In March 2020, when the UK’s COVID-19 pandemic lockdown restrictions were first imposed, social work student practice learning opportunities were suspended in Scotland. The SSSC introduced temporary contingency arrangements, including enabling the potential inclusion of an element of technology enhanced virtual learning as part of the national requirement for social work students to undertake 200 days of practice learning during their degree programme.
Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the west of Scotland, facing a considerable regional shortfall in practice learning opportunities, opted to collaborate to develop the Advanced Skills Module with the support of Learning Network West (LNW).
The 13-week online programme was designed to provide students with opportunities for authentic, simulated learning of advanced practice skills. Student learning was supported by HEI course tutors and 30 independent practice educators recruited by LNW, who supervised and assessed students in small ‘bubbles’ of four to five students.
They gained approval from the SSSC for this temporary contingency arrangement, enabling students to gain credit for 40 days of practice learning on successful completion of the ASM, to be subsequently consolidated by 120 days’ placement learning in the workplace.
The evaluation aimed to assess and determine:
- the enablers and barriers to the ASM’s successful delivery, and priorities for further development of the module
- whether the pilot was implemented in accordance with its agreed learning outcomes, meeting relevant regulatory requirements, and the Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE)
- the extent of equivalence between the ASM’s practice learning opportunities and 40 days of placement learning
- the potential of the module to support future learning in social work education in Scotland.
The Social Work Education Partnership and the SSSC commissioned an independent evaluation of a practice learning pilot. The Scottish Government provided funding and the contract was procured and monitored by the SSSC. The study’s objective was identifying the processes, outcomes and opportunities generated by the module’s pilot presentation. The independent evaluation was carried out by a team of experienced, Scotland-based social workers, practice educators, university educators, managers and researchers.
The SSSC and SWEP partners welcome the range of recommendations, which are under consideration, as we continue exiting COVID-19 contingency measures to support programmes this year and plan for the future.