How to promote professional competence and identity in social work students

Audrey Roulston, Helen Cleak, Anthea Vreugdenhil

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Background: Field placement experiences are frequently cited in the literature as having most impact on a student social worker’s learning as they emerge into the profession. Placements are integral to the development of practice competence and in acquiring a sense of social work identity. However research on the effectiveness of educational strategies used to deliver learning and assess competence during placement are scarce. Internationally, pressures to meet increasing numbers of student enrolments have raised concerns about the potential impact on the quality of placements and practice teaching provided. These pressures may also impact on the appropriate transfer and application of learning to the student’s practice.
Aim: To identify learning activities rated most useful for developing professional practice competence and professional identity of social work students.
Method: Data were collected from 396 students who successfully completed their first or final placement during 2013-2014 and were registered at one of two Universities in Northern Ireland. Students completed a self-administered questionnaire which covered: placement setting and service user group; type of supervision model; frequency of undertaking specific learning activities; who provided the learning; which activities contributed to their developing professional competence and identity and their overall satisfaction.
Our findings confirmed the centrality of the supervisory relationship as the vehicle to enable quality student learning. Shadowing others, receiving regular supervision and receiving constructive feedback were the tasks that students reported as ‘most useful’ to developing professional identity, competence and readiness to practice. Disturbingly over 50% of students reported that linking practice to the professional codes, practice foci and key roles were not valued as ‘useful’ in terms of readiness to practice, feeling competent and developing professional social work identity. These results offer strong insights into how both the University and the practice placement environment needs to better prepare, assess and support students during practice placements in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 05 Apr 2016
Event11th International Conference on Practice Teaching and Field Education - Europa Hotel Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 04 Apr 201606 Apr 2016


Conference11th International Conference on Practice Teaching and Field Education
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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