Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education

Practice example 11: Court skills training, Brunel University

The importance of court work in many social work settings has been associated in the literature with high levels of anxiety among social work students about their readiness and capacity for the communication skills required in this context.

Court skills training is provided in order to give students some practice in a range of the required skills and to prepare students for the practical communication issues around forms of address, procedures and roles in the court arena, body language and delivery of key messages under pressure.

This skills learning takes the form of an interprofessional one-day training. The court role play is undertaken in courts local to the university. Preparation begins a week in advance when students are given mock court reports, statements and other case materials derived from those used to train Bar School students. Students are also provided with information about the structure of the court system and plans of courtroom lay-outs with explanatory notes.

The day is divided into two halves: the first half consists of a presentation, video case study and discussion groups to unpack and explore child protection issues. After a meal break there is a briefing to outline the case materials, identify issues in the cases and allocate the various roles undertaken within the court setting, with students taking on the role of a magistrate, solicitor (parent/client, prosecution, defence), witnesses, guardian, and so on. Other students may act as 'shadows’ and observe their counterparts without the pressure of 'performing’, although 'shadows’ and 'performers’ may swap roles in order to experience the role play from both perspectives.

In this way the day focuses on interprofessional communication skills as well as skills for the court setting in particular.

A key aspect of the court skills day is that it includes students interprofessionally from a range of social work, health and education disciplines including:

The day is facilitated by tutors from across these disciplines.

Following role plays, students are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and feelings and to identify issues and key learning points for communication in two ways:

User participation in planning, delivery and evaluation


Other key stakeholder participation in planning, delivery and evaluation

Feedback from practice assessors in social work informed the need for this training.

Learning aims and outcomes

To enable students to reconcile differing practice models and to enable students to acquire basic skills in child protection and court work.

Assessment of learning


Integration between university and practice curricula

Feedback from practice assessors in social work informed the need for this training.


Student feedback has been positive.


Arcock, A. and White, R. (1998) Significant harm, Croydon: Significant Publications. Department of Health (1995) Child protection: Messages from research, London: The Stationery Office.

Further information available from Annabel Goodyer, Brunel University (www.brunel.ac.uk).