NISCC funded-study focuses on Practice Learning Opportunities

A Northern Ireland Social Care Council-funded study carried out by social work academics at Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Ulster and two Australian universities has made a number of observations to improve the practice learning experience for social work students.

‘Models of Supervision Influencing Student Development in Social Work Practice Learning Opportunities’ was released at the end of September. Its aims were:

  • To identify the learning experiences and opportunities provided during the placement, how frequently they were used and who provided these.
  • To identify the learning elements that promoted their developing sense of social work identity and competency in practicing social work interventions.
  • To gauge the levels of social work student satisfaction with the supervision models used during their practice learning opportunity.

In Northern Ireland, practice learning constitutes 50% of the overall Bachelor of Social Work degree/ BSc Honours Degree in Social Work, for which students must complete two Practice Learning Opportunities (PLOs). The authors of the study highlighted the importance of developing a greater insight into the experiences of students in terms of their learning journey and identify ways in which this can be improved.

The research team was led by Dr Audrey Roulston, Lecturer in Social Work/Director of Practice Learning, School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Helen Cleak, Senior Lecturer in Social Work/Director of International Placements at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Also involved in the study was Professor Mary McColgan OBE, Head of School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies at the University of Ulster (Magee).

The authors of the study recommended that student social workers should be provided with opportunities to shadow social work colleagues during induction and throughout the practice learning opportunity.

Another recommendation was that the allocation of work opportunities should be paced throughout the practice learning period to maximise use of the allocated time for practice.

It was also suggested that on-site facilitators should regularly provide students with formal direction on casework and promote opportunities to reflect on practice and that the submission dates for academic assignments should be reviewed, in order to reduce pressure and stress on students.

All full-time undergraduate students registered to study social work at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, who had undertaken their first or final practice learning opportunity (PLO) between January 2013 and May 2014, were invited to participate in the study.

Click here to download the full document.