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Undergraduate and Postgraduate Studies in Criminology and Social Work
Bowland North, Lancaster University,
LA1 4YN, UK
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Multi-Agency Practice Learning Project (MAPLe)
What is the context?
The search for new opportunities for practice learning requires strategic thinking and much preparation. The MAPLE (Multi Agency Practice Learning) Project was set up to provide opportunities for social work students to experience their practice learning in settings such as education, the police service and health. The first year of the pilot saw a successful placement with the police , and these came about from straightforwardly 'knocking on the door' of the local police station. A placement in education came about in a similar way. However, knocking on GPs' doors had proved completely unsuccessful, and it was recognised that a more systematic and strategic approach was needed, especially if these new sites for practice learning were to be sustained.
Whereas in some situations it is possible to effect changes at a local level (as with the education and police sites), there are other contexts where it is necessary to cultivate a champion 'at the top'. In the case of the MAPLE project, a high level meeting with the Chief Executives of local NHS Trusts gave the initial commitment, with further meetings with the operational managers whose enthusiasm made it happen.
Funds were also necessary to pay for time to invest in the preparation of the project. These were not large (less than £3000), but they bought in expertise and the focused time of a person dedicated to pursuing the work of the project, rather than trying to extract the time from a thicket of other responsibilities and priorities. Though only six new sites could be used in this pilot stage, it is a mark of the success of this policy that 300 new potential sites were generated!
Each member of the university staff group is linked with a particular practice learning site, not specifically with the student but with the site itself. As we will see later, this affords other opportunities to every-one involved.
Each of the new sites can accommodate students both for the first 80 days' practice learning opportunity and the second 120 days, since there is no overlap between the two. Indeed, there is a continuity from one to the other, consolidated by the notion of 'studentships'. New sites can rely on the continuity of social work students filling the studentships, and the fee which they bring with them. This is paid at the full daily rate, minus administration costs and a set-aside in case off-site supervision has to be bought in.
There are three dimensions to these studentships:
The latter elements are still in their infancy, but are designed to 'embed' the studentships and make them more than just placements.
Although the pilot sites have been routinely visited by university staff, this will not be the case for the full project. This is a controversial policy, but it means the experience is less individualised, with resources available for practice development days for practice teachers and assessors to learn and develop together. The Fortune and Abramson (1993) research lends weight to this approach and, unlike the trouble-shooting model in Fortune's study, the MAPLE system is responsive, so tutor visits will be made to celebrate good practice learning, if requested, as well as to troubleshoot.
How does it work?
New sites are often anxious that they do not know anything about social work and what will be expected of them. However, the National Occupational Standards (NOS) have proved essential in helping non-social work staff and clinical supervisors to understand the social work task and students' learning needs. Because they are expressed at a general and generic level the NOS have made sense in education, to the police, and with health care staff and managers. In the case of the police site, students are interviewed beforehand so that the police can feel reassured that the student was suitable. There are some concerns about equity and the criteria being used (after all, the student is not training to become a police officer), and this area is being re-visited.
Details of training workshop for Trust operational managers are available here.
Preparation of students before they enter the new site is also crucial. Again, the NOS have been found to be a useful tool to help students begin to translate their learning needs and requirements into the opportunities which the new sites can provide.
Thus far, other professional courses have not complained that social work is poaching its placements, because the studentships are seen as entirely additional to provision. Indeed, students from different professional backgrounds who practise together in these new sites provides a good opportunity for interprofessional learning.
It was thought that there would be a pressing need to buy off-site practice teaching for students in these new sites, but the quality of the clinical practice assessors has been of such a good standard that, so far, this has not proved necessary. In fact, the training for the clinical supervisors is considerably more extensive than the two days plus one which social work and social care practice assessors receive.
How is it being evaluated and developed?
The results of the formal evaluation are not yet available, but early feedback is encouraging. The strength of the enthusiasm of the NHS practitioners and managers took the programme by surprise, and the scope was far greater than had been anticipated. Initially, some students felt that they were missing out on the 'social work' in their learning ('I feel like a nurse!'), but the programme responded by providing extra support and building in better preparation for future students.
The programme is being developed by being rolled out from a pilot to the mainstream and from post-graduate students to include students on the undergraduate route. There is certainly no shortage of interest and enthusiasm from the NHS Trusts, though still some concerns as to whether there will be sufficient student interest; the programme could find itself in the position of having too many practice learning sites! For this reason the Lancashire Learning Resource Network and the Cumbria Learning Resource Network have agreed to back the programme, continuing the consultant's funding, so that MAPLe can be taken up across the region.
Progress reports and more details about how MAPLe is progressing are available here
Why is this a good exemplar?
A project like MAPLE helps us to understand more about what is uniquely 'social work', what is interprofessional and what is uniquely 'other than social work'. New sites raise these issues not just for the students themselves, but for their supervisors and colleagues in the new sites and for university staff. So, this kind of project is not just about finding new sites for practice learning, it also has the potential to change the nature of professional practice, not just in social work, but in all the other areas of practice in which these kinds of practice learning occur.
When the learning opportunity matches developments in practice, it fulfils a number of agendas. For example, an integrated learning site mirrors developments in integrated services, and this is an important connection for many potential providers of new sites.
The new sites are being sustained by having a regular studentship not just the odd student, and the income which that brings. The package of research and teaching alliances is beneficial to both the university staff and to the practitioners and managers at the site.
How well would this system 'export'?
It is important to have both strategic vision and a detailed operational plan. As usual, this works best when you know your context. A champion who can 'speak the local language' is invariably needed, but whether this has to be at a chief executive level or at a more local, devolved level will vary and depend on the degree of hierarchy in any one organisation. Trying to do this as part of a regular workload is difficult, so it pays to employ some-one whose sole focus is to make the changes happen, as long as they connect well with those who will have to sustain the change.
It is important to cultivate a shared philosophy. For example, there was initial conflict about the fact that students needed to have 'restraint and control training' if they were to use healthcare sites for practice learning; many university tutors were unhappy with this, yet the students welcomed it as a transferable skill.
It may not be possible or necessary to import the 'research link' component of the MAPLE model, but some other kinds of mutual benefit need to be built into the system so that there is a continuity of contact and mutual gains from sustaining this. If it is not the research link, then some other should be included (perhaps training opportunities?)
The NOS are key to enabling other professions and practice learning sites get a handle on what the student will need to learn about. They readily transfer to the language and experience of others, and this is reassuring. They also help students to understand how to find the 'social work' and 'the other' in these sites.
Helen Bingley , (Consultant in Health and Social Care Development) firstname.lastname@example.org telephone: 01524 770832;
Social Work Team telephone: 01524 594098
Fortune, A. E. and Abramson, J.S. (1993), 'Predictors of satisfaction with field practicum among social work students' in The Clinical Supervisor, 11(1): 95-110.
(From NEW APPROACHES IN PRACTICE LEARNING Doel, M., GSCC, 2005)
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