The Open University
Category Supporter: Practice Educator of the Year
Web: www.open.ac.uk / @OpenUniversity
The Open University (OU) has a long and distinguished track record in delivering practice-based social work education. In 1995, the OU was funded initially by the Department of Health to develop a work-based Diploma in Social Work (DipSW) to increase the number and calibre of social workers and offer career progression. We have been working ever since to offer innovative, work-based programmes to help employers grow their own practitioners from among their experienced social care workforce. Around 6,000 social workers have entered the profession through The OU’s Social Work diploma and degree programmes, making the OU a significant contributor to social work and social care practice across the UK.
The OU was an early pioneer of integrating practice and academic learning, guiding participants to relate their learning to practice and apply what they learn very quickly. Because participants have experience of working in social care, they go into the profession thoroughly prepared for the challenges of professional practice as social workers and typically remain in the profession working with the employer who supported them.
The OU’s curriculum and practice learning model for social work and social care education is based on:
- the fundamental principle of openness and accessibility on which the OU was founded (to ensure the widest possible access to high-quality learning irrespective of prior educational background and no matter where people are located geographically)
- tried and tested partnership with employers, social work practitioners, practice educators and people who use services
- learning that is embedded in practice, enabling participants to make a positive impact on social work practice from an early stage in their learning
Working with the OU serves to retain staff in service as they develop. Employer partners range from local authorities to voluntary and independent organisations and NHS Trusts. Many have longstanding relationships with us and sponsor OU students each year.
The typical profile of a student on the OU Social Work programme is someone who is in full-time work in a support role in social services; has family commitments and/or caring responsibilities and would find it difficult to access staff development at a campus-based university. They will invest personal time in study; will be motivated to succeed because they have clear academic and career goals; will be supported by their employer and will pay back that employer’s support in loyalty and years of service.
Personal support is crucial to students succeeding in their learning and professional goals. The OU model provides a network of support to students on placement including an academic tutor, a practice tutor, peer and employer support – and of course the practice educator. Our practice educators are at the heart of this network and play a vital role in enabling students to evolve into reflective and critical practitioners:
“The placement was the most valuable time for me… when I really started to understand about reflecting on my practice.”
We are delighted to support this award, which celebrates the huge impact a great Practice Educator can have on a social work student’s experience of practice learning.