When students embark on their journey of learning for Social Work Practice, Law and Social Policy is usually the subject that most are quite worried about. Why do I have to study law- I don’t want to be a lawyer! Well, in order to work as a Social Worker, you have to be registered with Social Work England and meet their professional standards, which include legal literacy. As Social Workers we are advocates for those who are vulnerable and we ‘need to know our stuff’. Now Law and Social Policy can look complicated, vast and scary, so at BU we have worked hard to ensure that students learn the right law at the right time. The Law and Social Policy Unit is taught in the first year of the BA and MA courses to prepare for placements in practice. The unit aims to give an overview of the essential and basic legal tools Social Workers need to be confident around. You learn how laws are made and how Social Policy influences law making. You learn to ‘read the roadmap of Social Work legislation’ to use it as a tool for decision making in practice.
No mean feat and a lot of responsibility for the Teaching Partnership- so here is how we achieved successful delivery:
BU had reviewed the feedback from students around the previous Law, Social Policy, Values and Ethics unit in Spring 2019. Students had raised that the unit was covering too much content and quite theory based, rather than firmly linking it to practice. As the LPC based at BU, I was asked to take on the Unit and redesign it.
I had worked predominantly in Children’s Services and have a strong background in Frontline Child Protection teams as a Manager and a good understanding of the interface of Children and Adult legislation.
During an Academic Team Away day the teaching content of all Units on the qualifying courses was mapped and Intended Learning Outcomes were reviewed to ensure that they met the needs of the Students, taking into account the demands of future employment in Local Authorities.
The Team offered advice as to which Law and Social Policy was essential to cover in the Unit and how this would then lead into other Unit content to compliment students learning experiences.
I was able to build a close link with the external examiner for the Unit, Prof Robert Johns who is a well-respected Academic in the field of Social Work education. He offered his support to me as a ‘critical friend’ and reviewed the teaching material to offer an independent view and a strong QA process.
I consulted with my LPC colleagues based at the Local Authorities on content of the previously used handbook and then rewrote it to make it not just more ‘user friendly’ but also relevant in and adaptable to the changes in Law and Social Policy.
In addition to the consultation within the HEI, the external examiner and colleagues, I also sought the views of a Child Protection and Long term team in a Local Authority. I raised the question of which aspects of the Law needed to be included and which ones needed stronger consolidation during the degree in order for Social Workers to feel confident in practice within the ASYE in particular.
I then looked at various assessment methods for students to ensure that fair but challenging evaluation of learning could be offered. Again I liaised with the external examiner and developed a case study that applied legal knowledge and skills for decision making and risk management for Adult and Children’s legislation alike. I was able to bring her own research on Criminal Exploitation and County Lines into the case study, making it practice relevant within a multi-agency context.
The students were ultimately asked to write an assignment not about the law but how to apply the law within practice. This has been seen as a cultural shift within the academic team and has been welcomed. A number of academics have now changed their assignment styles to be focused on practice application whilst still balancing this with the critical thinking and analysis skills that are required of BA and MA students.
The first round of students have now completed the Law and Social Policy Unit and have had their assignments marked. Well done to the students- you have been incredible!
By Tilia Lenz, Lecturer Practitioner Consultant – Research Focus