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

Why teach partnership work? Good practice

Modelling partnership work

While it is not a requirement, there is a strong consensus that working in partnership is core to teaching and learning good practice. It is also a necessary part of involving people who use services and their carers and integrating theory and practice into social work education. It also reflects social work values and for some programmes this means modelling partnership throughout the programme.

If the degree is not delivered in partnership then we are not providing a model of partnership for students. It is not just what you teach but how you teach it. (BA Social Work Programme Director)

There is a prevailing norm that students will learn about partnership work by observing and experiencing it in action. Given the strong values base in social work, this argument extends to suggesting that partnership work should be integrated into the whole system so that in effect it would be evidenced throughout all seven levels identified in What do we mean by ‘partnership work’?

Good practice example: University of Plymouth - BSc Hons Health and Social Care Management

The consultative group of users, carers, academics and practitioners meets regularly. It has been involved in planning the new award and continues to play a significant role in all aspects of delivery and development. In addition to involvement in assessment, it contributes to partnership learning in a number of ways.

  • People who use services and their carers are involved in the substantial two-week induction at the beginning of the course, which includes a session explaining why users are involved. This emphasis on the contribution of users defines the culture of the whole course.
  • People who use services take part in teaching sessions. While there has been positive feedback from students, this involvement takes a lot of time, both during the session and in preparation.
  • At the selection stage: users are involved as observers in the group interview and also play an equal part in individual interviews.

Good practice example: University of Dundee - Service User and Carer (CU) Group, BA Hons Social Work

The Service User and Carer (CU) Group has been involved from the outset in strategic design, development, planning, delivery and ongoing review of the degree programme. (5)

The CU Group is linked to a flexible, grassroots network of 40 local user and carer groups which meet monthly to consider strategies for users to influence the programme. The members of the group have formal representation within programme structures through their representatives on the programme committee.

Ager et al identify the values involved in ensuring that users are not only consulted but can also see the impact of their involvement throughout the programme:

  • no tokenism; users to share genuine power
  • all groups to have a voice, especially hard-to-reach individuals and groups
  • fair funding for involvement
  • plain English to be used
  • bottom-up networking, beginning with groups who have experience of social work
  • the group should see change as a result of the consultation process.

The group influences the design and delivery of course materials through discussion with lecturers, who must visit at least two groups to prepare the year’s teaching. Ideas from these meetings are logged on a file so they are available to all lecturers.

The initiative is too young yet to have been evaluated, but the authors believe it embodies for students and carers the ethos of partnership not just in content, but modelled and made real in processes embedded throughout the programme.

Mainstreaming partnership work

A very clear position was taken by the Director of the BA (Hons) Social Work at the University of Wales Institute at Cardiff, where the aim is to ‘mainstream’ partnership and collaborative learning throughout the programme. Furthermore, this programme is distinctive because documentation clearly outlines the prevailing philosophy. Perhaps surprisingly, the practice survey revealed that, in general, programme documentation lacks strong values and philosophical position and tends to focus instead on administrative detail.

Good practice example: University of Wales Institute at Cardiff (UWIC) - BA (Hons) Social Work Programme

The aims of the ‘programme philosophy’ are defined as:

through partnership and collaborative learning the Programme aims to integrate college and practice-based learning ... principles of integration and collaboration, accessibility and flexibility are mainstreamed throughout the Programme in terms of management and organisation, selection and admission, structure and delivery, teaching, learning and assessment.

The 12 educational aims of the programme include:

  • To build on and enhance the concept of partnership between agencies, the colleges and users of social services.

The Programme Partnership includes:

  • Thirteen statutory and two voluntary sector agencies
  • Two user and carer groups
  • Two higher education institutions, including a further education college.

Representatives of this form the programme management committee. Sub-committees such as the equal opportunities committee and the allocation, selection and access sub-committee also include partner representatives. The Programme Director was clear about the importance of regularly auditing processes to ensure that integrated themes do not get lost or become something else over time. (BA Hons Social Work Programme Handbook 2004/05–2006/07, p 5.)

In this example, partnership is seen as one of the means by which some of the key aims of the course can be delivered. These are:

The UWIC programme is unusual because the programme philosophy emerges clearly from the course handbook and other documentation. While most courses similarly involve partnerships in areas such as course management and admissions, and educators frequently talk about partnership, this is the only example we found where partnership is so clearly written into the course culture.