The learning, teaching and assessment of partnership work in social work education
Who should teach partnership work?
The broad scope of partnership networks involved in education requires particular thought to be given to the contributions and roles of different members of the network. There appears to be agreement that teaching about partnership should reflect good partnership practice, although there is also recognition that delivery is time- and resource-intensive for all parties.
Key information from the knowledge review
The research review identified a number of different relationships involved in the teaching of partnership. The practice survey asked the broader question: Who should partnership in social work education involve? With this broader definition in mind, the research review initially identified a number of people involved in partnership working, at seven broad levels:
- social work student and user/carer
- student and educator/assessor
- educator/assessor and stakeholder, including users/carers, employers and practitioners
- higher-education institution and stakeholder
- social work student and student from another profession
- social work students with others on the same programme
- social work educators and academics from other disciplines.
As work on the practice survey developed it was recognised that conceptualising partnership as levels of relationships is limited because it is too linear. It did not take sufficient account of the complexities of the interlocking relationships involved in the teaching and learning of partnership and of the modelling of partnership which is such a significant part of social work education.
It is important to reiterate that learning about partnership should be broadly understood to include the processes of observing and learning by experience, which recognise that partnership work takes place throughout the broader course culture when students learn about the realities of partnership by being in the student role.
In terms of the narrower question of who contributes to the teaching of partnership, a more accurate representation of the interacting relationships involved in learning about partnership is suggested by the following diagram:
Diagram 1: Influences in teaching partnership work
Each contributor brings different experience to partnership teaching and, as the diagram suggests, each works in different combinations to meet a range of learning outcomes. The amount of involvement ranges along a continuum from making a contribution to a one-off teaching session to convening a complete module or co-teaching one or more modules at different stages of a course.
The involvement of people who use services and their carers
Courses are required to show that people who use services and their carers are involved in all aspects of social work education. Users and carers as co-trainers provide an introduction to the ‘real world’, and the ‘personal testimony’ approach, where people who use services use their experience of social work to inform student learning appears to be particularly important to students at the beginning of the course. (19) Students value these contributions and can experience them as pivotal. For some educators, though, there are questions about how to involve users at levels two and three of the programme, when providing personal testimony is not enough. In some cases this was managed by the educator linking theory and research and the user bringing their perspective from experience. This was felt by some respondents in the practice survey to be rather an unsatisfactory split, with the material from each side being difficult to integrate.
The examples of good teaching practice show that there are ways in which people using services can be more extensively involved at different levels. These examples still seem to be the exception and social work education has some way to go towards integrating users into teaching partnership across the whole curriculum.
The involvement of educators and practitioners from other professions
The most extensive examples of the involvement of other professions in teaching about partnership were found in those courses that offer interprofessional modules. These either involve a range of professionals offering individual sessions or co-management of individual modules across professional boundaries. However, there were examples where other professionals could contribute to student learning in different of ways. Some of these contributions were:
- offering different perspectives and experience
- bringing contrasting professional values
- providing opportunities to explore ethical dilemmas
- providing experience of different styles of teaching and learning
- looking critically at different approaches to and understanding of partnership in practice
- the opportunity to explore partnership work and its meaning in different professional contexts.
Such input may sharpen student understanding of the concept and enable the development of interprofessional partnership work.
The involvement of social work practitioners and other agency stakeholders
There is a longstanding tradition of practitioner and manager involvement in social work teaching, going back to before the Diploma in Social Work. The new degree has built on these relationships to further develop models of teaching. Practitioners and managers bring a range of perspectives and knowledge to classroom teaching, including:
- helping students to understand the realities of partnership working in practice
- contributing to the process of integrating theory, research and practice
- raising dilemmas and suggesting resolutions to partnership issues
- providing specific and local information about partnership relationships.
However, responsibility most frequently rests with the social work educator to ensure the material delivered is integrated and appropriate to the relevant level of the course. Although this sounds straightforward, teaching in partnership reflects the dilemmas of partnership working in practice. Central to this is the management of power and clarity of roles and responsibilities.