Learning, teaching and assessment of law in social work education
Innovation in learning, teaching and assessment of law in social work education: How should law be taught?
Involving students as active learners is as important in law as in any other aspect of the curriculum. Law learning presents plenty of opportunity for this, through individual and group work that encourages students to present the outcomes of their independent, albeit guided, work. The following are examples.
Student-led seminar presentations continuedOpen
Student seminar presentations - Glasgow Caledonian University
Each group should prepare a presentation on a case study, lasting approximately 15-20 minutes, which will form the basis for discussion within the class as a whole. When examining the case study, students should attempt to explore the following:
- What legal issues are involved?
- What needs, rights and risks are involved?
- What do you consider to be the most appropriate response?
The aim of the group presentation is to explore the options available within the legislative framework, not to look for practice solutions. Discussion of options should be supported by ideas from across the theoretical framework covered by the programme so far, for example poverty, family and lifespan, social work practice, key concepts and values. As it is sometimes difficult to grasp ideas quickly from spoken word presentations, groups should consider also using limited visual aids such as flipcharts or acetates. All class members should come to the seminar having read the case studies in advance, and prepared to discuss the issues raised, not merely to listen. Attendance at each seminar is required by the whole student group.
Students work on one of four studies, covering a range of legal issues.
Sample case: Brian (27) has been convicted of assault following a fight with three other men after a local football match. All had been drinking heavily and the police charged all four with assault, as each made statements incriminating the others. Brian has a history of violent offences, usually while under the influence of alcohol. He has been unemployed for the past three years, having lost his last job because he was frequently arriving drunk at work. He has, until now, lived with his parents, but they are fed up with his behaviour and have asked him to move out unless he seeks help with his excessive drinking. You have been asked to prepare a social enquiry report for the court to provide information and advice as an aid to sentencing.
Getting students to work as a groupOpen
Student seminar presentations - University of Manchester
Students work in small groups to undertake the research necessary to make a presentation to the whole group on one of the case studies. Guidance is given as follows:
- First, decide what the relevant issues in the case are. Allocate between your group members the task of researching particular aspects of law. You will need to list the relevant statutes pertaining to your part of the case study and then work on deciding which Acts and sections are most relevant.
- When you have completed this phase of the work, you should meet and debate the pros and cons of various interventions. You should think about the requirements of anti-oppressive practice alongside the more philosophical discussions, and try to think what you would really want to do in this case.
- You should aim to produce a 20-minute presentation that discusses the law and makes some recommendations for action.
Case 1: George D is black British, aged 75. He lives with his daughter Simone and her children Jenny (10) and Joe (15). George is known to the local services for older people with mental health problems. He has had Alzheimer’s Disease for the past five years and is becoming increasingly anxious and confused. The social services department provide home care for George while Simone is at work. Simone has called social services saying she is very concerned about her father and is not sure whether she can cope any longer. He is becoming verbally and physically abusive and has recently attempted to strike out at Jenny. He has also been getting up in the night and leaving the gas switched on, which means Simone is unable to get any rest.
Case 2: Lisa is white British and 19 years old. Between the ages of 10 and 18 she was looked after by the local authority. She was placed with foster carers for a short time but her behaviour proved too challenging and she was moved to a children’s home. Lisa has some learning difficulties and mental health problems, and is supported on medication. She has a history of aggressive behaviour and self-harm that is well controlled as long as she takes her medication. She has minimal contact with her parents, who have never been able to accept or cope with her disability. She is currently living alone in a local authority flat. She is known to the aftercare team and the community mental health team, who provide support to enable her to live independently. Lisa has just discovered she is 16 weeks pregnant, and says she does not know who the baby’s father is. Health professionals are concerned she may not be able to cope with the pregnancy and that she may not be capable of looking after a child alone.
Case 3: Gary is 16 years old and white British. He lives with his mother, Anne, who has recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Gary has recently been excluded from school, following an incident in which he threatened a teacher with a knife. Gary’s teachers say he has always been 'a loner’, but recently seems to have become very agitated and disorientated at times. Anne says he is 'not the boy she knows’. He is spending all his time in his bedroom, will not communicate and has shouted at her and pushed her a number of times. This is out of character and Anne is worried that Gary is either on drugs or has inherited his father’s mental illness. Gary’s father, who no longer lives with the family, has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Currently Anne’s symptoms associated with the MS are quite severe and she is desperate for help.
