Learning, teaching and assessment of law in social work education

Key messages from Knowledge Review 08: Who should teach law?

In practice, a wide range and large number of staff contribute to law teaching on social work programmes. It is not uncommon for law modules to have a teaching team comprising between three and seven people. There is no common pattern to the skill mix. The contribution of law staff is valued for demonstrating interdisciplinary working, and for exposing social work students to the discourse and processes of law, although there is an emphasis on ensuring that where lawyers are involved they address the application of law in practice. Experts by experience and other stakeholders believe both lawyers and social work staff have important perspectives to contribute to law teaching. Paramount is the importance of ensuring that whoever teaches has knowledge and empathetic understanding of both law and social work, and of the relationship between the two.

It is now a core requirement that service users and carers are involved in all aspects of social work programmes. Their participation in law teaching, however, is noticeable by its absence, with only five programmes able to indicate how this was achieved. Many others saw it as important, and clearly had plans for development. Experts by experience and other stakeholders in the consultation workshops saw participation in law teaching as essential and as offering opportunities for understanding that cannot be developed through other means.

Benefits of service user and carer contributions to law teaching

  • Broadening of students’ perspectives on the law
  • Awareness from personal testimony of how law impacts on people’s lives
  • Understanding of what service users expect of practitioners when acting within a legal framework
  • Shifting students’ awareness towards a rights-based perspective

The contribution of social work practitioners and/or managers to law teaching is also seen as beneficial.

Benefits of practitioner contributions to law teaching

  • Placing the focus on law in the practice context
  • Issues and dilemmas raised by using law in practice
  • The impact of agency accountability frameworks on how law is used
  • Specialist knowledge, such as approved social work, youth justice, adoption, welfare rights, housing and asylum
  • Topicality and relevance of case study material
  • Command respect from students due to 'street credibility’