Practice learning



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Part One: Student and Practice Learning Factors

Part One outlines the process to be followed where the nature of the circumstances are such that they are impacting on the progression of the PLO. In certain situations a student may request or be required to withdraw from practice learning due to the impact of specific factors on his/her continued capacity to fully engage in the PLO and the learning process.


Part Two: Discontinuation of Practice Learning Opportunity on the basis of professional practice and conduct factors.

Part two outlines the process to be followed where there are serious concerns about a student’s professional practice, behaviour or conduct while undertaking the PLO.


Alternative mechanisms such as leave of absence exist within F/HEIs to address other factors which may arise during the course of the programme.

PART ONE

STUDENT AND PRACTICE LEARNING FACTORS

Part One

Student and Practice Learning Factors
Introduction

This section addresses the following circumstances:




  • Serious health issues or a significant change in personal

circumstances


  • Unacceptable risk to the student

  • Practice learning opportunities do not evolve as

planned


  • Extreme difficulties in practice teacher/onsite supervisor

and student relationship
What if a student is experiencing a serious health issue or a significant change in personal circumstances?

It is the student’s responsibility to confirm that he/she is fit to undertake the PLO.


The required number of practice days is 85 at Level 2 and 100 at Level 3 (NISCC: Revised August 2010 ‘Practice Learning Requirements for the Degree in Social Work’). There is a requirement for full attendance on PLO and clear guidance exists within the Regional Practice Learning Handbook on course requirements and management of absences.
There may be circumstances where it appears that the health or personal circumstances of the student may prevent him/her from:


  • completing the required number of practice days within the

prescribed timescales and/or

  • undertaking and completing tasks necessary to attaining the

level of competence required to pass PLO

In these circumstances the student’s training team will need to meet to consider the individual circumstances of the student in arriving at a recommendation as to whether a PLO can continue or not.


Support for students with disabilities

Students undertaking social work education and training are entitled to support by HEIs in relation to any declared illness or disability. When commencing the course and where appropriate a student may be assessed by university/college disability services which allows for identification and delivery of appropriate supports while undertaking the university delivered part of the degree programme.


Some students may have a disability at point of entry to the programme others may acquire or be diagnosed with a disability after the programme has started. Other students may have variable conditions and require supports at particular times during the degree course, including periods of work based practice learning (PLO).
The process of identifying appropriate supports relies on disclosure by students. Disclosure or diagnosis of a condition may occur at any point during the course including PLO, but the timing of this may influence the level and/or quality of support that can be provided.
Whilst students are encouraged to disclose any disabilities a student has the right not to disclose their disability. However in such circumstances he/she must understand that it is probable that support/ reasonable adjustments will not be set up. Neither the academic institution nor PLO provider can be accused of disability related discrimination if they do not know, and could not be reasonably expected to know that an individual is disabled.
Practice learning providers also provide on-going support to students throughout periods of practice learning. Support requirements in relation to work based practice learning can however be very different to those in the educational setting. Students should discuss their needs with their personal tutor when completing the profile for practice learning. Discussions involving the student, the practice teacher, tutor and appropriate others at an early stage can avoid misunderstandings and issues arising during the PLO.
Adequate forward planning and in depth discussion are necessary to ensure that there is clear understanding of the work activity of the PLO and that a student’s specific support requirements are met. (See NIDSWP ‘Supporting disabled social work students undertaking practice learning opportunities’ Guidance, June 2012).
Duty of Care of Designated Practice Learning Providers

PLO providers have ‘a duty of care’ to ensure the safety and wellbeing of service users, carers and colleagues including students. It is therefore essential that all students are fully aware of their responsibilities in terms of professional practice. The NISCC (2001; 6) Code of Practice for Social Care Workers states that as a social care worker you must be accountable for the quality of your work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving your knowledge and skills. This includes:


informing your employer or the appropriate authority about any personal difficulties that might affect your ability to do your job competently and safely.’ (6.3)
Registration with NISCC (www.niscc.info) also requires individuals to make a declaration about their health. Non-disclosure in any circumstances and in particular where there might be a risk to the safety /welfare of service users, other staff or self could have serious implications.
Health /change in personal circumstances

When serious health issues or a significant change in personal circumstances arise during PLO, either the PLO provider, the HEI or the student may feel that the student, staff and/or service users are placed at unacceptable risk. Examples would include serious mental health issues where the individual lacks insight, substance misuse, traumatic experience, a serious illness is diagnosed or a student’s health condition deteriorates significantly.

