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A Week in the Life of a University Academic

Peter Ayling, Senior Lecturer at University of Worcester

Despite the summer break here at the university, it has been a busy week.

We recently held our Award Exam board which confirms the degree results for our final year students and today I have been contacted by enthusiastic graduating students who wish to complete their registration with the HCPC, ahead of starting their new jobs. We had a great final day together with the students in June, reviewing their progress and celebrating their achievements on the programme. It was exciting to hear of their plans for social work and to realise most of them had already secured employment. One of the most satisfying aspects of this job, is watching how our students develop during their degree and grow into their professional roles, often coming back to pass on their hard- earned wisdom to our new students.

In my role as an External Examiner, this week, I also attended the Exam Board at another university in the south of England, to support the quality assurance processes for their social work degree programme. It was great to meet with other academics and hear about their experiences managing a busy degree programme, whilst recognising some of our common challenges in terms of supporting student well-being managing placement issues with students.

Our assessment re-submission deadline was also this week and so I spent a morning grading student re-assessments and confirming results for our re-submission exam board. Like so many social work roles, keeping on top of the administrative procedures is a big part of modern university life, and take up a disproportionate amount of time at this point in the year. However, they help to ensure our students can demonstrate progress in achieving their academic goals, and also ensure that our graduates are meeting the required standards set down by the social work regulator. We are committed to helping our students to be as well prepared as they can be for the many challenges of the profession, both academically and practically.

I had an interesting meeting recently with some advanced social work practitioners in one of our partner authorities to discuss how we could collaborate together more effectively at a local level. We talked about how we could make the best use of their practice expertise for our students, inviting them in to give input into key modules on safeguarding and risk assessment in year 2, as well as thinking about their views on leadership and managing change in the final year. We also discussed how the university might support them as a professional group more, identifying opportunities for research briefings and potential joint research projects.

Then back to the university to hold admissions interviews for our MA programme. It is always interesting to hear from potential candidates about their reasons for wanting to train as a social worker and I spent an enjoyable morning listening to some really strong candidates sharing their hopes for their social work careers and for the profession as a whole.

I received two really important student–related e-mails this week at work. One was from the NHS bursaries agency, informing us of our bursary allocation for the next year. For students at both BA and MA level, nomination for a bursary can offer significant financial support during their social work training and it is always a dilemma for the team when we have to identify which students will be eligible under our criteria. Training to be a social worker is an expensive commitment in the current financial climate and we need to recognise the financial pressures many of our students are under during their training.

The second e-mail was the National Student Survey results which all third year students complete to give feedback about their programmes. The NSS survey is used nationally as a way to give prospective students information about the course and so has a really high profile in higher education. I am happy to say our results were pretty good this year with an overall satisfaction score of 94%, a significant improvement on last year’s score. We have worked hard as a team to respond to student’s feedback during the year and I am pleased it seems to have paid off. The face of higher education has really changed over the last twenty years and as academic staff we have had to adjust too, learning new skills and responding more directly to the market. As a team we have made a commitment to incorporate more blended learning within our teaching programme, using virtual classrooms, student online forums and video lectures to complement our face to face classroom teaching. We are therefore undertaking some training together to help us get used to using the new software and equipment as a team. Students consistently tell us that they like to access learning in a wide range of ways so this is something we are keen to integrate more within our existing programme.

I spent a chunk of yesterday writing a research ethics proposal as part of my part-time PhD research project. I am exploring social worker’s emotional responses to children within my research and am halfway through my study. It has been a privilege to interview social workers about their experiences of working with children and frequently moving and inspiring to hear about the work they are doing, often in challenging situations. I am hoping to interview some managers and supervisors during the next stage so am busy writing my interview protocol for that study.

However, I did attend a School of Allied Health and Community away day this week with colleagues from a range of other health disciplines including, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and paramedic science. We spent some time talking about how to develop genuine inter-disciplinary learning opportunities when our students can meet and learn about one another’s roles and engage in practice simulation. We have a range of facilities at the University including simulated hospital wards and home environments that support this type of inter-professional learning. Towards the end of the day, the participants were able to prioritise some much needed self-care and I joined in some mindfulness meditation facilitated by one of my colleagues from the foundation degree in Mental Health. As a teaching team this is an area which we have focused on explicitly this year for our students, organising wellbeing drop-ins which offer relaxation and wellbeing strategies, as well as formal teaching on building resilience and managing change in complex organisations. As a profession we need to really prioritise the emotional wellbeing and self-care skills of our workers and seek to create emotionally sustaining work environments. This is something we look forward to collaborating with colleagues from across the Teaching Partnership in the coming years.

Pete Ayling is Course Leader and Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Worcester. His social work experience is in Children and Families social work, working in a range of contexts including Safeguarding, looked after children and CAMHS.

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