Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching

The context of assessment

The following sections build on those above by exploring further some of the main contexts of assessment.

In this section:

Legislation, legal frameworks and policy contexts

The requirements for the social work degree have a general expectation that social workers will understand legal contexts, refer to legal requirements when making assessments and ensure that their knowledge of legal policy and procedure are up to date (TOPSS UK Partnership, 2004, Key role 6; QAA, 2000, Sec 3). However, there are additional implications for teaching and learning about assessment that arise from devolution, the recognition of national needs and priorities in the UK and differing legal systems and service organisations.

The requirements for the social work degree in each of the UK countries expect knowledge of the national legislative and organisational contexts (e.g. Welsh Assembly Government CCW and SSIW, 2005, p 81). In Northern Ireland, this requirement is supported by curriculum guidance for the social work degree. The guidance lists legislation, policy guidance and regulations relevant to social work in the province and addresses multiple contexts from the historical, political, legal and organisational to the psychological and interpersonal (NISCC, 2005b). National variations also affect the learning covered by the degree in different countries. For instance, learning on criminal justice is integral to the curriculum in Northern Ireland and Scotland but not in England and Wales (Braye and Preston-Shoot, 2006, p 3).

There are numerous examples of variation in the knowledge that social workers in particular countries require. The eligibility criteria established under the ‘fair access to care’ policy entail key information for social workers working in local authorities in England as well as offering material for teaching and learning of assessment (Department of Health, 2003). Protection of service users is a common feature of assessment systems but different legislation supports the objective, for example, in England and Northern Ireland (Braye and Preston-Shoot, 2006, p 33). Differences between the two countries are also found in the assessment of community care services and assessment of carers (p 44). Human rights legislation applies to all four countries but there is special provision for language in Wales and employment in Northern Ireland (p 78).

As well as instances of marked national differences in legal and policy requirements, there are more subtle variations around common themes. This is well illustrated by the idea of common assessment. Each of the UK countries has undertaken work on a system for the conduct of common or single assessment. In England, for instance, the National Service Framework for Older People led to work on a single assessment process (SAP) (Department of Health, 2001a and 2006). In Northern Ireland, separate work has been undertaken on a single assessment tool (SAT), also focused on work with older people (DHSSPS, 2006). In Wales, an electronic common assessment framework (CAF) is in development (Children in Wales, 2006).

The review by Crisp and colleagues provides a clear alert for educators on national variation and the SCIE law guide sets a strong example by using illustrations of the law from different UK countries and making the origins clear (Crisp et al, 2005; Braye and Preston-Shoot, 2006). Textbooks are not always so clear. The reviewers found that they dealt with legislation in four ways:

Some texts in the first category paid particular attention to legislation in England and were of value to readers practising there, provided that the legislation had not become out of date; they were plainly of less value to others.

Three of the four assessment frameworks sampled by Crisp and colleagues are published by the Department of Health (DH) and the fourth by the Scottish Executive. Some of the DH frameworks have subsequently been adapted in Wales and Northern Ireland to reflect the respective national policy contexts (e.g. National Assembly for Wales, 2001; Welsh Assembly Government, 2006; DHSSPS, 2003). Two frameworks, the carer’s assessment and the children and families framework were explicitly framed with respect to particular legislation while the other two make only passing reference to legislation (Crisp et al, 2005, pp 51–2). All the frameworks may make useful teaching aids, but their particular national and legislative contexts need to explicitly stated.

Questions for educators

  • Do the learning materials you recommend:
    • recognise the importance of legal knowledge in assessment?
    • provide knowledge relevant to the particular national context in which students are expecting to be employed?
    • make clear the national context to which any particular legal or policy examples refer?

Next: Organisational issues.