Pedagogical Intent and Placement Diversity in Social Work Field Education

One University’s Experiences


  • James J. Lucas Deakin University
  • Sevi Vassos Deakin University


Field Education, Social Work Placements, Placement Supervision, Practice Learning, Practicum


Field placement is central to the professional education of aspiring social workers. The immersive learning that occurs in health and human service organisations under the direct supervision of practising social workers provides a real-world context for the integration of classroom and field-based learning. Yet, in recent decades, a range of contextual changes have impacted on the supply of quality placements. The concurrent marketisation of higher education and health/human services has led to widespread placement shortages. Universities and placement organisations are diversifying practice learning opportunities to build capacity for placements in organisations. Also, little is known about how today’s placement opportunities align with the pedagogical intent of social work education. This paper aims to contribute to the discussion about placement diversity and how this aligns with our pedagogical intent. Adopting a case-study approach, the paper reports on the nature and structure of placements undertaken by 76 Deakin University social work students in 2018. The findings suggest that, although the traditional one-to-one placement remains dominant, placements are diversifying, yet not necessarily in line with our pedagogical intent. A more strategic approach is needed if we are to reap the pedagogical gains of practice-based learning.


Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). (2012). The Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS). In. Canberra: AASW.

Australian Government. (2017). Introducing competition and informed user choice into human services: Reform to human services, Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, October, 2017. Retrieved from services/reforms/report/human-services-reforms.pdf

Baines, D. (2011). An overview of anti-oppressive practice: Roots, theory, tensions. In D. Baines (ed.) Doing anti-oppressive practice: Social justice social work (2nd ed.). Black Point, Nova Scotia: Ferwood Publishing, 1-24.

Barton, H., Bell, K., & Bowles, W. (2005). Help or hindrance? Outcomes of social work student placements. Australian Social Work, 58 (3), 301-312.

Bogo, M. (2015). Field education for clinical social work practice: Best practices and contemporary challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43(3), 317-324.

Cleak, H. (2018). Inspiration or Desperation: The challenge of innovation in field education in the Australian context. Guest Editorial, Advances in Social Work and Welfare Education, 20(1), 6-13.

Cleak, H., & Smith, D. (2012). Student satisfaction with models of field placement supervision. Australian Social Work, 65(2), 243-258.

Cleak, H., & Zuchowski, I. (2018). Empirical Support and Considerations for Social Work Supervision of Students in Alternative Placement Models. Clinical Social Work Journal, 1-11.

Crisp, B. R., & Hosken, N. (2016). A fundamental rethink of practice learning in social work education. Social Work Education, 35(5), 506-517.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

Dominelli, L. (1996). Deprofessionalizing social work: Anti-oppressive practice, competencies and postmodernism. The British Journal of Social Work, 26(2), 153-175.

Dominelli, L. (2002). Feminist social work theory and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Dominelli, L. (2008). Anti-racist social work (3rd ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Fook, J. (2012). Social work: A critical approach to practice (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Hair Jr., J. F., Black, W. C., Babin, B. J., & Anderson, R. E. (2010). Multivariate Data Analysis: A Global Perspective. New Jersey: Person Education Limited

Healy, K., & Lonne, B. (2010). The social work and human services workforce: Report from a national study of education, training and workforce needs. Australian Learning and Teaching Council, NSW, Australia.

Healy, K., & Meagher, G. (2004). The reprofessionalization of social work: Collaborative approaches for achieving professional recognition. British Journal of Social Work, 34(2), 243-260.

Ife, J. (1997). Rethinking Social Work: Towards critical practice. South Melbourne: Longman

Johnston, J. (2011). Interrogating the goals of work-integrated learning: Neoliberal agendas and critical pedagogy. Asia- Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education. 12(3), 175-182.

Karger, H. (2012). Lessons from American social work education: Caution ahead. Australian Social Work, 65(3), 311-325.

Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human development (6th ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Lee, M., & Fortune, A. (2013). Do we need more “doing” activities or “thinking” activities in the field practicum? Journal of Social Work Education, 49(4), 646–660.

Lonne, B. (2013). Reshaping our protective systems: Issues and options. Communities, Children and Families Australia, 7(1), 9-20

Lundy, C. (2011). Social work, social justice and human rights: A structural approach to practice (2nd ed.). Ontario: University of Toronto Press.

Marston, G., McDonald, C., & Bryson, L. (2014). The Australian welfare state. Who benefits now? South Melbourne: Palgrave MacMillan Publishers.

Morley, C., & Dunstan, J. (2013). Critical reflection: A response to neoliberal challenges to field education? Social Work Education, 32(2), 141-156.

Moser, K., & Kalton, G. (1989). Survey Methods in Social Investigation (2nd ed.). Aldershot: Gower.

Mullaly, B. (2010). Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege (2nd ed.). Don Mills: Oxford University Press.

Ozanne, E. & Rose, D. (2013). The organisational context of human services practice. South Yarra, Victoria: Palgrave Macmillan.

Preston, S., George, P., & Silver, S. (2014). Field education in social work: The need for reimagining. Critical Social Work, 15(1), 57-72.

Scholar, H., McCaughan, S., McLaughlin, H., & Coleman, A. (2012). ‘Why is this not social work? ’The contribution of ‘non- traditional’ placements in preparing social work students for practice. Social Work Education, 31(7), 932-950.

Singh, G. & Cowden, S. (2009) The social worker as intellectual, European Journal of Social Work, 12(4), 479-493. Thompson, N. (2012). Anti-discriminatory practice (5th ed.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Vassos, S., & Connolly, M. (2014). Team-based rotation in social work field education: An alternative way of preparing students for practice in statutory child welfare services. Communities, Children and Families Australia, 8(1), 49-66.

Vassos, S., Harms, L. & Rose, D. (2018). Supervision and social work students: relationships in a team-based rotation placement model, Social Work Education – The International Journal, 37(3), 328-341.

Vassos, S., Harms, L. & Rose, D. (2019). Exploring rotation placements for social work: A focus on student and supervisor experiences, Journal of Social Work Education, Published online: 15 February, 2019. doi: 10.1080/10437797.2018.1520666.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wallace, J., & Pease, B. (2011). Neoliberalism and Australian social work: Accommodation or resistance? Journal of social work, 11(2), 132-142.

Wayne, J., Bogo, M., & Raskin, M. (2006). Field notes: The need for radical change in field education. Journal of Social Work Education, 42(1), 161-169.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89−100.

Woodside, A. G., & Wilson, E. J. (2003). Case study research methods for theory building. Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, 18(6/7), 493-508.

Yates, D., Moore, D., & McCabe, G. (1999). The Practice of Statistics. New York: W. H. Freeman. Yin, R. K. (1994). Case Study Research: Design and Methods, (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Zuchowski, I., Cleak, H., Nickson, A., & Spencer, A. (2018). A National Survey of Australian Social Work Field Education Programs: Innovation with Limited Capacity. Australian Social Work, 72(1), 75–90.