Feeling Lucky: The Serendipitous Nature of Field Education

Kathryn Hay, Jane Maidment, Neil Ballantyne, Liz Beddoe and Shayne Walker

A timely 3-year multi-phase project ‘Enhancing readiness to practise’ is the first large study of social work education to be funded in Aotearoa New Zealand. The enhanceR2P research project is a collaboration between social work researchers from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, the University of Auckland, Massey University, the University of Canterbury, and the University of Otago. Read more about the Enhancing Readiness to Practise project.

Part of our study involved focus groups with students and educators about their perception of readiness to practice at the end of their social work degree. Supervision  on placement was a constant issue in the interviews.

Field education and the supervision that occurs during this process cements learning and enhances preparedness for a career in social work. Graduate readiness for social work practice is however a contested subject in New Zealand with recent criticism focusing on the adequacy of social work education. This new article reports on findings from the facilitation of focus groups with 27 faculty members and 35 students from eight Schools of Social Work in New Zealand which explored aspects of the taught and learned curriculum (Hay, Maidment, Ballantyne, Beddoe & Walker, 2018). Overall, students and faculty revealed some dissatisfaction with the taught curriculum on supervision that occurs on campus prior to the placement experience. Many students reported irregularity of placement supervision and associated experiencing quality supervision with being lucky.

In our new article we propose a series of recommendations to address these concerns, emphasizing that students should be able to consistently access effective placement supervision rather than consider this a matter of luck:

  • Given the variability in the student experiences of placement allocation, social work educators should consider how to strengthen their relationships with both students and field instructors to support the allocation. A national conversation with academics, employers, practice educators , the SWRB and the ANZASW to clarify student supervision expectations and standards could lead to better quality supervision for students.
  • Students could increase their knowledge and supervision experience prior to placement through improvements in campus teaching and the scaffolding of learning. Opportunities for students to access supervision through the higher educational institution while they are studying other courses would allow for valuable experiential learning prior to placement.
  • Practice educator knowledge of supervisory roles and responsibilities, needs embedding in both student and practice educator curriculum and training so that supervision is fully realised as a protective factor for students.
  • The SWRB requirement of regular (weekly or equivalent) access to supervision is upheld on student placements (SWRB 2017). This requires some actions: exploring with practice educators and agencies to find out why they are not offering what is expected as a minimum of supervision; lobbying for increased funding for higher educational providers; additional resources could then incentivise involvement in field education.
  • If these recommendations are implemented the educational principles that underpin effective field education can be more fully realised in New Zealand.

The strong notion of luck that has been evident from students in this study may then be replaced by the expectation and reality that all students can, and should, receive quality supervision during a learning-focused placement.


New article

Hay, K., Maidment, J., Ballantyne, N., Beddoe, L., & Walker, S. (2018). Feeling lucky: The serendipitous nature of field education. Clinical Social Work Journal 10.1007/s10615-018-0688-z  Read here. If no access email Liz at e.beddoe@auckland.ac.nz

Hay, K.,  Beddoe, L., Maidment, J.,  Ballantyne, N., Walker, S., & Mayhew, Z. (2017)  Readiness to practice, A literature Scan download here 


About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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