Updated: Apr 21
What is a Practice Educator and what do they do?
When you are in a profession, you often take for granted that you know certain
aspects of what you do or what is important to your profession without consideration
that other professionals or individuals might not understand. We throw around
acronyms and words in all professions and expect that we are understood as we use
them all of the time, so who would not know? We sometimes remind ourselves that
others might not know what we are talking about, but then we are so consumed by
our profession that it is just natural. Until recently! I have had the fantastic
opportunity to complete PEPS1 and PEPS2. I was excited and happily relieved that I
had received a pass grade for PEP2. I told so many people over WhatsApp and
other messaging services. I was quite surprised with all the congratulations I
received and the "Whats a PEPs"
Why have a practice educator?
As a social work student, you are required to complete mandatory placements. In my
day (that makes me sound old), these were two hundred day placements, 100 on
level 5 and 100 on level 6 of your social work degree. Since then, things have
changed slightly in how and when you do a placement. However, the number of days
on placement overall remains the same for the BSc and the MA. However, the HEA
(Higher Education Apprenticeship) is different as you are released from your role at
university one day a week. Like most apprenticeships, you will complete a lot of the
learning on placement and top this up with academic studies leading to an academic
qualification which allows you to practice social work. There are other ways into
social work, for example, the step into social work and the frontline programmes
aimed at people going into working with children. What is important with any social
work training avenue is that you have both practical guidance and academic
guidance whilst in the field.
Whilst you are on a social work placement, you will be allocated a practice
supervisor, someone who will support and supervise your role and practice, and a
practice educator. A practice educator will help you explore the academic side of
your training and help make links between theory and practice.
Sometimes these can be one person, and sometimes these are two different people
depending on your placement. Due to social work being a vocational subject,
placement is there to ensure you can experience what is required to complete the
job role when you qualify. Social work as a profession requires an individual to have
a well-rounded knowledge base. We often engage with individuals in crises, so the
more experience we can have with communicating with individuals from various
backgrounds, the better we can support those individuals. A good practice educator
should enable students to apply their academic knowledge to understand practical
situations and help them grow and develop.
What is involved?
When I first commenced PEPS1, I had to take responsibility for a student. This
meant I would be responsible for their day-to-day training in their role as a student
with Nellie, and I would have to have responsibility for ensuring that they link to
practice and theory. For PEPS1, I took the role of the practice supervisor and the
practice educator. It is quite a remarkable responsibility. The student requires daily
support initially and weekly formal supervision. You are their go-to person, the
person who provides support, learning and constructive feedback. Anyone who has
completed a social work placement will understand just how significant a practice
educator can be and just how important it is that your practice educator is a good
educator. I am lucky as, within my two placements, I had fantastic practice
They both facilitated reflective discussions, were very patient and would explain
everything in an easy-to-understand way. I took a lot from my own experiences and
tried to emulate how they had been to ensure that I was a good practice educator.
BASW has their own set of value statements for a practice educator, which you need
to be familiar with prior to and during your PEPS 1 and 2. These are statements
which identify what you should be working towards. However, that is only a small
part of the story, as not only do you have to be aware of the BASW standards, you
require expert knowledge of the Professional Capabilities Framework. These are
different depending on the different placement levels. PCFs are what students are
measured on; then, when a social worker goes into practice, their practice is
measured on. Additionally, you need an up-to-date knowledge of theories
appropriate to social work and educational theories. It is like juggling about a million
different things when you first start. It is both exciting and scary; you want to do well
and the student to pass. Still, you also need to recognise that you have a lot of
responsibility to ensure you maintain the quality of social workers entering the
profession. You are responsible for ensuring that the student is ready for practice
and has developed enough skills and resilience to be an effective practitioner.
I loved it; I loved supporting the student to reach their potential and develop their
skills and knowledge in an unfamiliar area. Watching their confidence grow from
week to week is probably one of the best feelings you can have—knowing that you
have contributed to the next generation of the profession you value is liberating. Yes,
it is hard work, and yes, it can be demanding initially, but the rewards you gain from
supporting somebody achieve their career is incredible. So, of course, I was going to
do it again.
PEPS2, I was ready this time and was more prepared for the induction, midpoint and
end reports, observations, and required supervision and support. For the duration of
both PEPS courses, I had a mentor to ensure I was supported in my practice
educator role. Again I was mentored by two brilliant and knowledgeable individuals,
which made my learner journey much easier. I had two very different students both
times, each fantastic in their own ways. I learned from this that all students are so
individual, so the approach to being a practice educator has to change each time.
The professional relationship building needs to be individual to the student, as does
the recognition of what the student needs to learn. Individualised action plans are a
must as students are so different regarding confidence, knowledge and resilience.
Why be a practice educator?
This was my choice, I have worked in the education sector previously for four years,
and I guess a part of me misses being an educator. I remember my students'
graduations and the journeys we went through to get them to graduation. It fills me
with enormous pride and happiness to see people achieve, so of course, I was going
to choose to support learners to achieve their goals whilst I was achieving my own
award. Back to the responsibility to ensure that students are prepared for practice,
many surveys in universities indicate that students do not feel ready for practice
when they qualify. I had two really good practice educators, so when I completed my
studies, I did feel prepared for practice. I know some students do not have much
responsibility for placement, so I wonder if this is partly why they do not feel
prepared for practice. I intend to ensure that when the student has completed their
studies, they are ready to take on a role and complete their ASYE.
I am only at the very beginning of my practice educator role, so I intend to support
many more students within their learner journey and become the practice educator,
which provides excellent support and facilitates autonomy in the students; own
practice. It is a valuable position that I take with the utmost seriousness. Not only
does a student learn from their practice educator, but at Nellie, we learn something
from each and every student. It is a privilege and a pleasure, and now that I am
qualified, I look forward to making an impact.
Louise Thornton Bsc Msc Social Worker