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How Power Dynamics and Relationships Interact with Assessment of Competence: Exploring the Experiences of Student Social Workers Who Failed a Practice Placement

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-16, 05:14 authored by Audrey Roulston, Helen Cleak, Robby Nelson, David Hayes
Abstract Students have identified practice placements (or practice learning) as the single most important factor of social work education, but it is usually where issues of professional suitability become apparent. Whilst most students successfully complete their placements, a number experience difficulty and a minority ultimately fail. Protecting the profession from students not deemed suitable for professional practice requires a rigorous gatekeeping function and fair standards. On receipt of written consent, we interviewed eleven social work students who failed placement, and accessed progress reports written by Practice Teachers/Practice Educators. Participants included nine females, mean age of 33 years, seven failed their final placement and eight had registered with university disability services. Professionally transcribed interviews were analysed using an adapted version of Braun and Clarke’s method. Identified themes included the impact of personal issues; importance of working relationships; use and misuse of power; assessment and decision-making processes and developing insight and useful feedback. Students valued the opportunity to reflect on their experience and provided clear recommendations for improving how Practice Teachers, on-site supervisors, Tutors and peers can provide a supportive learning experience for students who require additional support during placement, and how to communicate concerns regarding competence more effectively.


YThis project was funded by Queen's University Belfast through supporting staff research time.


Publication Date



The British Journal of Social Work






21p. (p. 1662-1682)


Oxford University Press



Rights Statement

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.