Social work placements offer students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of practice. On placement, students work alongside experienced social workers and gain a lot of skills and knowledge. However, students’ experience of practice education differs.
Placements opportunities also offer students the chance to apply their classroom learning and theories to practice.
Practice Education: Students Perspective
Following placement of students within statutory and non-statutory organisations, I have gathered their thoughts around practice education from a student’s perspective.
I gathered information via consultation and research.
Student experiences of social work placements
This article will cover
- Student’s experience of placements
- Messages from research
- Feedback from students
- Final thoughts on student’s experience on placement.
What can I expect from a social work placement?
The relationship with a Practice Educator is pivotal in determining how students experience placements
Research tells us that Practice Educators need to be able to meet the students’ specific learning needs. As a result, a student’s overall learning needs should be considered prior to the start of a placement. In addition, the learning environment should be conducive.
Students appreciate quality feedback–both negative and positive, however, they would like these to be constructive.
What makes a good placement?
According to students, a good placement is one where the student feels supported in their learning and receives constructive feedback.
How do I prepare for social work placement?
To prepare for a social work placement, a student should have gone through a selected number of modules at the University.
This will include theories which can then be applied in practice. Usually, Universities will offer a readiness to practice module where students will go over expectations at placements.
In addition, an understanding of the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) domains will help define the student’s professional capabilities and develop their career.
An understanding of the organisation’s policies and procedures will be useful in preparing the student with regard to the type of work to be undertaken and how that fits in with their learning objectives.
Understanding one’s own learning can help you identify ways to learn effectively. For instance, using Honey and Mumford’s learning styles can help students know their learning styles or preferences and find ways to learn to use those methods.
What does research tell us about the role of the practice educator?
The Practice Educator role is impacted on by the absence of workload reduction.
Practice Educators can feel ‘overwhelmed and unable to continue…’ (Plenty & Gower, 2013)
Practice Educators can feel isolated from universities
Practice Educators can worry about the quality of learning experiences available
Feedback from other students
- Personality matches
- Inductions, supervision and support
- Personality matches can affect the relationship between a practice educator and a student. The University should work on identifying the best match.
- The biggest barrier to student learning is if there is a personality conflict.
- Students described personality conflicts affecting the learning opportunities offered.
- It affects how they experience supervision and performance monitoring
- Students link this to power differences
Inductions, supervision and support
- Inductions, supervision and support should be ongoing to give the student the best placement experience.
- Inductions could be structured or unstructured depending on the organisation policies and procedures. There is no right or wrong way!
- Student’s need to understand what is expected of them during induction.
- If the PE is off site, there should be a clarification on the supervision times and dates.
Supervision in social work practice
- Practice Educators place varied emphasis on supervision. Some will have a structured and a more formal approach towards supervision. Others will have an informal approach.
- There is a major difference between formal supervision and unstructured contact.
- Students prefer either form of supervision as long as it supports them with their learning.
- Balance between task focus and reflection
- Using the PCF domains to structure discussion. This will ensure that the student is meeting the capabilities.
- Students report experiencing high levels of anxiety whilst in placement
- Students appreciate practical support
- Supervision needs to consider the ‘culture shock’ students can experience when first on placement
Workload on placement
- Workload should be reviewed regularly to prevent burnout. It should be noted that students on placement also have University work requirements alongside placement expectations.
- Students struggle to manage competing priorities.
- Students were also concerned about the impact of the PE’s workload on their ability to support them throughout placement effectively.
- According to Domakin (2015) unless you acknowledge the practice educator role as a protected space, the student is also not protected”
Social work theory
- Practice Educators have different levels of confidence using social work theories
- Using social work theory is affected by theoretical priorities of the organisation
- Practice Educators need an up-to-date understanding of theory to help improve their practice.
- Different Practice Educators want different things from learning logs. There is no consistency. For example, how the PCF is referenced in logs, or the evidence required for each PCF domain.
- Sometimes, PE’s focus on personal reflection instead of evidencing theory and vice versa.
- Students report that Practice Educator comments on their reflective logs can often be added last minute, which reduces the efficacy of the learning experience
- Students report significant variability in their practice learning experiences, which is often down to the placement environment or personality / experience of the practice educator.
- Although there will never be one size fits all, there is a lot of variation in expectations of students.
- There is a variation on the level of support provided by practice educators.
- Practice Educators have different expectations about the workload a student should have (for example, the number of cases they hold). This can vary within organisations and teams.
- Variability in workload will ensure that the student is best prepared for work after their social work qualification.
Before you go
The relationship with a Practice Educator is pivotal in determining how students experience placements. However, there is significant variability in how Practice Educators work.
Workload pressures, both for the student, and the Practice Educator can affect the quality of learning experiences.
Personality has a significant impact on how students experience placements.
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