ASSESSING SOCIAL WORK STUDENTS
The standards for the award of the social work degree are outcome statements that set
out what a student social worker must know, understand and be able to do to be
awarded the degree in social work. The National Occupational Standards for Social
Work set out what employers require social workers to be able to do on entering
employment. These standards form the basis of the assessment of competence in
practice. Social workers will be required to demonstrate competence across the full
range of standards before being awarded the degree. Practice is central to the new
degree, with academic learning supporting practice, rather than the other way round.
ASSESSMENT TASKS AND PAPERWORK FOR PRACTICE ASSESSORS
Using a range of methods will enable you to gain a clear picture of the student’s
progress and allow you to make an assessment of his/her ability and suitability to
practice. Suggested methods of assessment are:
Day to day observation/contact
Formal observation of practice
Feedback from colleagues
Feedback from other social work professionals
Feedback from other professionals
Feedback from service users
Student’s written work
Any other method appropriate to the student and situation
Your student should be encouraged to write reflective accounts of their work and
collect any other written evidence that demonstrates their ability to meet the national
Occupational Standards and keep this in a folder of evidence.
THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS
The overall aim of assessment is to assess the student’s level of ability and suitability
to practice i.e. competence. Ideas about competence are based on:
What the student brings to practice
What the student does and produces in practice
What the student achieves in practice
This can be broken down further and looked at in terms of input, process and outcome.
Individual knowledge and skills, personal attributes, degree of motivation i.e. ‘What
the student brings to the job’
Individual behaviours, tasks and procedures, contributions to group actions i.e.
‘Processes students undertake in the course of the job’
What the individual achieves i.e. ‘What the student achieves in the job’
All social work students must be assessed on their ability and suitability to practice.
A clear statement from the Department of Health is ‘Knowledge will only be assessed
in relation to practice.' That is to say theory (knowledge) must be taught within a
university setting and then applied, by the student, to practice. This transfer of
knowledge and skills to practice needs to be re-enforced by practice assessors.
The ability to reflect on self and on practice as an active participant in the practice
assessment process for both the student and the assessor is critical to effective
Some questions that will enable you and your student to reflect on self are:
How do I think about the world?
What are my biases and prejudices?
What do I want for myself?
Who do I like / not like?
What are my personality strengths and weaknesses?
How do I feel about certain things / people?
When endeavouring to work with and enable a student it is also useful to ask yourself:
Who is this person?
What has happened to them?
How do they see the world?
Why do they see the world as they do?
How do they act in the world?
What impact do these individuals have on others?
Within this framework you also need to ask yourself (either currently or
What information do I need to pay attention to?
How do I need to think about this information?
What am I proposing to do in practice?
Why am I proposing to do it?
When attempting to quantify and qualify your student’s learning gains, this checklist
may be useful in helping you to analyse and evaluate your student’s learning and
Description (what happened?)
Feelings (what were you/the student thinking and feeling?)
Evaluation (what was good and bad about the experience?)
Analysis (how can you/the student make sense of what happened?)
Conclusions (what alternatives did you/the student have?)
Action plan (what would you/the student do if it happened again?)
All students need to be given the opportunity to THINK AND DO, i.e. the
opportunity to apply theory (knowledge) to practice and to reflect on their practice to
enhance their knowledge and make links to theories taught in the university.
In order to assess a student effectively, what do you need to know?
Your job and the work of the agency:
You need to be clear about your own task, role and function in order to be able to
guide and support a student in the work allocated to them.
What the General Social Care Council requires of qualified social workers:
You need to become familiar with and understand the National Occupational
Standards for Social Workers (see Appendix One) and how student social workers are
required to provide evidence of competence. You also need to become familiar with
the GSCC Code of Conduct for Social workers.
How your student learns best:
Students learn at different paces and in different ways. Some students need to learn
by doing from the very beginning, others need to take time to watch, listen, think and
experiment slowly. Some want to run before they can walk, whilst others need a push
in the right direction. Some students will need more support than others and some
may need careful management. It will always be useful to explore with the student
how s/he thinks they learn best. Decisions about the type, quantity and complexity of
work allocated will need to be made by the practice assessor/supervisor once s/he has
gained some experience of the student.
How to identify evidence of competence:
Throughout the placement you will be observing, supervising and managing the
student and the work they will be undertaking. You will be setting tasks, allocating
work and agreeing the quality and standard the student should work to. Linking all of
this to the National Occupational Standards 6 key roles you will be able to assess how
the student is doing and agree with the student what level of competence they have
achieved. You will use all of your knowledge about your job and the role of the team.
All of your knowledge about all of the wider issues related to social work/social care
in assessing whether or not the student is achieving agreed or desirable outcomes.
You can also use others to help you with this process. Collaborative evidence from
other qualified social workers other professionals e.g Nurse, OT, CPN etc.
Remember that service users will be able to provide evidence of a student socials
The difference in levels of competence:
Sometimes expectations about the level of competence at which a student should
perform are unrealistic. For instance, a student may commence a final placement in a
statutory agency having completed a first placement in a voluntary agency. That
student may arrive with only basic classroom knowledge of statutory systems, formal
assessment and intervention procedures and recording/report writing skills.
Occupational standards will have been met but in other, perhaps more creative ways.
Working in a statutory agency will present a steep learning curve for her/him.
Sometimes students believe they are much more competent than they actually are.
This belief might be supported by the fact that the student has worked in an
unqualified social work role prior to coming on the course or has a different
professional qualification or first degree. Some students expect to be allocated a
caseload and undertake complex tasks long before they are ready to do so.