Social work education and training has rarely been under so much scrutiny and the quality of practice learning is now very much in the spotlight.
The current scrutiny of the social work degree has led to an increased interest in the idea of a curriculum for social work practice learning. The GSCC recently called for an agreed National Curriculum for the social work degree, arguing that a National curriculum will improve quality in the degree and will mean that employers can be clearer about what to expect of newly qualified social workers.
Only a small number of Universities actually require practice educators to devise a practice learning curriculum, although most do encourage their use in recognition of the many benefits of a curriculum for practice learning.
In our experience, once they have found a framework, most practice educators are keen to develop a practice learning curriculum. There are various reasons for this:
* The curriculum will give some focus to the placement. It should also structure the learning process (although there will still be flexibility). This is important since placements can seem very short considering the amount of work there is to do.
* The use of a learning curriculum and the regular review process will ensure that nothing is “missed out” or taken over by other issues.
* A learning curriculum is particularly useful in off site practice learning situations. It ensures that the practice educator and on site supervisor are each aware of their own particular role in facilitating the student’s learning.
* A learning curriculum is particularly helpful if a practice educator finds themselves working with a failing or marginal student. They will be able to use the curriculum to reflect on whether the student has had sufficient learning opportunities. They can also revisit and amend the curriculum to support the student and supplement any action planning.
* Whilst the production of a learning curriculum is time consuming in itself, in the longer term it saves time.
* The development of a learning curriculum assists in improving placement planning and generally means that the practice educator and team will be better prepared to support the student.
* Curriculum development is in itself a useful learning experience for students and practice educators.
* A well designed curriculum which makes clear links to the National Occupational Standards assists practice educators when they come to completing the final assessment report on the student.
To develop a practice learning curriculum for a social work placement we would suggest that practice educators work through the following process:
Set the learning agenda
* What does the student need to learn?
* What will the student be assessed on?
Select appropriate learning opportunities
Bear in mind:
* Any specific University requirements
* What can be provided in the setting
* Any specific learning needs the student has
* Theories of adult learning
* Student preferences about learning opportunities
Plan delivery of the opportunities
* Who is best placed to provide the opportunities/support the student in accessing the opportunities?
* When is the best time to provide the opportunities?
Plan for review and evaluation
Ensure there are plans in place to review the effectiveness of the opportunities, to evaluate the curriculum etc. This will involve agreeing:
* Review dates
* Evaluation methods
Make links with assessment
* How will the learning curriculum be linked into the assessment process?
* How will the student’s learning be assessed?
* What outcomes/evidence might be generated from the learning activities?
What the actual document looks like isn’t important. Some Universities provide a set format for practice teachers to use but most don’t. There is a huge variety in how a curriculum is recorded and documented and as long as it is accessible to both the practice educator and the student a practice educator has significant freedom in developing their own style.