SCIE Knowledge review 08: Teaching, learning and assessment of law in social work education
By Suzy Braye, Michael Preston-Shoot with Lesley-Ann Cull, Robert Johns and Jeremy Roche
Published: April 2005
In 2003 the social work qualifying course became a three-year degree. The Department of Health set out requirements for social work training1 in which it identified five core areas that all students must undertake specific learning and assessment on. Law, insofar as it relates to social work, is one of these.
If social workers do not know relevant law and how to apply it there can be serious consequences for service users, practitioners and managers. Social workers also need to be able to question procedures, roles and the social impact of law. They must be critical thinkers as well as skilled technicians.
SCIE is reviewing the evidence for the teaching and learning of all five core areas and this review is the third in the series.
The purpose of the review was to identify key good practice messages to assist social work educators in developing frameworks for teaching law on social work qualifying courses. It was also to explore the extent to which current education practice reflects evidence on effectiveness.
This knowledge review is for people who teach social work (that is, academics, practice teachers and service users) and for researchers. It may also be of interest to students and social care workers.
Messages from the knowledge review
Law teaching, learning and assessment is carefully conceived, with a clear rationale advanced for the approaches that are taken. The teaching of law is based on a number of key themes.
What should be taught?
- Social workers should be familiar both with the legal background - the functions of law in society and its social impact - and with specific laws and regulations relevant to particular client groups.
- Students should be able to apply their legal knowledge to policy analysis and legal research as well as to core practical skills, such as report writing and problem solving.
- Educational programmes focus on legislation relating to community care, child care and mental health. Other subjects that may be covered include criminal justice, housing, healthcare and employment.
- Many programmes emphasise underlying values and all cover the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Law education should focus on the circumstances that social workers are likely to encounter but many graduates find it difficult to apply their knowledge to real situations.
How should law be taught?
- Educators say that teaching law separately helps them to define and control content, but may challenge students' stamina. Integrated teaching emphasises application and practical skills. In practice, programmes tend to introduce law as a separate subject and then develop it later within other modules.
- A range of teaching methods should be used but little hard evidence is available as to what works best.
- Current academic teaching practice generally favours lectures combined with group exercises. Other approaches include seminars, guided independent research, skills workshops, computer-based learning, case studies and problem-based learning.
- Service users say that law should be an important part of the curriculum and should be linked with skills in working with people.
- Most practice programmes do not include formal law-related learning objectives for students on placement and students struggle to put knowledge into practice.
How should students be assessed?
- Assessment should reflect the types of activities and judgements actually required of social workers.
- Students are mainly assessed through coursework, examinations or a combination of the two. Assessment aims to test both knowledge and the ability to apply it. Some programmes also test critical analysis skills and the integration of law with social work values.
- DH (Department of Health) (2002). Requirements for social work training, London: DH.
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