Social Work with People with Learning Difficulties


Paul Williams, Michelle Evans, Jonathan Parker & Greta Bradley

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    Paul Williams would like to thank his friends Roger Peck and the late John Gomm for inspiration, and his former colleagues at Reading University, Linnet McMahon, Alison Cocks, Ann Quinn and Christina Victor for valuable comments and practical support. Francis Phillips, John-Paul Gower, Alison Kerridge, Emily Perl Kingsley and Lynette Hunt very kindly gave their permission for inclusion of their material in the book.

    Michelle Evans would like to thank her colleagues at London South Bank University, Kent University and Christchurch University, especially Andrew Whittaker, Joan Curzio, Keith Popple, Annabel Goodyer and Enkanah Soobadoo, colleagues in the Learning Disability, Mental Health and Social Work teams, and past and present students at London South Bank University, especially Zulaika Zurita, Carol Mills, Margaret Kwamina-Crystal, Zephy Polius, Joseph Fitton, Habib Farahmand and Krystle Thomas. Also Ken, Ivy, Joe, Sophie, Jack, Grant, Amelia, Francesca, Felicity and Simon. Thanks are also due to staff of organisations that support people with learning difficulties, including Fionnuala Naicker and Jacqueline Murray; and Tricia Pereira, Annie Knight, Feargal Brady, Winsome Collins, Maureen Harding, Nigel Cox and Graham Smith for being an inspiration during her social work career.

    We would like to thank all our family members and friends who have supported us in the enterprise. Paul's thanks go especially to his wife Boni for her inspiration, kind comments, encouragement, support and patience, and Michelle's especially to Alan for his never-ending love and encouragement.

    We would like to thank each other for the opportunity to work together on this new edition of the book, a partnership that we hope the reader will find has been very fruitful. We also extend our gratitude to the staff of Sage/Learning Matters, especially Luke Block.

    Paul WilliamsMichelle Evans


    Many social workers find work with people with learning difficulties to be extremely interesting and rewarding, and it is a field which has seen dramatic advances in recent years. Horner (2003), in a chapter on ‘Social work with people with learning disabilities’, charts its successes, particularly in relation to the virtual abolition of large isolated institutions and their replacement with various forms of community care. Up until the early 1970s in Britain, around 60,000 people were accommodated in institutions for people with learning difficulties; now nearly all these places have been closed and the people relocated in much smaller groups in much more ordinary and integrated settings. Horner says:

    In recent years, it has been the view of a number of commentators that social work with people with learning disabilities represents, in many respects, the profession's high water mark…It can be seen that social work, supported by its own value base, and linked to significant and dynamic user movements, has participated in profound and significant developments, many of which would have seemed unthinkable only 30 years ago.

    (Horner 2003: 50)

    In this book we hope to convey some of the reasons for interest and enthusiasm in this field: the achievements and satisfactions that can be gained, the good relationships that can be formed, and the learning and understanding that can be gained from contact with people with learning difficulties, as well as the need for recognition of vulnerability, the risk of oppression and abuse, and the need for continuing political struggle to establish and protect rights.

    The practical aims of this book are:

    • to provide a positive picture of people with learning difficulties;
    • to describe the very varied roles that a social worker might play in relation to people with learning difficulties;
    • to describe developments resulting from the 2001 Government White Paper Valuing People, which declared some radical aims for services for people with learning difficulties;
    • to present work with people with learning difficulties as potentially long term, offering opportunities for development of relationships and seeing people through life stages that are not so available in other fields;
    • to provide information and materials for reflection that relate to the Professional Capabilities Framework;
    • to emphasise the importance of values, and to illustrate this with a historical approach;
    • to present current policy as the result of a steady build-up of knowledge, skills and understanding through developments in research, philosophy and practice;
    • to engender respect for people with learning difficulties and their resilience and achievements;
    • to promote equality and partnership in relationships between social workers and people with learning difficulties;
    • to provide practical guidance in direct work with people with learning difficulties.

    We have tried to present people with learning difficulties as family members and citizens of their community. However, inevitably the space available has meant a focus on the people themselves. Work with families, and work in the context of different cultures, are relatively neglected. We hope that students will learn the importance of these wider perspectives through other sources.

