The learning, teaching and assessment of partnership work in social work education

What does teaching about partnership work include? Good practice

This is not a comprehensive account of what is available but is designed to provide a flavour of the content of teaching, drawing on approaches adopted by educators included in the research review. It tends to emphasise the work done in the ‘discrete’ models (see How is partnership work taught?), because this is where the partnership content is more accessible. What is evident is that there is a range of learning frameworks or ‘hooks’ that provide the structure for partnership learning.

Using community care frameworks to teach partnership

In the following example, community care, and particularly assessment, provides the framework for a  uniprofessional module which places power relations at the core of learning. Although the main emphasis is on partnership with people who use services and their carers, practitioners also make contributions, bringing their expertise to specific sessions.

Good practice example: University of Nottingham - MA/ Diploma in Social Work, Module L3D761: Users’ and carers’ perspectives in community care

This module is designed and assessed by people who have all had contact with social work services as users or as carers. There is a recognition that while community care legislation stresses the use of needs-led assessments, there is a history of and tendency for social workers to make decisions on behalf of people who use services.

The aims of the module include enabling students to understand the unique experiences and contributions of users while recognising that successful social work practice stems from an awareness of what stakeholders have in common. In preparation for practice with adults, the module explores a range of community care issues including care management, experiences of oppression and adult abuse and protection.

The module is delivered by a range of contributors, including people using services, educators and practitioners who bring different expertise to understanding community care. It attempts to redress the power imbalance between social workers and users/carers. It does this by looking at the impact of social workers on people's lives and is directly informed by personal experience, ultimately proposing the rethinking of the nature of the relationship between social worker and user and carer.

Learning partnership through community profiling

The University of Bath has developed a module which integrates learning in the classroom with a practice placement. This takes place at an early stage in the course, and the framework for modelling and teaching partnership is the completion of a community needs assessment. The main learning partnerships are with people who use services and their carers and the agencies with which they are involved.

Good practice example: University of Bath - BSc Social Work and Applied Social Sciences

A community project combines college teaching with practice learning. The main outcome of the teaching and learning is completion of a community needs assessment.

The aims and objectives of the module are to:

  • introduce students to information gathering and its contribution to service delivery
  • learn about different sources of information gathering and how to interpret information
  • develop a community profile as a means of listening to the voice of marginalised people and incorporate that voice into an assessment of their collective need
  • apply these skills to the practice curriculum and on placement.

University-based teaching includes learning how to gather information and then how to interpret and present it. Although these sources of learning are important, the main learning takes place in the community when students engage in research in partnership with people who are current or potential users. Students undertake projects throughout the semester in small groups. These are provided with ongoing tutorial support. Each group presents a project during a session at the end of the semester. The aim is to present material in a coherent form which is useful information for the agencies who commissioned each project. The advantage for the agency is that they will have additional material to help improve services.

Learning partnership by exploring partnership and interprofessional practice

There are examples of modules which explore partnership working adopting a uniprofessional approach. While social work students are not taught alongside other professions, practitioners from other professions are involved in teaching sessions. People using services are also involved in the preparation and delivery of the teaching sessions.

In response to the shortage of texts which are directly relevant to partnership and social work, a range of theoretical material is used, including communication, group and organisation theory.

Good practice example: University of Sussex and University of Brighton - BA Hons Social Work, Partnership and Interprofessional Practice, Level 1

Module aims: Social work depends on partnership and collaboration with other professions. The central aim of this module is to study the theory and practice of such partnership and collaboration. It is studied both in terms of the detail of the critical issues, good practice and the broader social and political context within which collaboration is sought. Issues of power and inequality in regard to race, class, disability and gender among others will be addressed throughout the module. People who use services and practitioners will also make a contribution to teaching.

Learning methods: Students are expected to be active learners and to work together during the module, learning about partnership and collaboration by reflecting on their own processes. The aim is that learning together will itself be helpful preparation for collaborative work in practice. A problem-based approach to learning will be used. Over the term, students will build their learning around a core case study about partnership and interprofessional practice in mental health.

Weekly pattern: Each day will begin with a whole group lecture. While this session is based around a lecture format, discussions and various exercises will also play a part. The second part of the morning and afternoon sessions will involve work in study groups. The morning study group will be held with a facilitator; the afternoon group will be student-led. Staff facilitators will enable the group to focus on learning from the module content but also from group process.

Learning interprofessionally

This example is an interprofessional module (social work and learning disability nursing) with a focus on partnership and participation.

Good practice example: London South Bank University - Module: Partnership and participation, BA Level 2 Social Work and BSc Level 2 Nursing and Social Work Studies

This ten-week unit examines the core value of partnership within a context of health and social care practice. The unit explores the full range of partnership issues and contexts, looking at user involvement, working with parents, working with families and carers and working in a community context.

Interprofessional and inter-organisational issues and practices are also investigated. In this way students are helped to identify and address issues associated with difference and to incorporate these understandings into their strategic thinking around boundaries and boundary crossings. The unit introduces students to some key issues and dilemmas and enables them to draw on a range of perspectives associated with partnership practice with a particular focus on networking theories and methods.