Failing Students

This week, Community Care prints an article about pressures on universities to pass students who might not ‘meet the grade’.

This has always been a concern of mine as there is an incentive on universities to ensure students graduate rather than ensure that high quality social workers are pumped out into the ‘system’. The needs are conflicting as a student can be very able academically (or not.. )  and that does not necessarily imply good practice but for as long as the degree in itself is the gateway to qualified status, the decisions are left in the hands of the universities.

Practice placements exist to ensure that it is not only on academic levels that students are assessed however there are well-documented difficulties with placement and there is not necessarily an equality of experiences between students at the same university and the way they have experiences and assessments on placement.

This is particularly heavy on my mind at the moment as I will imminently be taking a student from one of the local universities into my work place and have turned my thoughts to preparation for this.

I know from a colleague’s experience how difficult it has been to try and ‘fail’ students who have not met the standards expected to practice on a final placement and the practice assessors who have been in my team, have been leaned on heavily to keep giving more and more chances to students they felt were not achieving well enough.

I’m all for second chances  but some people are not cut out for the profession and trying to force too leeway into the framework of assessment does noone any favours.

The article presented in Community Care draws parallels with the Teacher Training programmes where

‘The Training and Development Agency for Schools, which funds teacher training, has chosen to remove any incentives universities might have for retaining students who were not likely to pass the course or become competent teachers … this should be the same for social work.’

Personally, I think the proposed year following qualification in which newly graduated social workers will have to practice will help in this area. I think that the universities have not been able to be trusted with the process of training social workers – especially as concerns about appropriate placements have grown. If social work students cannot spend substantial time with social workers ‘on the job’ during their courses, then they must be compelled to subsequently.

Noone wins with a dilution of the quality of entrance to the profession and as well as rigorous academic standards, a certain amount of confidence, assertiveness and thoughtfulness is required.

If there is anything that will raise the status of the profession – something which the Task Force seems to be particularly focussed on – it is a good quality, effective workforce who are able not only to advocate on behalf of service users but also able to advocate on behalf of themselves and their profession when they see poor systems in place.

6 thoughts on “Failing Students

  1. For registration as a clinical scientist, you can do one of two things (entry to training is with a relevent first degree):
    4-year route: two years’ approved training (including an MSc) + two years’ supervised further training / practice
    6-year route: six years’ supervised training / practice (including an MSc).

    So most of our pre-registration training is at the coalface – our training is hospital-based with university placements, as it were. But we’re a much smaller profession. It’s interesting to consider the different models, and their advantages and disadvantages.

  2. As a more experienced member of staff told me when I prepared to mark my first assignment for university students – universities are not charities. A small number of students will have a good reason for needing to be cut some slack (illness, bereavement), the rest, well, if they don’t do well enough to pass, they fail, and that’s it.

    Take copious notes, every day. Then you will be in a position to back up your verdict, whatever it is.

  3. To be honest, that sounds like a good system, Susan. It’s long but I like the idea of supervised practice at the ‘coalface’.
    And excellent advice, DeeDee!

  4. As a final year MA student I just want to say how difficult it is to PASS! 🙂 Several of my classmates, and myself, have scored below 50% on some essays in the last 2 years. It’s really difficult to make the grade.

    However, I’m not sure a BA degree should exist. I don’t think <21 year olds have the life experience that 21+ have. That's just from a personal perspective, though.

    Since I've already suffered through 2 years and am on my final year placement now I'm not sure I welcome any kind of post-qualifying qualification. Do they need an excuse to not pay me for ANOTHER year? 🙂

    Other NHS funded professions get paid for their placement year… training social workers get nothing except a £6000 bursary which I can assure you is very difficult to live off.

  5. I teach social work university students in the U.S., and this is something I encounter in the classroom, too. Some students have a real sense of entitlement regarding grades, and it’s not only concerning to me in terms of the difficulties regarding assessing their actual preparation for professional practice but also for what it says about their ability to handle ‘setbacks’ in the field, too. And many students seem to expect precise hoops to jump through, in order to earn grades with which they’re satisfied, when I want to see their critical thinking and ability to stretch their minds.

  6. Thanks for the comments!

    FOS – I can appreciate that. My thoughts were that the post-qualifying would be PAID!

    Melinda – it’s always interesting for me to try to understand how the US system works and it’s a very good point that you make. Social Work needs a solid academic base but it also needs an ability to think critically and beyond what is put in front of you.

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