    Social workers face many challenges in the current financial, social and political climate. Two of these in particular are highlighted in learning difficulty services. Because these services have been relatively well resourced in recent years compared with services for other groups, they are in the firing line for economic cutbacks, and social workers are often in the forefront of this process. There is a danger that the focus of assessment becomes how to save money rather than objective appraisal of needs. Secondly, in the light of abuse scandals, both within services such as Winterbourne View (where six members of staff were jailed for abuse after a television exposé) and more generally in the allegations against broadcaster Jimmy Savile, the need for protection and safeguarding has been highlighted. There is a danger that preventive measures expected to be pursued by social workers counteract the vital need for relationships for people with learning difficulties to counter the major risk of isolation and loneliness. We hope that this book gives some signposts for social work students in their own approach to resolution of these dilemmas.

    This book has been carefully mapped to the new Professional Capabilities Framework for Social Workers in England and will help you to develop the appropriate standards at the right level. These standards are as follows.

    • Professionalism

      Identify and behave as a professional social worker committed to professional development.

    • Values and ethics

      Apply social work ethical principles and values to guide professional practice.

    • Diversity

      Recognise diversity and apply anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive principles in practice.

    • Justice

      Advance human rights and promote social justice and economic wellbeing.

    • Knowledge

      Apply knowledge of social sciences, law and social work practice theory.

    • Judgement

      Use judgement and authority to intervene with individuals, families and communities to promote independence, provide support and prevent harm, neglect and abuse.

    • Critical reflection and analysis

      Apply critical reflection and analysis to inform and provide a rationale for professional decision-making.

    • Contexts and organisations

      Engage with, inform, and adapt to changing contexts that shape practice. Operate effectively within your own organisational frameworks and contribute to the development of services and organisations. Operate effectively within multi-agency and inter-professional settings.

    • Professional leadership

      Take responsibility for the professional learning and development of others through supervision, mentoring, assessing, research, teaching, leadership and management.

    References to these standards will be made throughout the text. You will find a diagram of the Professional Capabilities Framework in Appendix 1, and the relevant extracts from the social work subject benchmark statement in Appendix 2.

  • Conclusion

    This book has ranged widely over the field of work with people with learning difficulties. Chapter 1 considered definitions and perceptions of who the people are. Chapter 2 emphasised the importance of values by giving illustrations from history and from current social policy. Chapter 3 covered important policy and legislation. Chapter 4 showed how social work skills and knowledge can be applied to support people and their families in a wide range of situations. Chapters 5 and 6 looked at issues and needs at different life stages, and included coverage of protection and safeguarding. Chapter 7 discussed approaches to assessment of individuals, services and community resources. Chapter 8 covered communication and sensory needs, and Chapter 9 introduced the concept of advocacy and discussed various means of empowerment of people, with quotations from the people themselves.

    The book has focused on areas of work with people with learning difficulties that social workers might find themselves involved in. It has not concentrated on current organisational structures that may in practice constrain the social worker's role. The social worker has been presented as someone with particular knowledge, skills and values that can be of relevance in a wide variety of contexts and circumstances, rather than as someone who works in a particular organisational role.

    We hope that the book may have stimulated you to consider applying your knowledge, skills and values to work in this field. We hope we have conveyed some of the interest, stimulation, excitement and satisfaction that can be derived from supporting people with learning difficulties and their families. In particular, we have emphasised the possibility of long-term work and of strong and lasting relationships that may be more available in this field than in other areas of social work.

    If you have read the whole book, turn back to the Introduction and review the list of aims stated there. Do you think they have been met?

    Internet Resources

    Social workers have to develop skills of finding information and the internet is an excellent resource for this. The following list of sites relating to people with learning difficulties is not exhaustive, but represents a sample of useful sources of information. Further relevant sites can be found by following the ‘Links’ sections of these sites. (note this address does not begin with www.)

    Publications on service innovations and community inclusion.

    Site of Advocacy Resource Exchange, Britain's leading source of information on advocacy.

    Support for people with learning difficulties who have experienced abuse.

    Site of the National Autistic Society, with information on autism and Asperger's syndrome.

