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Once it comes to social work, the importance of practical experience is undeniable. In this regard, the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Warwick offers practice learning placements in their Master program in Social Work that require students to delve deeper into the intricacies of their future profession by being deployed to the real work setting. The placements are designed to acquire the competences in critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, communication and decision-making.
There are two practice learning placements incorporated in a full-time 24-month Master program. Placements are organized within the first and the second years of the program and last 70 and 100 days respectively. Each placement is preceded with sessions on professional skills development which brief students on placement practicalities and the skills required for their successful completion.
To identify the most appropriate organizations for the placement, in the 1st year, students compile a practice placement profile that is reviewed by a Personal Tutor and then processed by a Practice Placement Coordinator. For the 2nd year, the same profile is complemented with yet another one which presents students’ reflections on their previous placement experience as well as their learning needs for the final placement. Both profiles serve as application forms and viewed by hosting agencies, which come from private, independent and voluntary sectors, as well as Warwickshire County Council, Coventry City Council and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.
The need in such experience for students is drawn from a growing concern raised by potential employers and their demand in ‘work-ready’ graduates. To shape such workforce, practice learning placements allow students to contextualize theories in practice, develop professional skills and build on employability capabilities. As explained by one of the program graduates, practice learning placement ‘makes learning real for [students]’, what eventually benefits employers and their potential employees. Additionally, the circulation of students at various placement hosting agencies broadens professional networks of both parties.
To ensure the continuity of the acquired competences at different stages of learning and practice, Professional Capabilities Framework, developed for continuing professional development, was taken as a baseline. In regard of the practical learning placement, there are 3 layers of competences to be demonstrated by students: prior the first placement (readiness for practice), after the first placement, and at the end of the program (after the second placement).
Readiness for practice is indicated by numerous categories, e.g. possessing basic communication skills, an ability to establish rapport with users, an ability to work in a team, willingness to learn from feedback and supervision, alongside with basic social work values, knowledge and skills. After their first placement experience, students are expected to demonstrate an ability to solve issues of a small-scale complexity. Eventually, graduates should be able to apply their knowledge and skills when working with a wider range of users, to address more complex situations, as well as to work autonomously and look for appropriate support, if needed.
This article is based on a case study originally written by Scott Revers (University of Warwick), developed as a part of the WEXHE Project.
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