Admissions and Curriculum Enhancements within the South-West London & Surrey Teaching Partnership

Our Teaching Consultants and Service User Group working together on admissions processes

Teaching Partnerships were developed by the Department for Education (DfE) following Croisdale-Appleby’s 2014 independent review of social work education – the principle aim being to improve the teaching on pre and post qualifying social work courses by strengthening the links between Higher Education Institutes (HEI) and Local Authority (LA) partners to ensure that social work education is closely linked to direct practice.

The South West London and Surrey Teaching Partnership – Developing Together –  successfully bid for funding as part of the third phase of Teaching Partnerships in April 2018. Since this time there has been a flurry of activity working with our Local Authority partners; Merton, Surrey, Sutton, Kingston, Achieving For Children, Croydon, and Richmond and Wandsworth, along with our HEI partner Kingston University, and Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) partners National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and Welcare. Overseeing and driving forward the vision of the ‘Developing Together’ partnership are the Programme Lead and Social Work Lead, Libbi Aldred and Sue Lansley, who, following their appointment in October 2018, have been responsible for ensuring that the key aims are achieved. In this blog we have looked at success and some of the challenges in two key areas; student selection processes and the development of the teaching curriculum on pre-qualifying social work courses.

Student Selection

As part of the changes to student selection processes it was agreed by the partnership that  the entry requirements for students on the BA in Social Work would be raised from 112 to 120 UCAS points in the hope that this would see improved academic abilities in students accepted and thus a higher calibre of social worker once qualified. Role plays and group exercises were also introduced with service users and practitioners being considerably more involved in the assessment process. Whilst these changes have identified academically able students who have been offered places on the course, there are also some unforeseen difficulties.

There has been a significant drop in the number of students applying for places on social work courses nationally and this is mirrored at Kingston University. Whilst wanting entry standards to be maintained, Universities need to ensure that there are enough students on the course so that it is financially viable and this may require entry requirements to be lowered. These dilemmas are part of the discussions held in the student selection meetings and it will not be until the clearing period is upon us in August that we will have a clearer idea of what entry requirements have been for the social work courses for the 2019 student intake.

Those attending the student selection days have provided positive feedback around the interviews and roleplays, however it is clear that whilst the bar has been raised on course entry requirements, we will not be able to see if there has been an improvement in academic achievements until the end of students’ teaching. Looking further ahead, understanding whether higher academic ability will translate into an improved calibre of social work practitioner may not be seen until five plus years from the time of the current intake.

Teaching Consultants

One of the most exciting and tangible areas of development for the Developing Together Teaching Partnership has been the recruitment of Teaching Consultants. These practitioners from our partner agencies are involved in the teaching of students alongside academics, as well as supporting in reviewing modules on social work courses to ensure that they are being informed by contemporary practice. After interviewing over seventy social workers for the Teaching Consultant roles, thirty four were appointed with a broad range of specialisms and expertise in social work practice. Training was delivered by the University around the planning and delivery of teaching and assessing students and research methodologies. This was gratefully received by the Teaching Consultants who have fed back that the role has invigorated their enthusiasm for practice and is a key area of development for them.  The MA module ‘Applied Social Work Practice’ taught by senior lecturer, Maria Brent, saw the fantastic achievement of Teaching Consultants being part of the delivery of every session, bringing examples from practice to the classroom and ensuring that teaching is current around law and policy. The feedback from students as to the most helpful elements of the module has been extremely powerful:

“different practitioners sharing their own experiences”

“the ideas to bring different people in to run the sessions opened up a wide range of experiences”

“I found the lectures and afternoon sessions interesting and also enjoyed the teaching [consultants]”

“teaching partnerships v. interesting”

There have been a few challenges alongside the success as it was agreed by senior leaders that Teaching Consultants would have 10% of their time freed for the role. This has proved to be difficult as Teaching Consultants juggle a challenging day job with their role at the University. Although, this has not dampened their spirits and many are keen to be involved and see how the role is developing their skills and knowledge in the training and development of our future social workers.

So it would seem that Teaching Consultants are here to stay as part of Kingston University’s delivery of teaching – all those involved academics, students and Teaching Consultants can see the value of having current practice being taught by a social worker who is sharing every day practice examples. Our senior managers are keen to see how the Teaching Consultant role is developing their own workforce and contributing to the retention of these experienced social workers. Again, time will tell whether the input of Teaching Consultants in the curriculum will see an improvement in student social workers’ knowledge and skills when they embark on their placements and then into their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) role.

If you’re reading this and are interested in the work of our Teaching Partnership, please keep an eye on our website where you can find details of upcoming events, blogs, vacancies, and ways that you can get involved.

Our next blog will look at the activity being driven by our ‘Readiness for Practice’ stream of work and how our Practice Education Team are working with partners to improve statutory placement provision and the quality of placements for students on Kingston University’s BA and MSW in Social Work courses.

Authors: Libbi Aldred – Programme Lead & Sue Lansley – Social Work Lead