Introduction to Social Work Field Education

Field Education is a core component of the University of Sydney Social Work program. Its philosophy is aligned with the Australian National Field Education Network's statement on Field Education as the Distinctive Pedagogy of Social Work Education (pdf, 1.4MB), promoting a community-of-learners’ model that aims to engage all key people in the provision of good learning opportunities in field practice to:

  • provide students with a variety of professional practice tasks

  • challenge students whilst providing peer and professional support

  • develop knowledge and skills

  • link theory and practice

  • develop a professional identity

  • develop critical reflection skills.

Underpinning the community-of-learners' model are theories of adult learning, transformational learning, experiential learning in action and critical thinking. At least some field education is expected to take place in a placement with NSW Health, which involves mandatory checks and clearances that must be competed prior to commencement of the placement.

The Field Education learning expectations are developed across the program aiming to develop values, skills and knowledge from a beginner to a practitioner capable of meeting AASW Practice Standards (pdf, 700kB).

Classes prior to the commencement of Field Education prepare the students to apply theory to practice, to employ a range of Social Work interventions and to demonstrate professional values and ethics. In preparation for each Field Education placement, each agency field educator determines the scope and parameters of learning opportunities within their setting. In negotiation with the field educator, using the specific Field Education course learning expectations as a framework, students produce a set of learning goals. These goals set out what they hope to learn and how this learning will occur. Student learning is monitored and assessed by the field educator and the class teacher during the course of the field placement.

Principles guiding Field Education

  • The Field Education program is grounded in theory.

  • The program is based on a learning philosophy in which the student is an active participant.

  • Students will be provided with diverse learning opportunities.

  • The program is consistent with AASW requirements.

Objectives of the Field Education program

Each facet of the Social Work Field Education program is expected to contribute to the learning experience of students to:

  • complement classwork in developing students’ professional identity and competence

  • facilitate students’ understanding of the social, economic and political context of social work and critical analysis of the place of social work in society

  • familiarise students with competing theories about the individual and society, and with tensions arising from these that are inherent in all social-work intervention

  • promote students’ competence to act in managing these tensions through the acquisition of social-work skills and methods, including research

  • facilitate students’ developing coherent practice that assists individuals and promotes social change

  • implement an educational philosophy that promotes learning partnerships between students, field educators and staff of the school.

Collaborating with agencies

In collaborating with agencies, the school seeks to:

  • develop continuing reciprocal relationships in order to facilitate student education, research, consultation and continuing professional development

  • provide high-quality Field Education

  • create the opportunity for innovative practice

  • develop formal agreements about the responsibilities of all parties

  • support field educators in assisting students' learning.

AASW requirements for Field Education

  • Students must spend a minimum total of 1000 hours in at least two field placements.

  • No placement will be less than 40 days.

  • Patterns of placement days may vary from five days per week to a minimum of three days per week.

  • No placement shall be an observational placement.

  • In every placement students must be supervised by a qualified social worker who has a minimum of two years’ full-time practice experience.

  • Students must undertake placements in at least two practice settings (e.g.: hospital, neighbourhood centre, government agency).

  • Students must experience at least two fields of practice (for example, mental health and child protection, or refugee settlement and disability services).

  • Students must be able to practice using a diverse range of social work interventions, including casework, group work, community work, policy development, social action and research.

For more details see section 4.3: “Field Education” of the AASW’s Policy Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (AASW 2008)

Field Education Handook