The practice educator lens: Bringing student practice into focus using the direct observation


  • Chrissie Edmonds Sheffield Hallam University



This paper is based on the presentation given at the 11th International Conference in Belfast (April 2016). The article explores the experience of the direct observation from the practice educator perspective with students undertaking practice placements as part of the pre-qualifying programmes for Social Work within England. It seeks to explore some of the issues present within the direct observation as a tool ‘for’ and ‘of’ assessment and how fundamental it can be to ascertain competence within a real experience for students working with service users. It raises the question of what is a ‘good enough’ direct observation from a service user perspective and how this informs the recommendation of a pass of the practice placement. It proposes that there are some latent challenges in setting a benchmark within the direct observation however doing so would allow a clearer focus on the assessment process.

Keywords: practice education; direct observation; placements; assessment; service users

Author Biography

Chrissie Edmonds, Sheffield Hallam University

Senior Lecturer in Social Work


Andrews, M. and Roberts, D. (2003) Supporting student nurses learning in and through clinical practice: the role of the clinical guide. Nurse Education Today, 23, 474-481

Alinier, G. and Hunt, B. and Gordon, R. (2004) Determining the value of simulation in nurse education: study design and initial results. Nurse Education in practice, 4 200-207

Barraclough, J (1998) Changes to the Dip SW: One step forward, three steps back. Journal of Practice Teaching, 1, 2, 23-30

Bogo, M. and McKnight, K. (2006) Clinical supervision in social work: A review of the research literature. The Clinical Supervisor, 24, 49-67

Brandon, J. and Davies, M. (1979) The limits of competence in social work: The assessment of marginal students in social work education. British Journal of Social Work, 9, 295-347

Butler, P. (2014) Outsourcing: government advisors finesse child protection ‘sales pitch’ [Accessed 15 July 2016 at]

Cahill , H. (1996) A qualitative analysis of student nurses experiences of mentorship. Journal of Advanced Nursing 24, 791-799

Carpenter, J. and Shardlow, S. and Patsios, D. and Wood, M. (2015) Developing the confidence and competence of Newly Qualified Child and Family Social Workers in England: Outcomes of a National Programme. British Journal of Social Work, 45 153-176

Cowburn, M. and Nelson, P. and Williams, J. (2000) Assessment of social work students: standpoint and strong objectivity. Social Work Education, 19, 6, 628-637

Davis, P. and Liddiard, H. and McMillan, T. (2002) Neuropsychological deficits and opiate abuse. Drug and Alcohol Dependency, 67 105-108

Department of Health (2002) Requirements for social work training. London: DH

Doel, M. and Shardlow, S. (2005) Modern Social Work Practice Teaching and Learning in Practice Settings. Aldershot: Ashgate

Dominelli, L. (2009) Introducing Social Work. Cambridge : Polity

Draper, J. (2015) Ethnography principles, practice and potential. Nursing Standard, 29, 36-41

Edwards, C. (2003) The involvement of service users in the assessment of Diploma in Social Work students on practice placements. Social Work Education, 22, 4, 341-349

Finch, J. (2010) Can’t fail, won’t fail- why practice assessors find it difficult to fail social work students: a qualitative study of practice assessors experience of assessing marginal or failing social work students. Doctoral Thesis: University of Sussex

Finch, J. and Taylor, I. (2013) Failing to fail? Practice educator’s emotional experience of assessing failing social work students. Social Work Education, 32, 2 244-258

Franklin, B. and Parton, N. Social Work (2015) The Media and Public Relations. Abingdon: Routledge

HCPC. (2012) Standards of Profiency. [Accessed 5 July 2016 at]

Heron, G. and Lerpiniere, J. and Church, S. (2010) Portfolios and Practice Based Learning; A student perspective. Journal of Practice Teaching, 10, 1, 5-26

Howe, D. (1998) Relationship based thinking and practice in social work. Journal of Social Work Practice, 16, 2, 45-56

Humphrey, C. (2007) Observing students in practice: Through the looking glass and beyond. Social Work Education, 26, 7, 723-726 [Accessed 15 May 2016 at]

Irwin, M. (2014) Back to Basics: A Skill-Based Approach to Assessing Social Work Students within Directly-Observed Practice. Field Scholar, 4.2, 1-18 [Accessed 26 April 2016 at]