    Site of the British Institute of Learning Disability, a major source of information and resources on all aspects of learning difficulty.

    Site of Change, an organisation involving people with learning difficulties themselves in providing accessible information and advice.

    Imaginative articles and resources by David Pitonyak, an inspirational writer about people with learning difficulties.

    Site of the Down's Syndrome Association, with information, advice and publications on people with Down's syndrome.

    Home of the Learning Community for Person-Centred Practices: resources and support for the implementation of person-centred planning.

    Site of Enable Scotland, the Scottish equivalent of Mencap.

    A key resource of articles, tools and examples for person-centred planning.

    An organisation promoting control by people themselves over services they need.

    Catalogue of publications and resources for person-centred planning and community inclusion.

    Support to make information accessible to people with learning difficulties.

    Much information about people with learning difficulties, with an emphasis on health.

    Jessica Kingsley Publishers have an extensive catalogue of books relating to learning difficulty and to autism.

    Site of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, a major source of advice and information on all aspects of learning difficulty.

    Site of a coalition of leading voluntary organisations working with people with learning difficulties, giving news and information.

    Resources concerning older family carers for people with learning difficulties.

    Site of the Makaton sign and symbol language designed to help communication for people with learning difficulties.

    Site of the main voluntary organisation providing advice, information and support for people with learning difficulties and their families.

    The National Forum for people with learning difficulties to advise the government.

    Open University site on their emancipatory research projects involving people with learning difficulties as contributors rather than subjects.

    Resources on person-centred planning, supported living and community inclusion.

    Palliative care for people with learning disabilities: an organisation providing support and information for those involved in care of people with life-limiting illnesses.

    Site of Central England People First, with links to many self-advocacy groups and resources.

    Site of a London-based self-advocacy group.

    The profound and multiple learning disability network: information, advice and support relating to people with a severe degree of learning difficulty.

    Support for people with learning difficulties who have experienced abuse.

    Information and support on deafblindness.

    Site of a self-advocacy group based in Rotherham.

    Support for people with learning difficulties who have experienced crime or abuse.

    Appendix 1: Professional Capabilities Framework

    Professional Capabilities Framework diagram reproduced with permission of The College of Social Work

    See page x for the full list of standards.