Skllls-based workshops - University of Paisley
We have abandoned the formal lectures with a social work lecturer and a law lecturer at the front of the class and moved to a skills-based workshop approach. We begin with several classes that set the context, looking at key concepts and a framework for understanding and practising social work law. The students are introduced to the legal resources available in our library/learning resource centre. A list of required weekly reading is circulated. Following this, each week students are introduced to a scenario highlighting law and social work practice issues in a specific area of work - for example, in relation to community-based disposals for the courts. A lecturer ensures that students understand the task. The students then work all morning in small sub-groups on answering questions related to the scenario. In the afternoon the class reconvenes with the lecturer present. Each sub-group presents their responses to the scenario questions, with discussion. The lecturer’s role is to ensure that the key concepts, themes, issues, etc are emphasised, that the most accurate and up-to-date material is highlighted and that the class goes away having met the learning outcomes for the day.
Feedback has been increasingly positive. Most students do seem to like to work in this way. Results have not been significantly different as a result of the introduction of this new approach. It is not yet clear how durable the knowledge acquired in this way is, but anecdotally students seem to be able to make good use of the knowledge while on practice placement.
Developing independent legal research skillsOpen
Library exercise - University of Edinburgh
This exercise is an opportunity to look at a range of statutes, guidance and one or two cases, to begin to familiarise yourself with this type of legal material. You need to go to the main library and the law library to examine the material and consider the questions set out below. Choose one of the exercises below and have it completed to bring to class.
1. Children and families
- Look at the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. What are the grounds for applying for an exclusion order?
- Look at the guidance. What advice does it offer?
- Look at the case report of Russell versus W 1998 FamLR 25. What are the facts of the case? What was the court’s decision?
Parental responsibilities order
- Look at the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. What are the grounds for applying for a parental responsibilities order?
- Look at the guidance. What advice does it offer?
- Look at the case report of City of Edinburgh Council versus H 2001 SLT (Sh Ct) 51. What are the facts of the case? What was the court’s decision?
2. Criminal justice
- Look at the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995: How long can a probation order last? What conditions can be attached to an order?
- Look at the National Objectives and Standards in Social Work Services in the Criminal Justice System: What are the main points the standards address in relation to probation?
- Look at the case HM Advocate versus Smith 1999 SLT 909 which is an appeal by the Lord Advocate against an 'unduly lenient’ sentence: What are the facts of the case?
- Consider the court’s reasoning in this case.
3. Community care
- Look at the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000: What are the general principles to be applied in guiding intervention under the Act?
- Look at the Code of Practice for local authorities regarding the assessment of adults’ needs (www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/Civil/16360/5176)
Using a quiz to engage students with sources of lawOpen
Introductory law quiz
- What is the primary source of law?
- Which is the highest court in the UK?
- What does parental responsibility refer to?
- Which role has the Children Act 2004 created?
- What is the difference between policy guidance and practice guidance issued by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills?
- Is the right to privacy and family life in the Human Rights Act 1998 absolute?
- Is private law concerned with the relationships between people?
- Can a woman who gives birth to a child ever lose parental responsibility?
- Does adoption transfer parental responsibility from birth parents to adoptive parents?
- What change in the rules on parental responsibility did the Adoption and Children Act 2002 make?
- What orders did the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduce?
- Does an unmarried father who contributes financially to his child’s upbringing automatically have parental responsibility?
- What is the definition of a child in need according to the Children Act 1989?
- How should a local authority provide services for children in need?
- What is the age at which a child can be prosecuted in England?
- Is a disabled child automatically a child in need?
- Can parents be prosecuted if they fail to ensure that their children under the age of 16 receive full-time education?
- When a local authority is granted a care order in respect of a child, does it obtain parental responsibility and can it limit how the parents of that child exercise their parental responsibility?
- Can children of sufficient age and understanding choose the school that they attend?
- When does a child have special educational needs?
- When may police reprimands and warnings under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 be used?
- With what is criminal law concerned?
- Towards whom does the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 enhance the responsibilities of local authorities?
- Do young people aged 16 and 17 who are homeless have a priority need for housing under the Homelessness Act 2002?
- Is the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child part of UK law?
Making law accessible and supporting decision-making skillsOpen
Responding to the challenge of students’ fears about law requires educators to be creative in interpreting legal content, enabling it to be shaped in a way that mirrors the questions that arise in practice. Decision trees can help. The following example again draws on the legal rules applicable in England. However, the principle could be illustrated by the legal framework available in each of the four nations of the UK. For example, in Northern Ireland the relevant legal context through which students need to be guided when considering assessment for community care services and assessment of carers would instead include:
- Carers and Direct Payment Act (NI) 2002 - rights of carers to assessment, services for carers, direct payments and information.
- Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (NI) Act 1978 - services for disabled people.
- Disabled Persons (NI) Act 1989 - assessment of disabled person for services under the 1978 Act, and taking the needs of the carer into account.
- Health and Personal Social Services (NI) Orders 1972/1991/1994 - arrangements for community care assessment and for service provision, such as domiciliary care and residential accommodation for adults.
e-Learning package - Glasgow Caledonian University
'The Law Relating to Children in Scotland’ is a computer-assisted learning package which enables students (and practitioners) to understand the legislative context of work with children and families, and to begin to critically evaluate the legal concepts within practice. It aims to assist students to develop their practice by better understanding the context within which it takes place. It does not seek to provide a comprehensive understanding of the law in relation to children and is therefore an adjunct to learning rather than a substitute for other reading. Indeed, it is vital that students make reference to appropriate statutes and wider reading to gain maximum benefit from the package. The programme has been constructed in three sections:-
- Information on child care in Scotland: this section contains an overview of four key legislative influences on child care decision making - Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, Children (Scotland) Act 1995, Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. Hypertext links provide access to additional information that illustrates the interrelated nature of the statutory base.
- Self-assessment: this section is intended to provide a light-hearted test of legal knowledge on the questions set, without implying that successful completion indicates any broader understanding. The user has access to randomised questions about four key aspects of child care legislation, mainly based around the children’s hearings system, and must decide whether each option offered is 'True’ of 'False’. In the 'easy’ version, the user may continue to select responses until the correct response is achieved. In the 'harder’ version, the correct answer needs to be selected in order to proceed.
- Case study and report writing: the case study is based on the structure and content of a fairly typical social background report for a children’s hearing. The user must make 'real time’ decisions in response to the options posed by the report. The computer then selects an outcome at random, requiring the user to make further choices, culminating in the construction of a report by the user that explains the reasons behind the choices they have made. When working with the case study, the user may access additional information via hypertext links to the legislation section of the programme. The completed report can be saved on to disk for future discussion with student colleagues or tutors.
Students will use the programme in a number of ways:
- accessing information about the law
- testing out their current legal knowledge
- examining existing case law in respect of particular issues
- exploring available legal options
- examining practice dilemmas
- improving report writing skills
- using the Conference Centre, which allows interactivity among networked users.
The programme is designed to allow users to make their own decisions about what they wish to explore and in what order. A student may, for example, decide they have adequate working knowledge of the legislation and decide to begin working at the self-assessment stage in order to test their understanding. It is also possible for students to begin working on the case study stage, and subsequently decide to refresh their understanding of the legislation, and retrace their steps accordingly. The user is able to work at a pace acceptable to them, and suitable to their own style of learning. As steps can be retraced, this allows knowledge to be consolidated more effectively.
A key challenge is to 'translate’ law, rendering it accessible for students from other disciplines while retaining a sense of its complexity. Ways forward might include:
- An integrative approach (Dellgran and Höjer, 2003), emphasising the extent of exchange between the disciplines of law and social work, creating a new integrated discourse relevant to the context in which they must co-exist. The concept of 'social work law’ (Preston-Shoot et al, 1998) is an example.
- Models for interprofessional learning at pre-registration level. There is currently little evidence of social work students and law students learning alongside each other. Interprofessional education developments in social work tend to emphasise linkages with health (and to a lesser extent education) rather than law.
- Development of practice placements for social work students in legal or quasi-legal settings
There are several pedagogical dimensions thrown into sharp relief by social work law education. One dimension is that between discrete modules and integrated learning. Another, reflecting the driver within the modernisation agenda towards coordination, is that between a single discipline, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary focus. These dimensions suggest that academic tutors and practice educators should consider the degree to which learning opportunities build from a discrete knowledge foundation to a framework where social work law knowledge and skills are integrated with other maps for professional practice. The next question is how far social work and law tutors and practitioners are teaching and assessing social workers in training together, and then how far social workers in training are enabled to learn and practise alongside other professionals in training.
Social work and law tutors and practitioners working together, and social workers in training studying and practising alongside legal and other professionals in training should promote mutual understanding. It will enable the identification of commonalities in terms of knowledge bases used, skills deployed and values shaping practice. It will also enable dialogue about how differences in the conceptualisation of values, use of knowledge, and objectives of skill use, can be utilised for the benefit of service users.