Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Beyond the classroom: integrating legal knowledge, practice learning and user experience to prepare students for ethical practice in the human services

Keywords: law, ethics, practice learning

Authors: Professor Suzy Braye (University of Sussex), Professor Michael Preston-Shoot (University of Bedfordshire), Ms Amanda Thorpe (University of Bedfordshire)

Legal rules provide a significant mandate for the work of human service practitioners. With growing emphasis on accountability for practice standards, the relationship between law and professional ethics also emerges as important. Yet it is debatable how well students are prepared for the complexity of practice. Inquiries and legal judgments provide disturbing evidence of human service organisations acting unlawfully and/or unethically. The challenge for educators is to help students connect legal literacy with other sources of knowledge, such as the perspectives of service users and caregivers, to support ethical practice.

This research-based paper analyses the barriers and opportunities that exist for promoting student learning about the contribution of law to ethical practice. It will draw on a systematic review and survey of current education practice in teaching law to social workers and other human service professionals; a user review involving stakeholders in practice learning for social work students; and a comparative analysis of teaching law to social workers in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.

It will demonstrate that even when law is seen as an important component of professional education (as, for example, in relation to social work education in the UK) most curriculum development to date has focused on college-based learning, missing significant opportunities for integration with practice challenges. Elsewhere the emphasis on law learning for social work practice is more variable and this variability applies also to students training for professions such as teaching and nursing. The paper will also demonstrate that despite their experience of the implementation of legal rules, service users' and caregivers' involvement in this aspect of professional education is developing only slowly.

The paper will conclude with indicators for the development of good pedagogic practice, including the involvement of service users and caregivers, in law learning for the human service professions.

This paper will be of interest and relevance to academic lecturers and to practice teachers and assessors who are involved in the teaching and assessment of law and ethics to students across the human services. It will be useful for those service users and carers who are also involved in the teaching and assessment of practice, and to regulators and policy makers with a remit for standards in professional education and practice.

Date: Thursday 24 January 2008, 3.30-4.00

Venue: Carrick Two

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Organised by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in association with PEPE (Practical Experiences in Professional Education).