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

Ways forward: Towards a model of partnership working for social work education

In this section we attempt to integrate some of the key issues in research and practice that should be taken into consideration in order to develop an initial model of partnership education for social work.

For clarity the model is outlined in three stages, although these developments should be understood as a process rather than separate entities. The three stages identify the characteristics of different phases of partnership education. The layers in the diagrams do not imply any ranking in the importance of the each of the characteristics. We suggest that a ‘strong’ model of partnership working (represented by Stage 3) requires the integration of our current knowledge about partnership derived from research, with the knowledge and experience of good practice derived from teaching and learning involving a range of different stakeholders.

Stage 1: Partnership characteristics

The characteristics of effective partnership working identified in current research and outlined at the beginning of this section provide the basis of an initial ‘partnership curriculum’, which can be drawn on by social work educators. Research suggests effective rather than tokenistic elements of partnership working include:

Although these characteristics have not always been identified specifically in social work or social work education contexts, they are congruent with social work values and can be applied to the complex partnerships required in social work education.

Diagram: Stage 1

Diagram showing the characteristics of effective partnership working

This approach to partnership learning is incomplete or ‘weak’ since:

Stage 2: Partnership networks

At this stage partnership education is enhanced by the involvement of a network of stakeholders, including practitioners, people who use servics and their carers, students and educational establishments, in different aspects of partnership education. This has the potential to contribute a range of perspectives and experience to the educational process and to model good ‘partnership in action’.

This guide identifies a range of examples of creative practice in relation to stakeholder involvement, and recent developments highlighted in this section (see Developments in partnership working) also suggest that educators are continuing to develop their understanding of partnership work in order to model effective partnership working and enhance learning opportunities.

Diagram: Stage 2

Diagram showing the characteristics of partnership networks

However, the characteristics of partnership, particularly the lack of conceptual clarity and its ‘taken for granted’ nature, create particular problems in taking some of these ideas forward. We are at an early stage in evaluating the effectiveness of different stakeholder contributions to partnership learning and, indeed, identifying the learning which is required to achieve good quality partnership working. This is demonstrated by the lack of a partnership curriculum in practice learning. The presence of stakeholder partnerships is not sufficient in itself to ensure that a critical understanding of partnership work in all its complexity is a core element of the educational process.

Stage 3: The ‘partnership cube’

The third stage of the model outlined here suggests that a stronger model of partnership working needs to combine knowledge about the characteristics of effective partnership working drawn from research, with knowledge and experience of good partnership practice derived from all aspects of the educational process. The principles and practices of partnership working would then not only relate to the characteristics identified with Stage 1 but also extend to all stakeholders creating a strong, integrated ‘partnership cube’ having depth as well as width.

Diagram: Stage 3

Diagram showing the characteristics of the partnership cube

It is argued that this combination of resources has a greater potential to:

We have an initial understanding of what stakeholders (mostly people who use services and their carers) identify as the key characteristics of partnership working. However, more needs to be done to explore what makes partnership effective and what similarities and differences there are, if any, between partnership work with users/carers and partnership work with professionals. In a resource-limited environment there is still more work to be done to develop partnership education in practice learning and to respond creatively to the dilemmas and opportunities of partnership working in the university.


Recognising that this three-stage model is very much a ‘work in progress’ we hope it contributes to the development of a greater understanding of partnership working in social work education.

While this guide has highlighted some of the dilemmas involved in understanding the concept of partnership and of working in partnership, it has also identified examples of‘good practice which emerged from the knowledge review’s research review and practice survey. Subsequent work for this guide suggests that partnership continues to be a key issue for social work education. It is one that receives considerable attention from stakeholders, and progress has been made in finding creative solutions to the challenges and complexities involved in achieving good partnership practice.