Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

We're here tae make a difference

Keywords: participation, young people, care experiences, social work education

Authors: Jeremy Millar (The Robert Gordon University); John Thomson (The Group-a voice of reason); William Rae (The Group-a voice of reason); Alexander Horne (The Group-a voice of reason)

The practice of involving service users in the development and delivery of social work courses has tended to be ad hoc, often relying on the individual contacts and personal motivation of the teaching staff. Therefore the requirement from the SCIE (Future Objectives: Theme 4; Developing Learning Organisations) to establish collaborative learning involving service users, carers and employers presented a significant challenge in relation to how the Robert Gordon University reviewed its approach to teaching social work students.

In addition the review of social work in Scotland, the 'Changing Lives' (Scottish Executive 2006) report highlighted the requirement to involve service users and carers in service design and delivery. Such initiatives are grounded in emancipatory social work values and must aspire to a model of best practice if they are to avoid accusations of tokenism. The process of implementation can serve to provoke reflection, anxiety and not a little dissonance. One challenge inherent in the process is working with the tensions of bringing the 'outside' inside and promoting the personal growth of the student, service user and the academic staff.

We are a group of young people with experiences of public care who all contribute to social work teaching and course development at the Robert Gordon University. We call ourselves the Group-a voice of reason.

Our workshop will comprise of two parts, the first will illustrate our development in the form of a story enhanced by images to illustrate our achievements in personal growth and our contribution to the learning environment at the Robert Gordon University. The landmark events we cover include winning a Care Accolade category award in 2006 and completing the Columba 1400 leadership course in the same year. The second part of the workshop will give the participants hands on opportunity to experience one of the teaching exercises that we use with the first year students. We will be happy to talk informally, in the smaller groups, about our work and the feedback that we have had from students and academics.

We are also excited about our forthcoming article in the journal of the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care which is due to be published in the New Year.

This workshop consciously sets out to confront some of the unspoken and assumptive notions of what constitutes social work education in 21st century Scotland and addresses the specifics of how we introduce the voice of the 'Other' through narratives that directly engage the service user/carer and the student in the potential of the relational aspect of the social work task. It is envisaged that this workshop would be of interest to educators, policy makers and people who are enthused by social pedagogic practice.


This workshop provides evidence of innovative developments in terms of best practice around developing partnership working with hard to reach groups of young people. Arguably the work of the Group-a voice of reason offers a model of service development that could be adopted by other Schools of Social Work. The workshop would be of interest to practioners, social work educators and policy makers.

Date: Friday 25 January 2008, 1.30-3.00

Venue: Ochil One

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