University of Sussex
Finch,_Johanna_Louise.pdf (1.56 MB)

Can't fail, won't fail - why practice assessors find it difficult to fail social work students: a qualitative study of practice assessors' experiences of assessing marginal or failing social work students

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:23 authored by Johanna Louise Finch
The thesis focuses on the issue of the assessment of social work students in practice learning settings and draws on multi-disciplinary and international literature. The dissertation considers why practice assessors find it so difficult to fail social work students and what might get in the way of failing a student. The rationale for such an exploration concerns the relatively limited literature from both social work and other disciplines where there is a practice-learning element and what limited literature there is often appears under-theorised. A further rationale to explore this area of professional practice concerns the author?s own experiences as a social work practitioner, practice assessor and social work educator. Located within a qualitative framework, the methodological influences on the research include: ethnography, life story and narrative approaches as well as practitioner-research paradigms; although it is clear that as the research progressed, practitioner-research paradigms became more influential. Based on twenty in-depth interviews with both new and experienced practice assessors, the research utilises the voice centred relational method to analyse the data. From this narrative process a number of stories emerge, including; “The Angry Story”, “The Dramatic Event Story”, “The Guilty Story”, “The Idealised Learner Story”, “The Internalising Failure So I Couldn?t Always Failure Them Story”, “The Lack of Reflection Story” and the “What is my Role/Assessment Story”. Psychodynamic frameworks have been employed to theorise and make sense of these various stories as well as transactional analytical perspectives. Differences in approach to practice assessing are also considered, most notably around how practice assessors? conceptualise, make use of and understand the assessment process. It is also clear that disability, gender, ethnicity, class and sexuality also impact on the assessment process. For some practice assessors, ultimately the evidence of students' competence appears to rest on hope. It appears that some practice assessors are still giving students “the benefit of the doubt” a phrase coined thirty years ago by Brandon and Davies (1979) in a wide ranging but still very relevant study of the assessment of social work students in practice settings. Practice assessors thus find it difficult to fail students because of: Their lack of reflection about the intense emotions raised; The internalisation of these intense feelings; Lack of support from colleagues, the Higher Education Institute (HEI) and tutors; Lack of understanding about the process of assessment; Difficulties in managing the multifaceted role of the practice educator including the lack of acknowledgment of the gate keeping function.The dissertation concludes that although practice assessors have a very clear understanding of what behaviours might hypothetically cause a student to fail the practice learning opportunity, the reality is that not all practice assessors go on to fail the student. The high emotionality often associated with the process of managing a potentially failing student on placement often obscures the process. The thesis argues the need for practitioners to consider the intense feelings that arise in difficult practice learning opportunity situations in a more reflective, contained and considered manner. A number of ways forward have been suggested in light of these findings, including the need to pilot a reflective toolkit for practice assessors and students alike.


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  • Social Work and Social Care Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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