In such circumstances the organisation may seek advice or an assessment of risk may be sought from appropriate sources (e.g. occupational health, health and safety personnel, general practitioner or specialist medical opinion) to assist with the decision - making process. The student may also seek an independent medical opinion and /or risk assessment. Ultimately the DPLP makes the final decision taking into account all assessments.
On-going viability of PLO

Lengthy interruptions in a PLO are not in the best interests of service users or students. In circumstances where absence from PLO extends beyond 10 days its continuation normally becomes unviable.


In such circumstances a student’s training team will meet to discuss the viability of the PLO and ‘duty of care’ to service users/carers, the student and others and the decision may be taken to discontinue the PLO.
Students should be aware that any decision to end a PLO due to these circumstances may result in their having a gap before their studies can continue.
The course director, practice learning co-ordinators (provider organisation and academic) should be advised of any outcome in a timely fashion by their representatives in the student’s training team. They can then advise onwards as appropriate and in line with data protection principles. In the case of any student who is also a regional trainee, relevant others within the employer organisation including the line manager should be informed, by the F/HEI, of the decision reached.

Depending on the nature of the circumstances leading to the discontinuation of the PLO course providers may require a student to submit written evidence such as a medical certificate indicating fitness to continue degree in social work training. In certain exceptional circumstances a student may not be able to complete the degree because of enduring ill–health.


Where a student has been absent from the programme for a significant period of time it is the F/HEI’s responsibility to ensure that he/she is adequately prepared to return to social work training and to commence a PLO. A PLO provider reserves the right to request information as to how a student has prepared for re-entering the programme prior to confirmation of the PLO.
Prior to allocation of a further PLO the F/HEI should complete a review of the student’s situation to ensure that he/she is occupationally ‘fit’ and ‘ready’ to commence another PLO.
Implications – Registrant Requirements to report to NISCC.

As a registrant:

‘Students must inform NISCC of any changes in their circumstances (www.niscc.info). This includes any temporary withdrawals, permanent withdrawals, or leave of absence from the course.’(NISCC: Revised 2009). Registration with NISCC also requires individuals to make a declaration about their health.
Withholding information where there might be a risk to the safety /welfare of service users, other staff or self, could become a conduct issue. Where such issues emerge during the course of a PLO the DPLP should inform the F/HEI and NISSC.

F/HEIs must also immediately inform NISCC of any student who withdraws temporarily or permanently.


What about a situation where the student is subject to unacceptable risk?

This could include:




  • The threat of violence to the student or their family or

  • Due to former employment, activity or personal circumstances there is potential risk to student, other staff or service users

In the above situations the risks as well as associated actions should, if possible, be identified, assessed and agreed by the student’s training team. However sometimes there may be differences in how individuals perceive both the risks and the impact of them on the PLO. A record of the risks and the views of the parties involved should be fully documented. Where a decision is taken to proceed with the PLO then any residual risk should be closely monitored and regularly reviewed by the student’s training team. Details of how this will be carried out, by whom and when, should form part of the documentation.
The decision to discontinue a PLO on the basis of the documented risks should be made by the PLO provider in consultation with the student’s training team. In the case of those students who are also regional trainees, relevant others within the employing agency including the line manager should be informed by the F/HEI.
An alternative PLO may be provided if a suitable one is available and the risks have been assessed as acceptable. This latter determination will be made by the practice teacher and tutor and/or their managers in consultation with the student and will depend on the stage of the PLO and availability of an alternative. The determination of suitability may also involve, with the necessary permissions, an assessment of risk by appropriate others.
Students should be aware that any decision to end a PLO due to these circumstances may result in their having a gap before their studies can continue.
What about circumstances where practice learning opportunities do not evolve as expected and there are no issues in relation to the student’s competence?

