The learning, teaching and assessment of partnership work in social work education

Why teach partnership work?

See also: Good practice examples

Partnership work is a necessity in practice, driven by policy, legislation and guidance. Despite its high profile at this level, it receives no specific mention in the National Occupational Standards for social work. However, there is consensus among educators that partnership is a core element of the curriculum. The main questions appear to relate to the extent to which students are able to identify partnership learning from university and practice learning in order to apply this to practice.

Key information from the knowledge review

Three key reasons emerge for teaching partnership work, although the rationale for doing so is rarely explicitly stated in programme documentation.

1. Philosophical commitment

There is a strong commitment to partnership work in social work education, grounded in a philosophy and value base at the core of practice. Partnerships required for the Diploma in Social Work,(4) the previous social work qualification, reinforced this view. The involvement of people who use services and their carers has gradually emerged since the 1980s, supported by social changes such as a greater emphasis on rights and an awareness of social exclusion.(5) Some educators in the research review made specific links between partnership and anti-oppressive practice. They did this in three specific ways:

2. Government policy

Governmental policy in relation to public sector services firmly endorses the importance of partnership work within and between services, and with users and carers. In the early years of New Labour the focus was on interprofessional partnership practice with health professions. Since the Children Act (2004) the emphasis appears to be shifting to children’s services, with an accompanying shift in the discourse from ‘partnership’ to ‘integration’. Practitioners commented on some of these issues in a focus group. They identified partnership as essential because of the nature of organisations. One commented:

Collaborative working is required by government. Integrated teams require interdisciplinary working, interdisciplinary teams need partnership.

3. Regulatory requirement

The UK regulatory context for partnership work in the social work degrees introduced in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland between 2003 and 2005 refers to partnership work in different ways.

UK regulatory context for partnership work: United Kingdom

Code of Practice for Social Care Workers (2002) - ‘Working and respecting the roles and expertise of workers from other agencies and working in partnership with them.’ (6:7) Collaboration with people who use services and their carers is implied.

Quality Assurance Authority Benchmark Statement for Social Work (1999) (currently under review) - Partnership is implied in requirements for interdisciplinary professional collaboration and engagement with users, carers and other stakeholders. It is referred to specifically in the context of effective interagency collaboration.

National Occupational Standards for social work (2002) - Partnership is implied in collaborative working with individuals, families, carers, groups and communities, in working to develop and maintain effective working relationships and working within multi-disciplinary and multi-organisational teams.

UK regulatory context for partnership work: England

Department of Health Requirements for Social Work Training (2002) - ‘All social workers will learn and be assessed on partnership working’ (p. 16).

UK regulatory context for partnership work: Wales

Raising Standards. The Qualification Framework for the Degree in Social Work in Wales (2003) Appendix: All Wales Framework for Assessment in a Social Work Degree - Based on the National Occupational Standards and the Quality Assurance Authority benchmarking statement, the framework refers to partnership in terms of the development and demonstration of skills and knowledge. For example: Levels 1 and 2 students are required to demonstrate knowledge of inter-relationships between social services and other agencies.

UK regulatory context for partnership work: Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Framework Specification (2003) - The National Occupational Standards are adapted to respond to the Northern Ireland context. Partnership is mentioned in relation to requirements during the degree and at the point of qualification. For example: knowledge of interprofessional working, working in partnership with colleagues and provider organisations and reviewing in partnership with people who use services.

UK regulatory context for partnership work: Scotland

The Framework for Social Work Education in Scotland Standards in Social Work Education (2003, revised 2006) - Partnership is specifically mentioned throughout the framework in terms of underpinning knowledge, transferable skills and competence. For example: working in partnership with people who use services, carers, partner organisations and colleagues in other organisations. Students must understand factors leading to effective interprofessional working. The whole of Standard 6 involves working in partnership, to help individuals achieve and maintain greater independence.

The UK regulatory context for partnership work

As the regulatory requirements suggest, the overall impression from these frameworks is that partnership is more often implied than specifically identified as a requirement for good practice. The exceptions to this are the Scottish Standards, which refer specifically to partnership working throughout their requirements. For example:

Although the National Occupational Standards (2002) do not make explicit reference to 'partnership' it is hard to imagine meeting the required competencies without an awareness of the qualities of partnership already explored. For example, effective partnership working is a key factor when meeting the following competencies:

Similarly the General Social Care Council Code of Practice for Social Care Workers (2002) requires social workers to maintain professional standards by:

Whether explicitly and implicitly these frameworks require partnership working to be at the heart of social work practice.

See also: Why teach partnership work? Good practice examples