The development of social work’s practice educators is at risk

More than a year on from The College of Social Work’s closure, a key set of professional standards for practice educators lies in limbo

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By Cathy Lloyd and Clare Gresham

In recent weeks children’s services directors have alluded to gaps in professional development support for social workers that have been felt since the closure of The College of Social Work.

This is certainly true of practice educators, with the Practice Education Professional Standards (PEPS) that were hosted by the College not having had a home or indeed a clear status since the organisation’s demise.

The PEPS set standards for the training of practice educators and their own continuing professional development. They were widely consulted on.and gained the backing of a wide range of stakeholders in the process. Yet now the framework is in limbo.

With no one championing the place of PEPS in social work training there will inevitably be a shift in how this is viewed as part of CPD. Social workers in the field will question its value and employers will wonder if they need to train staff to become practice educators.

When this happened in the past, there was an uncomfortable realisation that many students were being supervised by staff that had no understanding of the process or the ability to properly assess. The quality of the practice experience was questionable and sometime oppressive.

Whatever the future holds for social work education, the need for high quality practice placements will remain. But high quality placements require high quality practice educators. This in turn requires clear, owned, monitored and endorsed practice educator standards and properly assessed programmes that are part of, to quote a recent report by MPs, a ‘robust national post-qualifying framework CPD framework’.

This vital aspect of social work training must not be left on the margins and subject to variable standards and a lack of review.

At Ruskin College, Oxford and Buckinghamshire New University we created an accredited practice educator programme. We provide social workers with an opportunity to re-evaluate their social work values and to re-engage with theory. To quote one practitioner, “this is the reason why I became a social worker in the first place”.

The programme enables practitioners to build resilience and examine how they can contribute to a thorough, supportive and enabling learning environment that prepares the workforce of the future for the realities of social work.

Crucially, it teaches practice educators to make robust assessment decisions and safeguard professional standards. In addition, the practice education courses provide a bridge to the skills and knowledge necessary for the kinds of reflective, relevant supervision that NQSWs and practitioners need.

If PEPS and practice education continues to be left in limbo, if we have no voice and no professional home, then we will struggle to maintain those hard fought standards.  We need to voice our dissatisfaction with the current situation and seek assurances that practice education is not being forgotten or marginalised.

Cathy Lloyd is a social work tutor and PEPs Programme Lead at Ruskin College, Oxford. Clare Gresham is a senior lecturer at Bucks New University

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5 Responses to The development of social work’s practice educators is at risk

  1. Lorna Fitzpatrick November 21, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    How and to whom do we voice our dissatisfaction?

    • Clare Grasham November 22, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

      It is a good point Lorna that our lack of voice and ownership means that our lines of communication are unclear. Please do send thoughts and views to us directly and we will collate and move forward with this.

  2. Paul Stapleton - Senior Lecturer Sheffield Hallam University November 21, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    I totally agree. A lot of hard work has taken place across the country from a variety of organisations including HEI’s, statutory and PVI sectors to embed the PEPS over several years. So it is important that we do not lose this momentum, and instead strive to raise standards further.

  3. Clare Grasham November 22, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    Absolutely, we have been striving for a change and high standards in culture and practice education for many years. A ‘Best Practice’ forum for practice education may be one way forward as all of our efforts and experience need to be shared and used to good effect.

  4. Kusham Nijhar November 29, 2016 at 7:45 am #

    It’s true and everything is linked – the quality of our future social work workforce depends on the quality we produce now – as an employer we can’t complain about the quality of newly qualified social workers if the system has allowed a mixed quality, on the job practice education, one the most important part of the social work degree.

    Practice education should be a natural progression for an experienced social worker, to ensure a continuous learning cycle in our profession, it’s a shame that PE doesn’t carry the same status as other parts of the profession.