Phenomenological inquiry into the development of social work students' practice as they progress through training
This research is based on fifty one interviews with twenty one students drawn from two cohorts who were undertaking a two year postgraduate course leading to the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work. The students were interviewed in depth about their work with one client or client group at key stages of their education and training. The aims of the research were threefold: to ascertain whether different approaches to practice could be described on the basis of the students' accounts of their work, thus making a contribution to the development of evaluative methods in the field of social work education; to explore the influence of training on students' approaches to practice; and to contribute to understanding of the use of theory in social work practice. The information generated in relation to the first of these three aims derives from the construction of a typology of three approaches to social work practice grounded in the students' accounts of their work. The three approaches have been termed an everyday social approach, a fragmented approach and a fluent approach to reflect their key distinguishing features. In turn, the description of these distinguishing features constitutes a contribution to understanding of the use of theory in social work practice, since they revolve partly around the extent to which the students drew on the type of knowledge which is usually described as theoretical, and partly around the ways in which this type of knowledge was used. It was beyond the scope of the research to assess the relative effectiveness of the three approaches, and the typology cannot, therefore, be regarded as representing a hierarchy of performance levels. It is, however, a central premise of the thesis that the typology represents a model within which the development of the students' ability to make use of course content in practice can be understood. Three tentative conclusions emerge about the influence of the students' education and training on the development of their practice in this respect. Firstly, although some aspects of academic teaching appear to have played a significant part in the development of the students' practice, the teaching approaches employed may have imposed constraints on the extent to which they were able to make use of course content in practice. Secondly, the practice teaching approaches encountered by the students appear to have been closely associated with the development of their practice. Finally, the research suggests that the learning milieux provided by the students' placement agencies could also have some bearing on the development of their practice.