It is the practice teacher’s responsibility to ensure that learning opportunities are provided to enable the student to meet the learning requirements. However exceptional circumstances can arise where it becomes apparent that the learning opportunities are not evolving as initially planned and therefore not enabling the student to meet the level of practice competence required. In such circumstances any member of the student’s training team may raise the issue. At this point the training team should meet as a matter of priority to examine the concerns raised and to develop a plan of action, which may include an ‘extension’ of the PLO beyond the designated period, to address the situation. In the unlikely event that despite reasonable efforts it proves impossible to identify sufficient learning opportunities, then as a last resort the decision may have to be made to end the PLO.


The decision to end a PLO in such circumstances should only be made where all reasonable options have been explored e.g. split site, supplementary opportunities.
The student’s training team should make this decision in consultation with the organisation’s practice learning coordinator, and the senior manager within the organisation with responsibility for practice learning. In the case of any student who is also a regional trainee, relevant others within the employing agency including the line manager should be informed, by the F/HEI of the decision reached.
An alternative PLO may be provided however this will depend on

the stage of the PLO and availability of an alternative. Students should be aware that any decision to end a PLO due to these circumstances may result in their having a gap before their studies can continue.


What if there are extreme difficulties arising from the relationship between student and practice teacher/onsite supervisor?

The role and responsibilities of student, practice teacher and onsite supervisor are detailed in a number of documents including the Regional Practice Learning Handbook and the NISCC Practice Learning Standards, for the Degree in Social Work (Revised 2009). The working relationship between student and practice teacher/onsite supervisor is intended to be a professional one through which the learning and development of the student is facilitated and promoted. Positive interpersonal behaviour is central to working well together. It is essential that individuals behave appropriately and treat each other with respect.


On some occasions however the development of the student/ practice teacher/onsite supervisor relationship may encounter difficulties. It is important that situations of misunderstanding are not allowed to develop into conflict and therefore it is expected that both parties will endeavour, in the first instance, to address and resolve any difficulties within the context of the supervisory relationship. Best practice indicates that early and informal intervention is the most effective way of dealing with issues of conflict. While it is acknowledged that at times this can be difficult for all involved, concerns have to be shared openly to enable resolutions to be found. An informal approach often helps to lessen the impact of conflict on the persons involved, thereby reducing the risk of interruption to the PLO and the service to service users. In advancing towards professional competence students are required to demonstrate that they can use a range of skills to deal constructively with disagreements and conflict and work towards the resolution of difficult situations. A student has a responsibility, with the exception of extreme and irretrievable breakdown in communication, to raise any concerns with his/her practice teacher.
In the situation where it is proving difficult to use the supervisory relationship to address difficulties then the practice teacher, onsite supervisor (if applicable), student, tutor should convene a meeting in order to move towards a resolution. This meeting should focus on the identification and exploration of the issues and include the development of an action plan.
In the event that this meeting cannot achieve a satisfactory resolution then consideration should be given to convening a further meeting involving senior academic and agency staff. The student’s training team should normally be aware of any complaint or concern before it is brought to the attention of others within the organisation (e.g. Line manager, practice learning coordinator or the university course programme director).
Where it is noted that the situation is not improving and that it is adversely affecting the ability of the student to learn or the capacity of the practice teacher or onsite supervisor to facilitate learning, then consideration should be given to discontinuing the PLO. This decision should only be taken when all reasonable options have been explored and no alternative resolution realised. Failure to attempt to raise issues via established processes may result in concerns being raised about professional competence and accountability.
Policies and procedures exist within F/HEIs and provider organisations which the student and practice teacher/onsite supervisor can access where the informal process of resolution has been exhausted, and complainant wishes to initiate a formal process.
Formal Complaint by student

In circumstances where a student makes a formal complaint in writing, the decision as to which policy will apply lies with the provider organisation in which the student is placed.

