The quality of practice placements for students is critical to raising standards in social work education and delivering our vision of a workforce of well trained, competent and confident Social Workers who can meet the challenges of practice. To support this we have developed the Practice Educator Consultant (PEC) role to act as a bridge between universities and local authorities to ensure students are provided with the best practice placement experience. PECs are working to create dynamic learning environments providing in-depth opportunities for students to reflect upon and explore practice. We spoke to two of the Partnership’s PECs, Katy Hamer and Ruth Cooling, to find out more about the role:-
Katy Hamer is the PEC for Calderdale Childrens. She has a background in Children’s Social Care where she worked as a Practice Manager in the Children Looked after Team.
Ruth Cooling is the PEC for Kirklees Adults. She has a background in Adult Mental Health Social Work and worked independently as an off-site Practice Educator for 7 years.
Why did you apply for the PEC role?
Katy: I have always enjoyed working with students, supporting them to develop their knowledge and skills. I like being creative when it comes to thinking of the different learning opportunities. The PEC role seemed to be a natural progression for me and a challenge which I wanted to embrace; to try and be part of a change in culture amongst Practice Educators and students.
Ruth: I previously worked in a university practice learning team and as a placement and academic tutor and felt the PEC role draws together all my knowledge and experience.I wanted to utilise this to facilitate practice learning and promote excellence in placement provision within local authorities.
What is the PEC role and how does it work in your Local Authority?
Katy: My role is unique and varied and I am lucky to work with Practice Educators, students, various teams and academic professionals. I work alongside the university creating working relationships with academic colleagues. I deliver some content on the Practice Educator course to develop and enhance their skills by using real life examples and introducing tools they can use.
Within Calderdale Council I work with students to enhance their placement experience by considering their preference, skills and interests to make a better placement decision when matching. I offer topic based support groups, focus on “hands on learning” to make their learning in university and placement real. I identify and facilitate learning opportunities such as discrete pieces of work in other agencies or teams within the local authority and partner agencies. This allows the student to develop their skills and offers those teams a chance to “sample” what having a student may be like, hence creating new placements in the future.
I also support Practice Educators with focused support groups, 1-1 support and assistance or advice with any issues in placement. In addition I manage a pod/team of students.
Ruth: The PEC role is broad with student placements being central to our work. I work with the universities and get to know the students and academic staff. I am involved in student recruitment, student placement induction and also teach on the Practice Educator course.
Within Kirklees Council I support the placement process by quality assuring placement provision, arranging matching events for Practice Educators, Work Place supervisors and students to talk about placements, co-ordinate information and match students to placements. I continue this by supporting students, Practice Educators and Work Based Supervisors throughout the placement. I am also Practice Educator for several students in each university cohort.
What does an average day involve?
Katy: In this role the week can vary significantly. I work alongside my students, making management decisions and undertaking supervisions. I hold regular student pod meetings where we explore a theory or PCF domain in more detail so that students reflect on what underpins their practice. I spend time matching students by working with colleagues in workforce development, the university, and social workers to ensure placements offer experience of statutory social work and meet the student’s learning needs.
I run topic based student and PE support groups, so spend time reading, preparing and creating presentations sometimes alongside social workers who co-deliver. I support students to deliver presentations to the group about their placement and learning which are observed by their Practice Educator. Within the PE support group we share best practice and I offer support and advice to Practice Educators with queries or questions and provide guidance on how to best manage a variety of issues.
I attend university meetings and deliver on the Practice Educator course, using different tools and activities for PEs to consider when working with their students. I support students and Practice Educators in meetings with the university to find a positive outcome to issues and concerns.
Ruth: An average day could involve supervision with a student or group of students. We may liaise with PEs, share tools to use with students and offer support and advice particularly with concerns about student progression. Then we may facilitate student support sessions or a PE support group; provide one-to-one support to students and PEs if required. Next we may attend a meeting at the university for planning or evaluating placement provision. We may also teach a session on the Practice Educator course. We might then spend time gathering information and updating records on Practice Education qualifications, currency of practice and placement provision. Then there is writing up supervision minutes and finally time spent on wider development work within the partnership such as planning for our TP Practice Educator conference or developing new TP Placement Protocols.
What difference is the role making for the partnership?
Katy: Practice education and the student experience have been enhanced with more structure and planning. There are now local authority social work qualified practitioners with recent experience, working in collaboration with the universities, students and Practice Educators. It has improved working relationships between the Local Authority and the universities resulting in improved matching of placements, enhanced Practice Educator courses, improved processes, sharing of good practice, higher quality placements and improved support for students.
Ruth: The role is enabling positive working relationships between university and local authority staff; with increased information sharing and understanding of the processes around placement provision in each organisation. This has improved communication between partners around placements and student progress, which is beneficial when there are concerns as action plans can be put in place. The PECs getting to know students also means placement matching is more informed.
The PEC involvement in the Practice Educator course has benefitted the partnership as Practice Educator training aligns with current practice. PECs are providing better support systems for PEs and management of quality in placements for the PECs. In the new academic year we plan to increase PEC involvement with students during the preparation stage for placement so that students beginning their placement are already aware of the local authority processes, systems and expectations.
What do you enjoy most about the PEC role?
Katy: I enjoy working to enhance and add value to the student experience; getting to know the students, matching them to placements and seeing them develop in confidence and skills. I also like working in partnership with social work teams and external partners, especially in areas I am unfamiliar with, as we have been able to provide wider learning opportunities for the students enabling them to step outside of their placement to sample other areas of social work. Managing a pod of students also keeps my knowledge and practice current so I can continue to use this when working with students about current issues facing social workers.
Ruth: I enjoy the variety in the PEC role and working across the local authority and the university. It’s great getting to know practitioners in the council, what different teams do and can offer students and seeing the students develop skills and apply knowledge over the course of the placements. Spending time in the university and being able to share knowledge during the PE teaching and learning from academic colleagues is also enjoyable and beneficial for my own personal development.
Find out more about the support available and your Practice Educator Consultant.