    Appendix 2: Subject Benchmark for Social Work

    Subject Benchmark for Social Work
    4 Defining Principles
    • As an applied academic subject, social work is characterised by a distinctive focus on practice in complex social situations to promote and protect individual and collective well-being. This underscores the importance of partnerships between HEIs and service providers to ensure the full involvement of practitioners, managers, tutors, service users and carers with students in both academic and practice learning and assessment.
    • At honours level, the study of social work involves the integrated study of subject-specific knowledge, skills and values and the critical application of research knowledge from the social and human sciences, and from social work (and closely related domains) to inform understanding and to underpin action, reflection and evaluation. Honours degree programmes should be designed to help foster this integration of contextual, analytic, critical, explanatory and practical understanding.
    • Contemporary definitions of social work as a degree subject reflect its origins in a range of different academic and practice traditions. The precise nature and scope of the subject is itself a matter for legitimate study and critical debate. Three main issues are relevant to this.
      • Social work is located within different social welfare contexts. Within the UK there are different traditions of social welfare (influenced by legislation, historical development and social attitudes) and these have shaped both social work education and practice in community-based settings including residential, day care and substitute care. In an international context, distinctive national approaches to social welfare policy, provision and practice have greatly influenced the focus and content of social work degree programmes.
      • There are competing views in society at large on the nature of social work and on its place and purpose. Social work practice and education inevitably reflect these differing perspectives on the role of social work in relation to social justice, social care and social order.
      • Social work, both as occupational practice and as an academic subject, evolves, adapts and changes in response to the social, political and economic challenges and demands of contemporary social welfare policy, practice and legislation.
    • Honours graduates in social work should therefore be equipped both to understand, and to work within, this context of contested debate about nature, scope and purpose, and be enabled to analyse, adapt to, manage and eventually to lead the processes of change.
    • The applied nature of social work as an academic subject means that practice is an essential and core element of learning. The following points clarify the use of the term ‘practice’ in the statement.
      • The term ‘practice’ in this statement is used to encompass learning that not only takes place in professional practice placements, but also in a variety of other experiential learning situations. All learning opportunities that bear academic credit must be subject to methods of assessment appropriate to their academic level and be assessed by competent assessors. Where they form part of the curriculum leading to integrated academic and professional awards, practice learning opportunities will also be subject to regulations that further define learning requirements, standards and modes of assessment.
      • In honours degree programmes covered by this statement, practice as an activity refers to experiential, action-based learning. In this sense, practice provides opportunities for students to improve and demonstrate their understanding and competence through the application and testing of knowledge and skills.
      • Practice activity is also a source of transferable learning in its own right. Such learning can transfer both from a practice setting to the ‘classroom’ and vice versa. Thus practice can be as much a source of intellectual and cognitive learning as other modes of study. For this reason, learning through practice attracts full academic credit.
      • Learning in practice can include activities such as observation, shadowing, analysis and research, as well as intervention within social work and related organisations. Practice-learning on honours degrees involves active engagement with service users and others in practice settings outside the university, and may involve for example virtual/simulated practice, observational and research activities.
    • Social work is a moral activity that requires practitioners to recognise the dignity of the individual, but also to make and implement difficult decisions (including restriction of liberty) in human situations that involve the potential for benefit or harm. Honours degree programmes in social work therefore involve the study, application of, and critical reflection upon, ethical principles and dilemmas. As reflected by the four care councils' codes of practice, this involves showing respect for persons, honouring the diverse and distinctive organisations and communities that make up contemporary society, promoting social justice and combating processes that lead to discrimination, marginalisation and social exclusion. This means that honours undergraduates must learn to:
      • recognise and work with the powerful links between intrapersonal and interpersonal factors and the wider social, legal, economic, political and cultural context of people's lives;
      • understand the impact of injustice, social inequalities and oppressive social relations;
      • challenge constructively individual, institutional and structural discrimination;
      • practise in ways that maximise safety and effectiveness in situations of uncertainty and incomplete information;
      • help people to gain, regain or maintain control of their own affairs, insofar as this is compatible with their own or others' safety, well-being and rights;
      • work in partnership with service users and carers and other professionals to foster dignity, choice and independence, and effect change.
    • The expectation that social workers will be able to act effectively in such complex circumstances requires that honours degree programmes in social work should be designed to help students learn to become accountable, reflective, critical and evaluative. This involves learning to:
      • think critically about the complex social, legal, economic, political and cultural contexts in which social work practice is located;
