Top tips for practice educators on assessment, supervision and anti-oppressive practice

Practice educators and supervisors have to fulfil various roles to satisfy universities, organisations and students

Image of series of ticks in boxes (Credit: Ralf Geithe / Adobe Stock)
Credit: Ralf Geithe / Adobe Stock

A knowledge and practice hub on Community Care Inform covers the various aspects of practice education, from supporting students with putting theory into practice, to working with struggling and failing students. Below are excerpts from three of the guides. For the full range of content, subscribers can visit the hubs on Inform Children and Inform Adults.

“The pressures of managing caseloads as well as supervising students was a burden most practice educators didn’t really want,” newly-qualified social worker Anjum Shah writes in a Community Care article.

This is only one person’s experience of their time as a student, and doesn’t detract from the work of the many dedicated and talented practice educators and supervisors around the UK. But it does highlight the pressures on practice educators, and the various roles they must fill to satisfy universities, organisations and students.

Assessing students

By Cathie Jasper, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

Informal/ ‘incidental’ learning

Eraut calls this “..the learning that takes place in the spaces surrounding activities and events with a more overt formal purpose”. He notes that informal and formal learning are on a continuum, and that learning at the informal end of this spectrum includes “implicit, unintended, opportunistic and unstructured learning and the absence of a teacher” (2004, p250).

For example, when preparing for the student’s arrival PEs spend a lot of time arranging an induction package. This can include the student shadowing colleagues, working with specific team members, attending agency training, meeting and spending time with service users and so on. Such opportunities for working alongside others and seeing different skills and contexts of practice are key elements of the student’s learning. However, sometimes limited thought is given to helping the student reflect on the what they have learnt from these experiences. Eraut (2004) also notes that due to informal learning being largely invisible, the knowledge it produces remains tacit unless it is ‘opened up’ within discussion. Much of this informal learning – and the PEs assessment of it – relies then on helping the student make the ‘implicit explicit’. There are tools and models available to help with this – for example, see Maclean and Caffrey (2009). It is worth making space on the supervision agenda for a discussion of what the student learned from a shadowing visit with a colleague with prompts such as:

  • What did you observe?
  • What did you hear?
  • What kinds of knowledge did the colleague have? What knowledge was needed in this situation?
  • What skills were necessary/ did you observe in this situation?
  • If you were in the service user’s shoes, what would you have felt?
  • What did you think this shadowing visit said about the role of social work (or this agency?)
  • Name three things you have taken away from this shadowing visit? Do they link with any domains in the PCF or values that should underpin social work practice? How do they contribute to your understanding of the role of this agency/ what life is like for service users?

There will be other opportunities for the PE to help the student access their informal learning, for example, as the placement progresses and the student undertakes joint working with colleagues or spends time with another agency. Opportunities such as these can assist the PE in their formative assessment of the student’s understanding and progress.

Subscribers can read the full guide on Inform Children and Inform Adults.

Anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice

By Prospera Tedam, academic lead, social work practice quality, Anglia Ruskin University

The MANDELA framework

In response to concerns around delayed progression of BME students on social work programmes in the UK, the MANDELA model was developed in 2012 with the aim to facilitate relationship-building between practice educators and their students (Tedam, 2012b). This was due to findings which suggested that the practice learning site posed particular challenges for BME students (Bernard et al, 2014).

The model encourages PEs to Make time, Acknowledge Needs, Differences, Educational experiences, Life experiences and Age.

Make time
In order to approach students in a manner which is non-oppressive, the practice educator must first recognise the need to make time for their student. Sound, positive working relationships should not be developed in a hurry. PEs must be clear with their student about the time required not only to build the relationship, but also to ensure the student’s learning is not compromised due to lack of time for supervision and enabling. It is expected that the PE will give due consideration to the student’s needs alongside the needs of the organisation, team and university, to ensure students are given sufficient time to understand the nature of the work. If a PE does not have enough time to support a student effectively, they are advised to reconsider their view to do so. Alongside the more general idea of making time is to consider the student’s need for supervision on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly basis and agree how much face to face supervision time is required.

Some questions to consider

  • Have you made time to welcome and induct your student to the placement?
  • How long is the agency’s working day?
  • How many hours (daily, weekly) is your student expected to complete on placement?
  • Are these hours flexible?
  • How long will your supervisions be?
  • Will you be available to support your student outside of stipulated supervision times?
  • Who will support your student in your absence?

Subscribers can read the full guide on Inform Children and Inform Adults.

Practice educators and practice supervisors: making the model work

By Hilary Lawson, senior lecturer, University of Sussex

Supervision in the on-site/off-site model

For the on-site/off-site model to work effectively there must be clarity of the role of everyone involved in the placement. It may take a while for this clarity to be achieved. Practice educators and supervisors should therefore be prepared to meet fairly frequently, at least initially, to ensure both they and the student know who is responsible for what in the placement.

The on-site practice supervisor is the link into the site of practice, and so is responsible for organising an induction programme for the student. Supervisors also choose relevant work for their student and give them day-to-day guidance and advice. They should give reflective supervision regularly – it usually works out about an hour a week, or an hour and a half every two weeks if the practice educator is supervising every fortnight. Informal ‘on the hoof’ supervision is invaluable and may be an important part of the student’s learning and support, but there should always be regular formal supervision in addition to this.

The important thing is that, together with supervision from the off-site practice educator, the student receives the equivalent of 1.5 hours’ supervision every week. This arrangement may seem fairly straightforward but it is crucial to clarify both the content and timings of supervision so that the student feels supported but not over-supervised.

Both supervisor and educator should constantly review with the student whether supervision is useful. Some students can feel they are just repeating to the practice educator what they have already discussed with the practice supervisor, and that this is actually for the practice educator’s need to “get a feel for” the placement, something that can be difficult to achieve from the practice educator’s slightly removed position.

Some practice educators avoid this by asking the student to keep a running record of work completed as the placement unfolds, and this record is emailed over to the practice educator before the supervision session. This means the practice educator can pick up on themes the work generates – for example, ethical dilemmas, social work values, theories and so on – without having to get involved with the case details.

Subscribers can read the full guide on Inform Children and Inform Adults.


Bernard, C; Fairtlough, A; Fletcher, J and Ahmet, A (2014)
‘A qualitative study of marginalised social work students’ views of social work education and learning‘
British Journal of Social Work, Volume 44, Issue 7, pp1934-1949

Eraut, M (2004)
‘Informal learning in the workplace’
Studies in Continuing Education, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp247-273

Maclean, S and Caffrey, B ( 2009)
Developing a Practice Curriculum
Rugeley: Kirwin Maclean Associates Ltd

Tedam, P (2012b)
‘The MANDELA model of practice learning: An old present in new wrapping‘
Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp19-35

More from Community Care

One Response to Top tips for practice educators on assessment, supervision and anti-oppressive practice

  1. christina Adamou December 18, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    In my experience, social work management do not acknowledge the skills and experience needed to take on this role and to continue taking on students. as many of them are not Practice Educators or Assessors themselves or may have done it for one year for management experience. This creates a culture where practice teaching is not valued which does not help create an atmosphere of learning.