How to prepare for your first social work practice placement?….

Linking Theory and practice
Practice placements link the theory and skills you learn in your degree to your social work practice

Having recently completed my first placement last December, I thought it would be useful (while everything is still fresh in my memory) to share a few tips on what you should consider in preparing for your first placement. Most student social workers are anxious about their first placement, after all, it is a test run of what working as a bona-fide social worker would be like. There are a few things you can do to alleviate that anxiety and prepare yourself for your first placement, if like me, you want to at least have an illusion of control!

As you may already know, as part of the BA Social Work, and in order to become a qualified social worker, you will undertake approximately 200 days in practice learning environments split into three stages during your social work degree.  The three stages include: 30 days skills practice, 70 days first placement and 100 days final placement. Yes I know, 200 days sounds like an eternity…. but these placements and skills practice days are essential. They provide direct experience of social work practice, helping you to link the theory and skills you learn through your degree to your practice. Fear not! The University of York has dedicated and approachable staff who arrange your social work placement opportunities and support you throughout your placement.



Personal Circumstances – Think carefully about your personal circumstances. For example if you have access needs, caring responsibilities etc. that might impact on the type of placement or the support you need. I made note of my childcare responsibilities on my placement application form and discussed it with my Placement Coordinator.

Placement Application forms – Convey your relevant experience, learning needs and any other particular needs as clearly and honestly as possible. This information is used to determine an appropriate placement and what support and opportunities will need to be provided. I have a particular interest in Mental Health, so clearly stated that on my application.

Criminal record checks – You may be required to undertake an enhanced disclosure prior to commencement of your placement. I signed up to the Disclosure and Barring Service’s (DBS) Update Service. It is a convenient way of keeping my DBS certificate up to date online and allows placement providers to check certificates online. For further details you can refer to the DBS website.

Read your placement handbook – You will receive a placement handbook from the university which contains guidance and key information about you placement and explains the terminology and acronyms used ….please read it!

Be patient –  Placements are arranged at different times, therefore some students may find out about their placement before you do. Do not panic, you will find out the who, what, when and where of your placement in due course.

Interview – Hooray! You have been contacted and offered an interview. This will take place between you and the placement provider. I researched my placement agency (drug and alcohol recovery) before the interview and paid particular attention to specific legislation and policy in that area of work just in case I was asked.

Placement offer – Your interviewers were impressed, and you have secured your placement. You now have 70 days (this goes by quickly) to make a good impression and to learn as much as you can from this experience. Professionalism is important, make sure you are punctual, dress job appropriately, respect confidentiality, show an interest in the work and make an effort to integrate into the team.


Time Management – While on placement organisation is the key. You have to undertake practice learning, complete your portfolio as well as a full-time placement….and fit in the rest of your life. Ensure your time spent on placement is planned in an organised and coherent way. I found it useful to create a weekly plan.

Familiarise yourself with the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF)

Evidence your capabilities – Familiarise yourself with the standards of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). These frameworks provide guidance and information on the professional expectations of students at the end of their first placement.

Ask questions – If you do not understand something, ask a question. You are on placement to learn,  don’t feel ashamed to ask and ask again if things are still not clear.  Established teams will sometimes have their own jargon and acronyms for describing things, ask for an explanation or clarification if you are unsure about anything. On my first day of placement, I was told that “Spock” answered all phone calls to the office. I could not wait to meet “Spock”, as I am a big fan of Star Trek. Turns out ‘SPOC’ isn’t a person, it stands for “Single Point of Contact” in other words, a call centre….you can’t imagine my disappointment!

Enjoy it!  Your first placement is a significant milestone in your journey to qualifying as a social worker. The learning opportunities on placement allow you to apply what you are learning in university and is an exciting element of the degree programme. It is understandable that a shift from university-based study into a workplace may take you out of your ‘comfort zone’. Just remember, you will be supported throughout your placement by experienced supervisors and practitioners both at the university and on placement. You will also be given time to reflect on and discuss your experiences….so relax and enjoy it!


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Hi! My name is Renée and I am a 2nd year Social Work student. I am a mature student and balance my time between my studies and looking after my family. I am thoroughly enjoying my course thus far and hope to give you a useful insight into the life of a Social Work student at The University of York.