      • work in a transparent and responsible way, balancing autonomy with complex, multiple and sometimes contradictory accountabilities (for example, to different service users, employing agencies, professional bodies and the wider society);
      • exercise authority within complex frameworks of accountability and ethical and legal boundaries;
      • acquire and apply the habits of critical reflection, self-evaluation and consultation, and make appropriate use of research in decision-making about practice and in the evaluation of outcomes.
    5 Subject Knowledge, Understanding and Skills
    Subject Knowledge and Understanding
    • During their degree studies in social work, honours graduates should acquire, critically evaluate, apply and integrate knowledge and understanding in the following five core areas of study.
    • Social work services, service users and carers, which include:
      • the social processes (associated with, for example, poverty, migration, unemployment, poor health, disablement, lack of education and other sources of disadvantage) that lead to marginalisation, isolation and exclusion, and their impact on the demand for social work services;
      • explanations of the links between definitional processes contributing to social differences (for example, social class, gender, ethnic differences, age, sexuality and religious belief) to the problems of inequality and differential need faced by service users;
      • the nature of social work services in a diverse society (with particular reference to concepts such as prejudice, interpersonal, institutional and structural discrimination, empowerment and anti-discriminatory practices);
      • the nature and validity of different definitions of, and explanations for, the characteristics and circumstances of service users and the services required by them, drawing on knowledge from research, practice experience, and from service users and carers;
      • the focus on outcomes, such as promoting the well-being of young people and their families, and promoting dignity, choice and independence for adults receiving services;
      • the relationship between agency policies, legal requirements and professional boundaries in shaping the nature of services provided in interdisciplinary contexts and the issues associated with working across professional boundaries and within different disciplinary groups.
    • The service delivery context, which includes:
      • the location of contemporary social work within historical, comparative and global perspectives, including European and international contexts;
      • the changing demography and cultures of communities in which social workers will be practising;
      • the complex relationships between public, social and political philosophies, policies and priorities and the organisation and practice of social work, including the contested nature of these;
      • the issues and trends in modern public and social policy and their relationship to contemporary practice and service delivery in social work;
      • the significance of legislative and legal frameworks and service delivery standards (including the nature of legal authority, the application of legislation in practice, statutory accountability and tensions between statute, policy and practice);
      • the current range and appropriateness of statutory, voluntary and private agencies providing community-based, day-care, residential and other services and the organisational systems inherent within these;
      • the significance of interrelationships with other related services, including housing, health, income maintenance and criminal justice (where not an integral social service);
      • the contribution of different approaches to management, leadership and quality in public and independent human services;
      • the development of personalised services, individual budgets and direct payments;
      • the implications of modern information and communications technology (ICT) for both the provision and receipt of services.
    • Values and ethics, which include:
      • the nature, historical evolution and application of social work values;
      • the moral concepts of rights, responsibility, freedom, authority and power inherent in the practice of social workers as moral and statutory agents;
      • the complex relationships between justice, care and control in social welfare and the practical and ethical implications of these, including roles as statutory agents and in upholding the law in respect of discrimination;
      • aspects of philosophical ethics relevant to the understanding and resolution of value dilemmas and conflicts in both interpersonal and professional contexts;
      • the conceptual links between codes defining ethical practice, the regulation of professional conduct and the management of potential conflicts generated by the codes held by different professional groups.
    • Social work theory, which includes:
      • research-based concepts and critical explanations from social work theory and other disciplines that contribute to the knowledge base of social work, including their distinctive epistemological status and application to practice;
      • the relevance of sociological perspectives to understanding societal and structural influences on human behaviour at individual, group and community levels;
      • the relevance of psychological, physical and physiological perspectives to understanding personal and social development and functioning;
      • social science theories explaining group and organisational behaviour, adaptation and change;
      • models and methods of assessment, including factors underpinning the selection and testing of relevant information, the nature of professional judgement and the processes of risk assessment and decision-making;
      • approaches and methods of intervention in a range of settings, including factors guiding the choice and evaluation of these;
      • user-led perspectives;
      • knowledge and critical appraisal of relevant social research and evaluation methodologies, and the evidence base for social work.
    • The nature of social work practice, which includes:
      • the characteristics of practice in a range of community-based and organisational settings within statutory, voluntary and private sectors, and the factors influencing changes and developments in practice within these contexts;
      • the nature and characteristics of skills associated with effective practice, both direct and indirect, with a range of service-users and in a variety of settings;
