community, what have you learned from teaching that you take back to the workplace?
Because of its inherent questioning nature, teaching probably makes me even more on my toes in terms of critically evaluating the work I’m doing in practice, and makes me more aware of how I can see room for improvement. I’m also more on top of legislation and proposals than I would have been if I couldn’t read and discuss with students and my fellow tutors and PLMs.
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This article appeared in the 20 March issue under the headline “Go west to learn”