By Liz Clarke, lecturer in social work, Oxford Brookes University
A few years ago, students on the BA social work degree at Oxford Brookes University said they wanted more say in choosing their first placements. At the time, they were required to complete a ‘student placement profile’ – a bit like a CV – and would then be matched to a placement based on their interests, location and ability.
Students didn’t have a choice in where they undertook a placement and there was an expectation that they should accept what was offered to them. Our response to their concerns was to set up a placement matching event, which is now in its fourth year.
The format is similar to a job fair, but rather than companies recruiting new employees, it’s an opportunity for organisations in the private, voluntary and independent sectors to meet students who want a placement and vice versa.
We ask students to think about the types of questions they should ask organisations before attending the fair, so they can make an informed decision about where to do a placement. There is also an expectation that students go and talk to all organisations taking part, so they can properly appraise the learning opportunities on offer.
The event also enables students to find out about the wide range of services that are provided in Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties. The organisations are asked to bring some information about their services, such as leaflets and annual reports, which students can read and take away with them. Sometimes they will also bring students who are currently on placement with them to share their experiences.
At the end of the fair, students will list their top three preferred placements, and the placement coordinator will then try and match them to one of these. The coordinator takes into account the student’s capabilities, organisational requirements and preferences. Occasionally we have a number of students wanting the same placement, so we encourage that organisation to competitively interview all of them and offer a placement to the student who does best.
The feedback we’ve had from organisations is that meeting the whole cohort of students enables them to identify the right people to join them for a placement. They’ve also said the fair helps them to give students a better understanding of the placements they can offer, as well as promoting their work to new practitioners and raising awareness of what they do.
For the students it’s provided a fantastic opportunity to learn more about what services are available locally and to really make up their mind about where they want to go. One student attending last year’s event started the day wanting a placement with a children’s organisation, but finished it choosing a service that supports homeless people in Reading. In our latest placement evaluation the feedback has been positive, with 90% of students stating the placement allocation process was ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.
The next event runs this Thursday, 1 June. If you’re interested in finding out more information, please contact Liz Clarke firstname.lastname@example.org