Recently, we were asked a series of questions from a number of student social workers from across the UK regarding their pending placement. They have been answered by an experienced practice educator (PE).
Why are you a practice educator?
Because I enjoy it! I’ve been a qualified social worker now since 2010 and I can still recall both my PEs. I was lucky in that both were fantastic in their chosen field; my first placement was with a disability service based in Lancaster and my second was with a Youth Offending Team.
Both PE’s promoted me to put into practice what I had learnt during the ‘academic’ stages of the course. I felt confident in my decision making because I was supported as a student.
So, when I became a social worker, I was keen to support students on placement; and it evolved from there. Personally, I really enjoy being a PE. I am passionate about supporting the next generation of social workers. I enjoy and value the enthusiasm they bring to teams. They see things differently and offer new approaches/solutions to working.
I learn a lot from students; such as the latest theories, approaches and research. For me, it’s a two-way process – they learn the skills of social work and I continue to develop my knowledge base.
Can you talk about the stresses of being a practice educator?
Overall, being a PE hasn’t been that stressful, when compared to ‘front-line’ social work. However, it’s an important role and one that I take seriously as it does carry significant responsibilities. So for me, the main stressor is when you are required to fail a student.
A student who is already on placement does not yet have a practice educator and doesn’t know when one will be found. Have you known this to happen before and what should they do?
I have come across it once before in that a PE took ill and so couldn’t start. But this is unusual.
Overall, my advice here would be; what has the placement said and have your sought advice from the Universities? How long have you been on placement? (see point 5 regarding some minimum ‘standards’ for supervision). I would ask for clarity in relation to how your learning needs are going to be met and how is reflective learning going to be promoted without a PE?
A student’s practice educator has told them that they’re going to be ‘hands off’ because they’re busy i.e. very little supervision. How do they figure out what this means before it turns into a problem?
No, I’ve not really experienced this and it is something I would never consider saying to any of my student social workers. Firstly, there’s ambiguity in the language. So, I would ‘nail down’ with the PE, what does ‘hands off’ mean?
As PEs we do have minimum requirements of support. For example, most Universities I work with suggest a minimum of 21 hours of supervision on a 70 days placement. This works out at usually one hour of supervision every week. Now, the specifics of this is somewhat negotiable. For example, I supervise my students once every fortnight for two hours unless they specify weekly sessions.
Is it normal to have a complete crisis of confidence during final placement?
Yes, I think at some stage most student social workers doubt their capabilities as a social worker. So, please don’t think you’re alone here, as placements can feel a little overwhelming on occasions.
But I would ask; what has been/is the trigger for this crisis in confidence? Was/is it practice related? And have you sought advice and guidance from your PE?
In order to move forward, I would suggest reflecting on your journey as a student social worker so far. For example, reflect on when you first started placement and compare it to where you are now in the ‘social work journey’. Do you think your skills have developed? If so, what are they? And what areas would you like to develop further. This will help offer some clarity. You can even compare them to the PCF (final placement). If you can evidence with relevant examples of work you have achieved, then great. If not, try and be more proactive in day to day work tasks.
But remember, as social workers it is impossible to know everything. The key is knowing where to find the information!
How an off and on site PE works and what are their expectations of the student?
- Off-site Practice Educator is a qualified and HCPC registered social worker that facilitated via ‘long-arming’
- On-site Practice Educator is a qualified and HCPC registered social worker that is based within the team you are on placement with.
- On-site Supervisor is an unqualified worker.
An Off-site Practice Educator is used when there no available On-site Practice Educator. Overall, the expectations are the same in that they complete all supervision sessions (usually 21 hours for 70 day placements), observations and reports.
Is it only appropriate to have peer/group supervision?
In short, no!
Now don’t get me wrong, peer supervision is a great form of learning within social work – I’m a huge advocate of its use. However, it should never be seen as a replacement for one to one supervision. Supervision is personal in that it should focus on three elements; learning and development, support and line management. This can’t be done (or achieved successfully) if sessions are in groups.
Peer supervision should be completed in conjunction with; not instead of!