Although individual situations may vary the NIDSWP have issued principles to which PLO provider organisations should adhere:


  • Reference must be made to existing agency documentation which may influence how to make a complaint for example, bullying and harassment policy, whistleblowing policy, complaints policy, disciplinary policy (a list of such policies should be made available to the student along with details of how they can be accessed).

  • Students should be made aware of the NISCC Code of Conduct for Employers and Code of Conduct for Social Care Staff (2002).

  • All above documentation must be drawn to the attention of the student during their induction to the agency.

  • Confidentiality should be maintained within this process – information should only be supplied to those with a need to know. Individuals should not discuss specific complaints with others, but must inform their personal tutor.

Where a complaint has been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated but concerns have been raised about conduct /competence /behaviour of complainant, the matter may be referred to F/HEI, PLO provider organisation and or NISCC.

Formal Complaint against a Student

Students may occasionally find themselves in the position where a formal complaint has been made against them during a PLO.

In circumstances where the complainant is a service user / carer the complaints policy and procedure of the PLO provider organisation will be applied and if substantiated this protocol will be initiated.

Where the complainant is an individual employed by PLO provider or another organisation this protocol will be utilised and if substantiated it may be referred to the F/HEI and /or NISCC.

Students should be provided with guidance/procedures on how a complaint against them may be addressed.


  • Students should be made aware of this protocol at the beginning of the course and it should also be discussed with them as part of preparation for PLO

  • Students should be made aware of the NISCC Code of Conduct for Social Care Staff (2002) and this should be discussed with them in the context of professional practice and accountability.

  • Students’ attention should be drawn to “fitness to practice” procedures within their academic institution.

  • All above documentation must be drawn to the attention of the student during their induction to the agency.

  • Confidentiality should be maintained within this process – information should only be supplied to those with a need to know. The student should not discuss specific complaints with others, but must inform their personal tutor

Key Points

  • In all circumstances where the PLO is incomplete/fail the practice teacher is required to submit a progress report to the Practice Assessment Panel.

  • In all of the above circumstances the course director, practice learning co-ordinators (organisation and academic) should be advised of any outcome in a timely fashion by their representatives in the student’s training team. They can then advise onwards as appropriate and in line with data protection principles.

  • In circumstances where the decision is taken to provide a further PLO, the timing of allocation of another PLO will be subject to availability and the allocation process. It should be noted that PLOs are scheduled to take place between certain regionally agreed dates and assessment procedures are geared to these dates. Therefore a student’s progress to the next stage of their study may be delayed.

PART TWO

Discontinuation of Practice Learning Opportunity on the basis of Professional Practice and Conduct Factors

Part Two.

Discontinuation of Practice Learning Opportunity on the basis of Professional Practice and Conduct Factors

Introduction

The professional demands of social work require high standards of conduct and practice from all social care workers because they have responsibilities associated with working with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and groups in society.


Students, who are studying for the degree in social work, are required to be registered on the NISCC register for students. The NISCC Code of Practice for Social Care Workers (2002) states:
Social care workers are responsible for making sure that their conduct does not fall below the standards set out in this code and that no action or omission on their part harms the wellbeing of service users.’ (www.niscc.info)
This Code applies to both academic and practice settings and reminds social care workers, including social work students, that high standards of conduct are expected throughout their professional careers commencing with their initial training.
As part of their professional training, social work students must undertake periods of practice learning which requires them to work directly with service users and carers. During these periods students are expected to adhere to the NISCC Code of Practice, and to also act in accordance with the relevant legislation, policies and procedures that govern and direct the work of the profession they are entering.
In circumstances where a reasonable cause for concern is raised with regard to the conduct and/or practice of a student, the university provider will consider this under their ‘fitness for practice procedures’. This is a document based on a defined set of principles and details the procedures for investigation and decision–making in matters where the conduct and/or practice of students does not appear to meet the required standard (For further details of Fitness for Practice Procedures please refer to http://www.ulster.ac.uk/studenthandbook/

