BASW Blog: Practice Educator Professional Standards in England (PEPS) - An Assessor's view of the last 12 months
Dr Jenni Burton explores her experience as a practice educator mentor during the pandemic - and some of the issues arising whilst using the refreshed PEPS.
The Covid Pandemic has cast wide ripples across social work practice education, impacting on student’s placements, the practice educators assessing them and practice educator mentor/assessors who support social workers training to be practice educators whilst assessing a student as part of their course. This article explores my experience as a practice educator mentor this year and some of the issues arising whilst using the refreshed PEPS.
The review of the PEPS guidance and standards from the original document published by the College of Social Work in 2013 was developed and launched by BASW and implemented widely by PEPS programme providers in September 2020. Central to the refreshed document are a set of values and standards to guide practice educators in their training and practice. The overarching framework of the linked guidance sets out requirements for the delivery of training, development and support of those social workers responsible for the teaching, supervising and assessing of social work students in practice. The consultation process and rolling out of the PEPS was certainly not the smoothest of operations, as this coincided with a period of uncertainty and fast-paced change as the full effect of Covid took its toll on the social work profession.
This year, I have had personal experience within my mentoring role of using the refreshed standards for the first time. I have attempted to apply them in a creative and pragmatic way to mesh with the diverse range of adapted arrangements that have been put in place by placements and PEPS providers, due to the restrictions imposed by Covid. One of the big differences in the refreshed PEPS is the necessity for both Stage 1 and Stage 2 PEPS trainees to meet all four standards, or domains, during both stages of the training. I have found this to be a positive step forward because the individual assessment criteria for each domain provides a consistent sounding board to assess how the PE trainee is supporting and assessing their student as they progress to qualification. Below is a snapshot of some of the differences I have encountered this year in my PE mentoring role and how the 4 PEPS domains have provided a point of useful reference for me:
Domain A: Working with others to organise an effective learning organisation
The variation in placement adaptations for social work student placements put in place by Universities has meant that individual students have often had quite different experiences. It has proved to be difficult to set up learning opportunities for some students to experience working openly and cooperatively with professionals other than the PE trainee within and outside the placement setting. This has been due to home-based rather than office working arrangements and limits to setting up visits to other organisations, attending team training sessions and working as part of duty rotas etc. I have spent considerably more time this year with PE trainees, University tutors and Team Managers exploring different ways to overcome these barriers and consider how a ‘team around the student’ approach can be set up.
Domain B: Teaching, facilitating and supporting learning and professional development in practice
The need for PE trainees to make sound and reasoned judgements about the level of work the student can be allocated has often been hampered by Covid restrictions in directly engaging with service users. This has differed across placements and has been a particular challenge when the student really needs to build on their confidence in communicating directly with individuals. Having said this, there have been some innovative online platforms set up which have improved on the former ‘clunky’ teleconferencing arrangements when working with individuals and families. This year I have been sending my PE trainees plenty of research and resources to help them build up their teaching materials and enable the students to develop different models and strategies for critical reflection.
Domain C: Manage the fair and transparent assessment of students in practice
I have placed more emphasis this year on encouraging the PE trainees to widen their student assessments to ensure that assessment feedback is triangulated and incorporates student self-evaluation, the views of service users and testimonials from work-based colleagues. The refreshed PEPS domains have provided a helpful reference point to ensure that agreed assessment procedures are in place, are robust and are being followed.
Domain D: Developing knowledge and continuing performance as a practice educator
The increased emphasis on CPD for students, PEPS trainees and PE mentors alike due to SWE registration requirements has had a noticeable impact on the commitment to owning our personal and professional development and being creative and flexible in deepening and extending our learning. Another reason for this may be the guidance provided by the refreshed PEPS document on indicative practice education curriculum content, and the increased emphasis placed on research, self-reflection and professional development.
The PEPS guidance is not a fixed entity and needs to be reviewed and quality assured to ensure it can withstand the test of fresh changes and challenges to social work practice education. The PE Mentor role is certainly an exciting and rewarding role for practice educators who can share their experience and skills as they forward their career in developing others.