The learning, teaching and assessment of partnership work in social work education
When should partnership learning take place?
Students and educators agree that user and carer involvement should begin as early as possible, both in programme planning and delivery. For example, students in one focus group commented positively on an opportunity to learn about partnerships with people who use services and their carers early in the course. This took place during a module which bridged classroom and practice learning. At this stage of the degree there is no evidence that partnership learning at an early stage in the course positively affects social work practice or its outcomes.
The timing of interprofessional partnership learning is contested, with concerns about the timing of the establishment and consolidation of professional identity and confidence. Two key timing questions are:
- Should interprofessional partnership learning occur before professional boundaries and stereotypes have become entrenched?
- Does an early focus on interprofessional partnership learning risk diluting professional identity and skills?
We do not yet have a definitive answer to these questions, although most of the examples from the practice survey suggest that discrete modules take place either in the second or third year of the course. There is some research evidence that early shared experiential learning by social work and medical students offers a useful opportunity for interprofessional learning. (7,8) Research into another interprofessional education programme that included students from ten professions argues for the early introduction of interprofessional education. (16) The authors acknowledge that this approach also needs to ensure that students are clear about the relevance of this teaching to their learning needs.