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The following is a guest article from The University of Manchester’s short series on MA Social Work, which has covered everything from what it’s like to study from an international student’s perspective to the kinds of student support you’ll receive and even the University of Manchester’s reputation as a whole.
Katherine Almond is about to enter her second and final year: in the fourth and final instalment, she talks us through the kind of theory and practical skills-based training you receive whilst studying on the master’s, how this has helped her on placement and will prepare her for becoming a fully qualified social worker…
Upon starting the first year of the MA course, the structure is split between academic teaching hours within the university and your first placement. Teaching runs from September until January and your first 70-day placement runs from around February until June.
In the first term, the teaching is split into several modules, taught through formal lectures and workshops. One of these modules is ‘Practice Learning and Professional Development’ which runs from September to January and focuses specifically on skills preparation.
20-day skills course
However, when returning from the Christmas break, all other teaching ceases and students undergo a 20-day skills course in January, which gives students an opportunity to develop their practical skills before beginning their first placement in February.
This module is taught using various methods and strategies to give you both theoretical and practical opportunities to develop some initial skills crucial for your first placement. These include lectures, seminars, workshops and simulation exercises, as well as meeting service users and carers to discuss their role in various areas of social work.
In terms of practical preparation, there are several simulation rooms within the University, such as ‘the home environment’, the ‘hospital wing’ and sometimes we even get to use mock courtrooms! In these spaces, students are given the opportunity to practice with service users (who are actually actors employed by the University simply playing a role), conduct assessments and look at case management as well.
These simulation exercises are great for giving students a first real go at taking on the role and practical duties of a social worker in a safe environment where they are overseen by the teaching staff who can give you guidance and constructive feedback.
I found these sessions really useful as it allowed me to look at how I was interacting with service users and identify the things I was doing well as well as what I needed to improve on. This definitely helped me on placement when meeting real service users as I had already had the semi-authentic experience in the simulation rooms.
On this module, we also had the chance to meet groups of service users and carers on a few occasions. During this time, we had a chance to chat with them and understand their experiences with social work. It gave me a chance to see both the positives and the negatives, informing my own practice going forward, as well as gaining more experience in dialogue and just being more comfortable chatting openly and honestly with service users and carers.
Simulated ‘busy office day’
During the January skills days, there is also a simulated ‘busy office day’ which mimics a busy day in a real social work office. We undertook several tasks which practitioners encounter daily, such as prioritising incoming work, taking urgent safeguarding referrals; creating referrals for service users, completing a case record and undertaking a simulated ‘duty visit’. Here is a photo of my course mates and I having a much-deserved celebration in the Student’s Union after surviving a busy day at the office!
Social Work ‘speed-dating’
Another way you develop your skillset in first year is by meeting current practitioners who work in various areas of social work. We did a few types of sessions but my favourite was the ‘speed-dating’ one. We were split into small groups and had 5 different social workers chat to us for 20 minutes about their area of social work, focusing on the service user assessments they undertake with and how they go about conducting them.
I met social workers in working in mental health, frontline children and families; hospital discharge, fostering, learning disabilities teams and learnt about many of the key assessments they undertake, such the assessment for fostering care applicants.
From these discussions, we were able to gain an insight into how to have honest and open conversations with service users and, equally, how to have difficult conversations during assessments, all the while keeping the relationship professional.
I hope this blog has given you a brief but helpful overview of the kinds of work and skills preparation you’ll be doing in the first year of your MA in Social Work. Hopefully, this will help you feel more prepared for going into your first placement and build a strong foundation for your future career in social work!