      • the processes that facilitate and support service user choice and independence;
      • the factors and processes that facilitate effective interdisciplinary, interprofessional and interagency collaboration and partnership;
      • the place of theoretical perspectives and evidence from international research in assessment and decision-making processes in social work practice;
      • the integration of theoretical perspectives and evidence from international research into the design and implementation of effective social work intervention, with a wide range of service users, carers and others;
      • the processes of reflection and evaluation, including familiarity with the range of approaches for evaluating service and welfare outcomes, and their significance for the development of practice and the practitioner.
    Subject-specific Skills and other Skills
    • As an applied subject at honours degree level, social work necessarily involves the development of skills that may be of value in many situations (for example, analytical thinking, building relationships, working as a member of an organisation, intervention, evaluation and reflection). Some of these skills are specific to social work but many are also widely transferable. What helps to define the specific nature of these skills in a social work context are:
      • the context in which they are applied and assessed (e.g., communication skills in practice with people with sensory impairments or assessment skills in an interprofessional setting);
      • the relative weighting given to such skills within social work practice (e.g., the central importance of problem-solving skills within complex human situations);
      • the specific purpose of skill development (e.g., the acquisition of research skills in order to build a repertoire of research-based practice);
      • a requirement to integrate a range of skills (i.e., not simply to demonstrate these in an isolated and incremental manner).
    • All social work honours graduates should show the ability to reflect on and learn from the exercise of their skills. They should understand the significance of the concepts of continuing professional development and lifelong learning, and accept responsibility for their own continuing development.
    • Social work honours graduates should acquire and integrate skills in the following five core areas.
    Problem-solving Skills
    • These are sub-divided into four areas.
    • Managing problem-solving activities: honours graduates in social work should be able to plan problem-solving activities, i.e. to:
      • think logically, systematically, critically and reflectively;
      • apply ethical principles and practices critically in planning problem-solving activities;
      • plan a sequence of actions to achieve specified objectives, making use of research, theory and other forms of evidence;
      • manage processes of change, drawing on research, theory and other forms of evidence.
    • Gathering information: honours graduates in social work should be able to:
      • gather information from a wide range of sources and by a variety of methods, for a range of purposes. These methods should include electronic searches, reviews of relevant literature, policy and procedures, face-to-face interviews, written and telephone contact with individuals and groups;
      • take into account differences of viewpoint in gathering information and critically assess the reliability and relevance of the information gathered;
      • assimilate and disseminate relevant information in reports and case records.
    • Analysis and synthesis: honours graduates in social work should be able to analyse and synthesise knowledge gathered for problem-solving purposes, i.e. to:
      • assess human situations, taking into account a variety of factors (including the views of participants, theoretical concepts, research evidence, legislation and organisational policies and procedures);
      • analyse information gathered, weighing competing evidence and modifying their viewpoint in light of new information, then relate this information to a particular task, situation or problem;
      • consider specific factors relevant to social work practice (such as risk, rights, cultural differences and linguistic sensitivities, responsibilities to protect vulnerable individuals and legal obligations);
      • assess the merits of contrasting theories, explanations, research, policies and procedures;
      • synthesise knowledge and sustain reasoned argument;
      • employ a critical understanding of human agency at the macro (societal), mezzo (organisational and community) and micro (inter and intrapersonal) levels;
      • critically analyse and take account of the impact of inequality and discrimination in work with people in particular contexts and problem situations.
    • Intervention and evaluation: honours graduates in social work should be able to use their knowledge of a range of interventions and evaluation processes selectively to:
      • build and sustain purposeful relationships with people and organisations in community-based, and interprofessional contexts;
      • make decisions, set goals and construct specific plans to achieve these, taking into account relevant factors including ethical guidelines;
      • negotiate goals and plans with others, analysing and addressing in a creative manner human, organisational and structural impediments to change;
      • implement plans through a variety of systematic processes that include working in partnership;
      • undertake practice in a manner that promotes the well-being and protects the safety of all parties;
      • engage effectively in conflict resolution;
      • support service users to take decisions and access services, with the social worker as navigator, advocate and supporter;
      • manage the complex dynamics of dependency and, in some settings, provide direct care and personal support in everyday living situations;
      • meet deadlines and comply with external definitions of a task;
      • plan, implement and critically review processes and outcomes;
      • bring work to an effective conclusion, taking into account the implications for all involved;
      • monitor situations, review processes and evaluate outcomes;
      • use and evaluate methods of intervention critically and reflectively.
    Communication Skills
    • Honours graduates in social work should be able to communicate clearly, accurately and precisely (in an appropriate medium) with individuals and groups in a range of formal and informal situations, i.e. to:
