Why is it so hard to fail social work students in practice learning settings?

09 Jul

Failing FsThis article in community care asks the above question.  The issue is the way the system is how do you justify failing someone who provides all the evidence that is requested to pass. Can you justify failing someone who provides all the “evidence” requested but there is something that tells you they may not be suitable? Because someone is able to garner the experiences they need in order to gather suitable evidence doesn’t mean they are suited for the spectrum of Social Work. As someone who is trained in another country where Social Work is a broader profession with many areas in which to get involved, I find the narrow road of Social Work here absolutely stifling.

I had a student that would not be suitable for long term Social Work but it would have been insane to ignore the fact that she is able to gather and compile information to a high standard for her assessments. But there was no where for me to make that distinction in her assessment and failing her would have been unfair. Where is there a way to make it clear what their strengths are while stipulating that as the person assessing their practice you don’t believe they strengths lie in particular other areas?

Not everyone is suited for every type of work but it would be wrong not to acknowledge someone’s strengths and contributions he/she is able to make to the profession. Where is there room to say that while a student may not be suitable for a particular type of Social Work but might be very good at another or in another team?

As a “Practice Educator” I find that alot goes in to assessing practice and these students. There is a lot of paperwork generated to provide this evidence that they are capable. When I did my Bachelors we didn’t have any paperwork that my Field Instructor needed to do but my process recordings (reflections) were regularly reviewed by my advisor, my assignments were scrutinised by professors/educator for insight into my abilities. There were regular meetings between my advisor and field instructor regarding my progress and where I need to improve. I managed to become a Social Worker without the massive amounts of paperwork (which is a parallel to the paperwork they will have to do once on the job even though everyone says they understand that the on the job bureaucracy is a hindrance to the profession!). The other side of that is the fact that I was well trained. For my placement, which was the equivalent of statutory children’s Social Work, I had to commit my summer to being trained before I could go onto placement. I still have my certificates. There was a group of about 20 of us that bonded that summer and created a support network for ourselves throughout our placement. Several even went on to be employed and the employers could be confident in their skills because they had not only witnessed their practice but they trained them!

I have said it in previous posts and I will say it again. There needs to be a distinction between Social Work education and Social Work training. Social Work education should be the history of the profession, the various elements of the profession, the struture of the profession, what makes it a profession, necessary skills – basically the generic or generalist elements of Social Work that could be applied in any industry/segment of Social Work. Social Work training should be on the job and should include those things you need to know in order to do the job you were hired to do.

In answer to the question, it is hard to fail students because if they provide the evidence you have no substantial grounding to fail them.


Posted by on July 9, 2014 in The Social World


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3 responses to “Why is it so hard to fail social work students in practice learning settings?

  1. E Turner

    July 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Hello! I am an American in the first year of my MSW program in London (Kingston Uni). I am currently half way through my first practice placement. I got my BA in Psychology at an American university in Paris and my career dream has always been to become a psychotherapist and establish a private practice. I have found it a challenging learning experience studying and being in social work here in the UK, especially as the path to psychotherapy is so different here than in the US. I am not sure if I will stay in the UK as it hasn’t felt like I really belong in Social Work here. I really enjoy reading your blog and have read almost every entry. It has helped me reflect a lot and put my experiences into perspective. I used to cringe at our program director when he told us our MSW program was ‘generic’ and meant to prepare us to work in all areas of social work. Since being on placement I can see the benefits of this but I feel like for me personally, something is missing and I would like to be doing more clinical/therapeutic work. I don’t have any specific questions per se but wanted you to know how much I appreciate your blog. I would love any advice or insight you might have as well. Thank you!



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