Kemp, E. (2001) Observing practice as participant observation. Social Work Education, 20, 5, 527-538 [Accessed 7 July 2016 at]

LaFrance, J. and Gray, E. and Herbert, M. (2004) Gatekeeping for professional social work practice. Social Work Education, 23, 3, 325-340

Le Riche, P. and Tanner, K. (1996) The way forward: Developing an equality model of observation for social work education and practice Issues. Social Work Education, 16, 2, 3-14

Luft, J. and Ingram, H. (1955) The Johari Window: A graphic model for interpersonal relations. University of California Training Lab

McNicoll, A. (2016) Sharon Shoesmith on Baby P, blame and social works’ climate of fear [Accessed 22 May 2016 at]

Moriarty, J. and Manthorpe, J. and Stevens, M. And Hussein, S. (2011) Making the transition: Comparing research on newly qualified social workers with other professions. British Journal of Social Work, 41, 1340- 1356

Moulding, N. and Buchanan, F. and Hand, T. (2016) How good is good enough? Exploring social workers conception of preparedness for practice. Social Work Education, 35, 414-429

Ornstein, T. and Iddon, J. and Baldacchino, A. and Sahakian, B. and London, M. Everitt, B. Robbins, T. (2000) Profiles of cognitive dysfunction in chronic amphetamine and heroin abusers. Neuropsychopharmacology, 23 (2), 113 -126

OFSTED. (2012- 2013) Social Care Annual Report [Accessed 11 August 2016 at]

Pidd, H. (2016) Guardian Report Child exploitation ‘normal’ in parts of Greater Manchester [Accessed on 1 July 2016 at]

Plenty, J. and Gower, D. (2013) The Reform of Social Work Practice, Practice Education and Training provided to Practice Educators. Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning,

Queens University Belfast. (2014) Minutes of practice assessment panel June 2014. Belfast: Queens University Belfast

Rodgers, R. and Robbins, T. (2001) Investigating the neurocognitive deficits associated with chronic drug misuse. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 11 250-257

Ruch, G. and Turney, D. and Ward, A. (2010) Relationship-based social work: getting to the heart of practice. London: Jessica Kingsley

Russell, J. and Dexter, G. (2008) Blank minds and sticky moments in counselling: practical strategies and provocative themes. (2nd ed.) London: Sage

Shapiro, H (2000) Wintercomfort: The price of trust [Accessed on 15 August 2016 at]

Shennan, G. (1998) Are we asking the experts? Practice Teachers use of client views in assessing students competence. Social Work Education, 17, 4, 45-59

SKILLS FOR CARE. (2013-14) Direct Observation Template [Accessed 2 August 2016 at]

Skinner, K. and Whyte, B. (2004) Going beyond training: theory and practice in managing learning. Social Work Education, 18, 1, 365-381

Stevenson, L. (2016) New Body to take responsibility for social work standards and regulation [Accessed on 11 August 2016 at]

Taylor, I. and Le Riche, P. (2006) What do we know about partnership with service users and carers in social work. Health and Social Care in the Community, 14, 5 418-425

Taylor, I and Bogo, M. (2014) Perfect Opportunity Perfect Storm? Raising standards of Social Work Education in England. British Journal Of Social Work 44, 1042-1418

The College of Social Work/Social Work Reform Board (TCSW/SWRB) (2012) ‘Final paper—Initial qualifying social work education and training’, Improving the Quality and Consistency of Initial Qualifying Social Work Education and Training, [Accessed 25 November 2016 at]

Trevithick, P. (2003) Effective relationship based practice: A theoretical explanation. Journal of Social Work Practice, 17, 2, 163-176

Thompson, N. (2000) Understanding Social Work: Preparing for practice. Basingstoke: Macmillan

Wilson, G. and Walsh, T. and Kirby, M. (2008) Developing Practice Learning: Student Perspectives. Social Work Education, 27, 1, 35-50 [Accessed 5 July 2016 at]

Winnicott, D. (1953) Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 89-97



How to Cite

Edmonds, C. (2017). The practice educator lens: Bringing student practice into focus using the direct observation. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 14(3), 46-63.