SCIE Knowledge review 10: The learning, teaching and assessment of partnership work in social work education
By Imogen Taylor, Elaine Sharland, Judy Sebba, Pat Leriche, with Elaine Keep and David Orr
Published: June 2006
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. Partnership work is one of these.
Working in partnership - or inter-professional working - with the health sector, with police and education and with service users and carers, is crucial to the provision of seamless services. It is also enshrined in the Code of practice for social care workers.
SCIE is reviewing the evidence for the teaching and learning of all five core areas and this review is the fourth in the series.
The review had a range of objectives, overall to identify key good practice messages to assist social work educators in developing frameworks for teaching partnership work on social work qualifying courses. However, due to lack of evidence there are no conclusive findings of what approaches to teaching partnership work might be more effective than others, although some useful points did emerge.
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
- Clarity of definition. Confusion about the concept of partnership is rife. While there is no guarantee that greater clarity would lead to better practice, judgements about the effectiveness of partnership work education might more easily be made if the concept was clearer.
- Who is involved in partnership work? The literature shows that partnership work predominantly involves health-related professions, while law and education are only occasionally mentioned. Partnership work with users and carers includes children and families, mental health, disability, child protection and other areas of practice, and there seems to be no less attention paid to partnership in areas that involve some degree of social control (such as mental health or child protection) than others. This said, the important question of working in partnership with those who do not want to participate is rarely raised in the education literature.
- What does partnership work involve and how is it taught? Mostly partnership work is taught in discrete modules or projects where students of different professions work together towards shared goals. Increasingly, service users are being involved as co-trainers or as bearers of their own experiences with a view to developing students' understanding, empathy and interpersonal skills. Rarer were examples of partnership work being embedded throughout programme curricula, structures and processes.
- At what stage of the social work degree is partnership work taught? Time was found to be an important aspect of teaching partnership work, including both the time involved in developing and maintaining relationships and also the timing and staging of teaching and learning about partnership. In the literature, the timing of inter-professional partnership learning is contested because of concerns about whether it should happen before boundaries and stereotypes have become entrenched.
- Who benefits from teaching partnership work? Students demonstrate improved collaborative, communication, conflict resolution and networking skills and, in regards to service users and carers, demonstrate improved listening skills, empathy and respect. But links between service outcomes for consumers are rare, although, there is evidence to support an increase in service user and carer contributions to social work education.
- From rhetoric to reality - what works? There are no overall conclusive findings on what works, however some messages do emerge, such as: making clear and reiterating the definition and expectations of partnership work, making greater use of practice learning to promote partnership; developing more extensive and integrated user and carer participation; modelling partnership through inter-disciplinary provider teams; establishing partnership-based relationships with students; and possibly (although this remains the subject of debate) introducing inter-professional experiences earlier into the social work
- DH (Department of Health) (2002). Requirements for social work training, London: DH.