CPD: everyone’s involved in practice education

CSP professional adviser Nina Paterson explains why everyone can contribute to making practice education a resounding success.

The exciting thing about practice education is that it is something we can all talk about because we’re all involved in it. I’ve just come back from visiting one of the universities that delivers pre-registration physiotherapy education to determine whether the programme meets the CSP’s expectations for accreditation. Together with a colleague, an experienced physiotherapy educator, on such visits we meet with students and service users. 
We also meet the senior management team, the lecturers and those responsible for admissions and placements. Last, but not least of course, we meet those who provide the placements for the next generation of physiotherapists. 
These events usually take place at the same time as the university is quality assuring the programme or when the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is re-approving it, which means that we are normally part of a wider panel. 
On this particular visit, while we were taking a break, I was asked a series of questions by another panel member. He wasn’t a physiotherapist and didn’t work in a health-related area. He was there to provide external scrutiny. At such events, an outside perspective is really valuable. 
His question appeared simple at first but I had to stop typing my notes to attend to it. ‘Whose responsibility is it to ensure that practice educators are “up to the job”?’ It isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this and often it is a physiotherapist posing the question.
My reply? First, the HCPC standards of education and training (or SETs) present clear expectations relating to practice education in section 5. And it is a regulatory requirement that practice educators undertake appropriate practice placement educator training. You’ll find it in section 5.8 here.  
Second, yes, there is an expectation that the programme providers, the universities, are accountable as they must demonstrate that they comply with the SETs. The CSP also has similar expectations of the programme providers, detailed within the not-so-succintly titled CSP Accreditation of Qualifying Programmes in Physiotherapy: quality assurance processes. 
But the complete response is that the responsibility is shared. The HCPC Standards of Proficiency, the CSP Code of Professional Values and Behaviours, and the CSP Quality Assurance Standards (Standard 3.3 Members actively engage with supporting students’ practice education and the development of their professional socialisation) are all clear that the onus is on you as physiotherapists to ensure you are ‘up to the job’ – that you have the relevant knowledge, skills and experience required to support students and that you have undertaken ‘appropriate practice placement educator training’. 
When we reconvened our meeting, the panel member put the same questions to one of the practice educators who was there. Her reply was much more crisp than mine ‘... supporting students is no different to keeping my clinical skills up to date; as a physiotherapist I have a professional responsibility to identify my professional development needs and act on them’.  

So what does appropriate practice educator training look like? 

Well that depends on you and where you are in terms of developing your knowledge, skills and experience. If you’ve just graduated and aren’t involved in supporting students that’s okay – the opportunity will probably arrive (possibly sooner than you think) when your team provides a placement learning opportunity. Even though you won’t be the named educator, you’ll definitely have a part to play in supporting those following in your footsteps.
And as for associates, while you may not have regulatory expectations, the CSP Quality Assurance Standards apply. So if you support students as a member of the wider team in your workplace, this activity is for you too. fl

More information

Taking further steps

All 35 providers of pre-registration education in the UK offer training, updates, modules, longer qualifications. They are obviously a great place to start. Most universities run these updates in workplaces if there is sufficient interest, so contact your university, and look for online opportunities as well. The Open University’s Futurelearn site, for example, offers massive open online courses (or MOOCs) on clinical education.  See here for more information. 
But as with any course you need to think about what you want to gain. What you want or need to learn will be unique to you, and before you attend be clear about where you need to develop. Use something to benchmark yourself against to identify gaps in your knowledge. You could use the HCPC standards of education and training. Look through the 13 points under section 5 practice education and note down what’s identified there.

Ask yourself the following questions (and you can break these down further if you want to).

  • Do you understand how learning outcomes are developed?
  • How do you assess students’ performance against these outcomes? How do you ensure you’re marking equably? How best to provide feedback?
  • How can you facilitate students to develop as an independent learner – what are the theories and how do they work in practice?
  • How well developed is your understanding of inclusive learning and teaching methods? Do you have a range? Do you expect students to fit within the model you are most comfortable with or can you adapt your approach to enhance the quality of learning – for you and the learner? 
  • How do you respond to challenging/being challenged as a practice educator?  
If you’ve been facilitating students’ learning on placements for a while, the challenge will be to stretch yourself further. Identify areas that you still need to develop, find opportunities to keep learning whether it is formal or informal. 
Additionally, identify areas in which you excel and share your experiences with others in your workplace and even beyond. The CSP offers a range of support for practice educators. We would like to hear from you if you would be willing to share your knowledge and experiences with your peers via online workshops, discussions or Q&A sessions.
Nina Patterson

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