      • make effective contact with individuals and organisations for a range of objectives, by verbal, paper-based and electronic means;
      • clarify and negotiate the purpose of such contacts and the boundaries of their involvement;
      • listen actively to others, engage appropriately with the life experiences of service users, understand accurately their viewpoint and overcome personal prejudices to respond appropriately to a range of complex personal and interpersonal situations;
      • use both verbal and non-verbal cues to guide interpretation;
      • identify and use opportunities for purposeful and supportive communication with service users within their everyday living situations;
      • follow and develop an argument and evaluate the viewpoints of, and evidence presented by, others;
      • write accurately and clearly in styles adapted to the audience, purpose and context of the communication;
      • use advocacy skills to promote others' rights, interests and needs;
      • present conclusions verbally and on paper, in a structured form, appropriate to the audience for which these have been prepared;
      • make effective preparation for, and lead meetings in a productive way;
      • communicate effectively across potential barriers resulting from differences (for example, in culture, language and age).
    Skills in Working with others
    • Honours graduates in social work should be able to work effectively with others, i.e. to:
      • involve users of social work services in ways that increase their resources, capacity and power to influence factors affecting their lives;
      • consult actively with others, including service users and carers, who hold relevant information or expertise;
      • act cooperatively with others, liaising and negotiating across differences such as organisational and professional boundaries and differences of identity or language;
      • develop effective helping relationships and partnerships with other individuals, groups and organisations that facilitate change;
      • act with others to increase social justice by identifying and responding to prejudice, institutional discrimination and structural inequality;
      • act within a framework of multiple accountability (for example, to agencies, the public, service users, carers and others);
      • challenge others when necessary, in ways that are most likely to produce positive outcomes.
    Skills in Personal and Professional Development
    • Honours graduates in social work should be able to:
      • advance their own learning and understanding with a degree of independence;
      • reflect on and modify their behaviour in the light of experience;
      • identify and keep under review their own personal and professional boundaries;
      • manage uncertainty, change and stress in work situations;
      • handle inter and intrapersonal conflict constructively;
      • understand and manage changing situations and respond in a flexible manner;
      • challenge unacceptable practices in a responsible manner;
      • take responsibility for their own further and continuing acquisition and use of knowledge and skills;
      • use research critically and effectively to sustain and develop their practice.
    ICT and Numerical Skills
    • Honours graduates in social work should be able to use ICT methods and techniques to support their learning and their practice. In particular, they should demonstrate the ability to:
      • use ICT effectively for professional communication, data storage and retrieval and information searching;
      • use ICT in working with people who use services;
      • demonstrate sufficient familiarity with statistical techniques to enable effective use of research in practice;
      • integrate appropriate use of ICT to enhance skills in problem-solving in the four areas set out in paragraph 6.2;
      • apply numerical skills to financial and budgetary responsibilities;
      • have a critical understanding of the social impact of ICT, including an awareness of the impact of the ‘digital divide’.
    6 Teaching, Learning and Assessment
    • At honours degree level, social work programmes explicitly recognise and maximise the use of students' prior learning and experience. Acquisition and development of the required knowledge and skills, capable of transfer to new situations and of further enhancement, mark important staging posts in the process of lifelong learning. Social work models of learning are characteristically developmental and incremental (ie, students are expected to assume increasing responsibility for identifying their own learning needs and making use of available resources for learning). The context of learning should take account of the impact of the Bologna Process and transnational learning. The overall aims and expected final outcomes of the honours degree, together with the specific requirements of particular topics, modules or practice experiences, should inform the choice of both learning and teaching strategies and aligned formative and summative assessment methods.
    • The learning processes in social work at honours degree level can be expressed interms of four inter-related themes.
      • Awareness raising, skills and knowledge acquisition – a process in which the student becomes more aware of aspects of knowledge and expertise, learns how to systematically engage with and acquire new areas of knowledge, recognises their potential and becomes motivated to engage in new ways of thinking and acting.
      • Conceptual understanding – a process in which a student acquires, examines critically and deepens understanding (measured and tested against existing knowledge and adjustments made in attitudes and goals).
      • Practice skills and experience – processes in which a student learns practice skills in the contexts identified in paragraph 4.4 and applies theoretical models and research evidence together with new understanding to relevant activities, and receives feedback from various sources on performance, enhancing openness to critical self-evaluation.
      • Reflection on performance – a process in which a student reflects critically and evaluatively on past experience, recent performance, and feedback, and applies this information to the process of integrating awareness (including awareness of the impact of self on others) and new understanding, leading to improved performance.