http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofSociologySocial PolicySocial Work/ or to the NIDSWP, Student and Practice Teacher Toolkit 2014.
In addition, the NISCC Rules for the Approval of the Degree in Social Work (2003) require programmes to have in place procedures for termination of social work training. This is in order to protect the interests of service users and carers as well as student’s interests, and to ensure that students deemed unsuitable to practice as social workers are prevented from being awarded a Degree in Social Work. Similarly the interests of those providing practice learning opportunities should also be safeguarded.
This section of the protocol details the process to be followed to determine if discontinuation of a PLO is appropriate.
Any process to investigate concerns or allegations regarding the conduct and/or practice of a social work student while undertaking work based practice learning must take into account university procedures relating to fitness for practice, NISCC procedures relating to registration (www.niscc.info) and any procedures relating to the agency in which the student is based while undertaking PLO.
It is important to understand that the question of a person’s suitability to train as a social worker can arise at any point throughout the period of registration with NISCC. It is not simply a matter affecting initial registration.
The stages outlined in the following attempt to ensure that the relevant organisations are advised of the situation, and that where possible action is progressed in an efficient manner, and in keeping with the laws of natural justice. Students can expect to be supported by their HEI during the course of any investigation.
Therefore the process requires close communication between all those agencies that may be required to take action as a result of the enquiry and/or its findings, including their own internal investigation at the same time, or subsequently, should they feel this to be necessary.

The Process

The process to be followed when concern is raised with regard to the behaviour/conduct and /or practice of a student while she/he is undertaking PLO
Stage 1: Information is received.
Information may be received by the F/HEI, the NISCC or the practice learning provider agency. As noted above, all of these organisations may take action with regard to the information received. All effort should be made to ensure as coordinated a process as possible.
It is vital that the F/HEI, NISCC and the provider organisation inform each other when there is serious concern about the conduct and/or practice of a student. (NISCC: 2010, Registration of Social Work Students on the Social Care Register)
Where the information received is of a nature where there is reasonable belief that an individual(s) are at risk, those receiving the information may initiate an immediate precautionary suspension of the PLO without prejudice, on the basis of this initial information alone. This decision will ultimately reside with the organisation offering the PLO but where possible it will be in consultation with the practice teacher, tutor and others involved in the provision of the practice learning experience. The organisation will verbally inform the student and F/HEI of the nature of the information and precautionary suspension within 24 hours of the information being received, and this will normally be followed up in writing within 48 hours. This precautionary suspension will remain in force until at least such times as a strategy meeting can be held to establish the full basis for concerns, and the validity of same (Refer to stage 2).
No party can make the decision to terminate a PLO until stages 2 and 3 of the process have been fully completed.
Those involved in the student’s training team will advise the relevant people within their organisation of this course of action. Relevant people at this stage would be the practice learning coordinator for the provider organisation and for the F/HEI, the senior manager for practice learning and development within the organisation, F/HEI course director and manager of the PLO team/unit.
Where the student is a regional trainee, the appropriate personnel within the trainee’s employing agency, including the line manager must also be informed. The employer also has a responsibility to inform NISCC.
Where there is reasonable belief that the student’s actions may also have broken the law the PSNI should be advised accordingly by the provider agency hosting the PLO, in line with its reporting procedures.
In circumstances where the University’s ‘fitness for practice’ procedures have been invoked it will be the academic institution’s responsibility to provide NISCC with the information that it judges to be pertinent to the student’s behaviour/conduct and/or practice of concern. Students also have a responsibility to report any change in their circumstances to NISCC, their training team and/or relevant others. (NISCC: 2010, Registration of Social Work students on the Social Care Register)
NISCC have a responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct against registrants and to take action against those where misconduct has been proven. While NISCC may choose to begin their own investigation at this point they will normally await the outcome of the F/HEI procedures before determining whether they wish to conduct their own investigation.

