Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching

Teaching and learning of assessment: What should be the relationship between what is taught and assessment practice in care agencies?

The review by Crisp et al (2003) and the Salford CSWR study suggest possible tensions between course and agency perspectives and priorities. The ingredients of these tensions can be outlined as follows.

In one programme, the response was as follows:

we’ve taken a conscious ... decision … that we’re not teaching students [just] to fill in forms … and … we’ve come under pressure from our partner agencies… (Shardlow et al, 2005 pp 26)

The Salford CSWR study describes the HEI case as follows:

Study participants indicated that it was common practice [during modules] to invite students to complete assessment forms that were used with the specific service user group. These included the Framework for the Assessment for Children in Need and their Families; those associated with the National Health Service and Community Care Act, 1990; the National Service Framework for Older People; and a range of other protocols and tools, including risk assessments. However, occasional concern was expressed that this could be too functional and that it would simply train students to complete forms, rather than reflect on how they are constructed and completed. It may also lead to an over-emphasis on statutory settings rather than reflecting the broad range of social work agencies and their associated contextualised assessment approaches. (Shardlow et al, 2005, pp 25–6).

A partnership between social work programme and agency is an important basis for managing the tensions outlined. Partnership should help to avoid stereotypical perceptions of academic institutions as remote from the realities of practice and of agencies as steeped inbureaucratic procedures. In principle, the two organisations have complementary orientations – that is, the design of degree programmes is practice-oriented, agencies are expected to meet defined service and quality standards, and both parties are required to be service user-oriented.

Question for educators

  • Are there mechanisms for negotiating the respective priorities of agencies and social work courses in relation to the teaching and practice of assessment?

Next: Examining student competence in assessment