    • Honours degree programmes in social work acknowledge that students learn at different rates and in diverse ways, and learn best when there is consistent and timely guidance and a variety of learning opportunities. Programmes should provide clear and accessible information about learning approaches, methods and outcomes that enable students to engage with diverse learning and teaching methods in learning settings across academic and practice environments.
    • Approaches to support blended learning should include the use of ICT to access data, literature and resources, as well as engagement with technologies to support communication and reflection and sharing of learning across academic and practice learning settings.
    • Learning methods may include:
      • learner-focused approaches that encourage active participation and staged, progressive learning throughout the degree
      • the establishment of initial learning needs and the formulation of learning plans
      • the development of learning networks, enabling students to learn from each other
      • the involvement of practitioners and service user and carer educators.
    • Students should engage in a broad range of activities, including with other professionals and with service users and carers, to facilitate critical reflection. These include reading, self-directed study, research, a variety of forms of writing, lectures, discussion, seminars/tutorials, individual and group work, role plays, presentations, projects, simulations and practice experience.
    • Assessment strategies should show alignment between, and relevance to, social work practice, theory and assessment tasks. They should also be matched with learning outcomes and learning and teaching methods. The purpose of assessment is to:
      • provide a means whereby students receive feedback regularly on their achievement and development needs
      • provide tasks that promote learning, and develop and test cognitive skills, drawing on a range of sources including the contexts of practice
      • promote self-evaluation, and appraisal of their progress and learning strategies
      • enable judgements to be made in relation to progress and to ensure fitness for practice, and the award, in line with professional standards.
    • Assessment strategies should be chosen to enhance students' abilities to conceptualise, compare and analyse issues, in order to be able to apply this in making professional judgements.
    • Assessment methods normally include case-based assessments, presentations and analyses, practice-focused assignments, essays, project reports, role plays/simulations, e-assessment and examinations. The requirements of honours degree programmes in social work frequently include an extended piece of written work, which may be practice-based, and is typically undertaken in the final year. This may involve independent study for either a dissertation or a project, based upon systematic enquiry and investigation. However, the requirements of research governance may restrict opportunities available to students for research involving human subjects. Where practice competences have to be assessed, as identified through national occupational standards or equivalent, opportunities should be provided for demonstration of these, together with systematic means of development, support and assessment. Assessment methods may include those listed above, in addition to observed practice, reflective logs and interview records.
    • Honours degree programmes in social work assess practice not as a series of discrete practical tasks, but as an integration of skills and knowledge with relevant conceptual understanding. This assessment should, therefore, contain elements that test students' critical and analytical reflective analysis. As the honours degree is an integrated academic and professional award, the failure of any core element, including assessed practice, will mean failure of the programme.
    7 Benchmark Standards
    • Given the essentially applied nature of social work and the co-terminosity of the degree and the professional award, students must demonstrate that they have met the standards specified in relation to both academic and practice capabilities. These standards relate to subject-specific knowledge, understanding and skills (including key skills inherent in the concept of ‘graduateness’). Qualifying students will be expected to meet each of these standards in accordance with the specific standards set by the relevant country (see section 2).
    Typical Graduate
    • Levels of attainment will vary along a continuum from the threshold to excellence. This level represents that of typical students graduating with an honours degree in social work.
    Knowledge and Understanding
    • On graduating with an honours degree in social work, students should be able to demonstrate:
      • a sound understanding of the five core areas of knowledge and understanding relevant to social work, as detailed in paragraph 5.1, including their application to practice and service delivery;
      • an ability to use this knowledge and understanding in an integrated way, in specific practice contexts;
      • an ability to use this knowledge and understanding to engage in effective relationships with service users and carers;
      • appraisal of previous learning and experience and ability to incorporate this into their future learning and practice;
      • acknowledgement and understanding of the potential and limitations of social work as a practice-based discipline to effect individual and social change;
      • an ability to use research and enquiry techniques with reflective awareness, to collect, analyse and interpret relevant information;
      • a developed capacity for the critical evaluation of knowledge and evidence from a range of sources.
    Subject-specific and other Skills
    • On graduating with an honours degree in social work, students should be able to demonstrate a developed capacity to:
      • apply creatively a repertoire of core skills as detailed in section 5;
      • communicate effectively with service users and carers, and with other professionals;
      • integrate clear understanding of ethical issues and codes of values, and practice with their interventions in specific situations;
      • consistently exercise an appropriate level of autonomy and initiative in individual decision-making within the context of supervisory, collaborative, ethical and organisational requirements;
      • demonstrate habits of critical reflection on their performance and take responsibility for modifying action in light of this.


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