Stage 2: Strategy Meeting.
A strategy meeting will take place (normally within 3 working days) of receipt of the information. This will be convened and chaired by a representative of the F/HEI or DPLP. This meeting applies regardless of whether the student is suspended or not.
The meeting will involve student, tutor, and practice teacher. It will also involve the practice learning coordinator or equivalent from the organisation providing the PLO. The student may be accompanied by either a university student union representative, course student representative or a representative from the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW). A relative, trade union representative, MLA or legal person (e.g. solicitor) may not accompany the student.
Representatives should be made fully aware of their role and their responsibilities in relation to confidentiality and information governance procedures.
This meeting will consider:


  1. The nature of the information, its reliability in terms of evidence and its seriousness.




  1. The student’s response to the information.



  1. The steps to be taken and by whom to determine the validity of the information.



  1. Whether precautionary suspension of the PLO should occur or PLO should continue while the enquiry is on-going. The F/HEI should also consider whether they need to place the student on suspension pending further investigation or outcome of a university ‘fitness for practice’ hearing.



  1. A timetable for the investigation to include the steps to be taken and by whom.

Other areas for consideration will be determined depending on the particular case in question.

A written record of the meeting will be made and shared with all parties who have attended the strategy meeting. The record will be stored in line with the DPLP’s policy and procedures
The NISCC may impose an interim suspension order on a registrant, pending the outcome of any investigation, where the allegation is of a serious nature and such action is necessary for the protection of the public or the registrant. If this occurs the student will automatically be suspended by the F/HEI and by the employer where the student is a regional trainee.
The student should be made aware that if they are also employed in another social care capacity, they are obliged under the NISCC Code of Practice to duly inform his/her employer:


  • that he/she is under investigation

  • the outcome of the investigation.

The F/HEI must confirm with the employer that the student has informed his/her employer.


NISCC can be contacted for informal discussion about registration issues, at any stage prior to or during an investigation

.Stage 3: Investigation.


The investigation is carried out by a member of the provider organisation who has had no prior direct involvement in the student’s PLO experience but preferably has some knowledge of practice learning. A written report must be completed, and where timeframes allow it should be circulated prior to the outcome meeting. Everyone attending the meeting, including the student and their support person will normally get a copy of the report prior to the meeting.

Stage 4: Outcome Meeting.
A meeting will be held to consider the report and will then make a determination as to whether the PLO should continue or be discontinued, and any other action.
Those involved in the strategy meeting should also attend the outcome meeting. The student may be accompanied by either a university student union representative, course student representative or a representative from the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW). A relative, trade union representative, MLA or legal person (e.g. solicitor) may not accompany the student.
The outcome meeting will normally occur within 10 working days of the strategy meeting.
Following a decision:


  • There may be no further action to be taken and the PLO may continue.( Refer to Regional Practice Learning Handbook, for guidance on absence from PLO)




  • Where the investigation has confirmed concerns, but PLO is not discontinued, the student’s training team will develop an action plan for the remainder of the PLO.




  • Concerns are confirmed and the PLO is discontinued. Discontinuation of the PLO due to inappropriate conduct/behaviour or practice issues will result in:



  1. The PLO being failed




  1. F/HEI instigating ‘fitness to practise’ procedures, the result of which will be reported to NISCC and where the student is deemed unfit to practice by the F/HEI the NISCC will then apply its conduct procedures



  1. Where the student is employed in a social care capacity, the employer indicating what further action they intend to take



  1. Where the police have been involved, the PSNI indicating what further action they intend to take.

Following this meeting the decision should be communicated, within two working days, by the Chair of the meeting in writing to the student, relevant people within the F/HEI, the NISCC, the PLO provider organisation and where relevant the employing agency where the student is a regional trainee.
In circumstances where the outcome is that the PLO is terminated and the student wishes to appeal he /she have the right to do so using university appeal procedures which relate to assessment decisions.
Further Practice Learning Opportunities

Where it is decided under

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