And now, over to you...

Perspectives shared from third sector organisations at our first Voices and Visions session

And we are off! Earlier this week, we had our first Voices and Visions online session. We were delighted to welcome so many representatives from third sector organisations who are currently, or who are planning to host social work student placements. We wanted to listen, and to hear broadly about different experiences, and to begin to unpick what’s involved for third sector organisations when they host a social work student placement.

What perspectives were shared? 

We heard that students can be apprehensive or unsure about third sector placements at first. Sometimes they might be unclear on what the learning opportunities are; concerned that they won’t have the opportunities to meet the necessary learning criteria to pass their placement; or perhaps don’t perceive third sector organisations as places of social work. 

“If I had a fiver for every time I go along in the first week and meet the student in a voluntary organisation placement, and they say ‘well, it’s not really social work is it’ … I don’t know if there’s something that universities could do in terms of preparation for going out on placements in voluntary organisations, they could be really saying to students ‘the experiences you’re going to get out there, are valuable in terms of skills and experiences that you will get in these placements.’”

But, organisations also shared that they’ve found students to be open minded, creative in their thinking, and quick to look for the opportunities in a third sector placement. Augmenting students own motivation, they can be successfully supported by others, such as practise educators, to get the most from their placements. 

“I would get some students coming out and going ‘what am I going to learn on a third sector placement’ and usually by week three, they are like ‘this is a really good learning experience for me.’” 

For organisations, and practice educators, the skills that students can develop, hone and practise in a third sector setting are clear. They can see in the value in the time that students have in third sector organisation, to focus on relationship based working and build their 

“One of the things that I feel the third sector really offers is some of the softer skills round about relationship building, how you develop relationships of trust that are honest and transparent, and actually the work that needs to go into that, that is not just a given…”

We wondered together about how third sector placements are framed and talked about, and what contribution that might have in shaping student expectations. 

“We have really good relationships with the universities… and I would say that the people we’re in contact with really advocate for third sector placements. I just wonder what kind of language is used outside of that… if we’re talking about ‘when you become a social worker’, people are still assigning that to statutory…” 

And there was self reflection too; that sometimes third sector organisations might not have what they need in place, to really be ready for a student to have a successful placement, rich in the necessary learning opportunities.   

“I go along to pre-placement meetings, and I get the feeling that the organisation is not prepared for taking a student.” 

But to balance that, we also heard the ways in which some organisations prepare for placements where students can meet their necessary learning criteria, as well as gather the valuable practice in relationship building. 

“Obviously they’re looking to do report writing and risk assessing and all this kind of stuff and although we do that it’s not probably to the level that they’re looking for… I’m always looking for tools and resources to kind of bring into a student’s placement. So I usually reach out to a local authority to ask ‘do you have a template that I could maybe use, that this student could utilise…”

And, all of this is coming at a time where there is increased demand, and reliance on third sector organisations to provide social work students with placement opportunities.

Certainly when I was at [organisation name] I mean I probably could have taken four or five students at one time - the desperation for student placements is incredible at the moment.”

What's happening next?

There’s a lot in the mix, and while this is the beginning, and our questions to explore are still taking shape; it’s becoming evident that we’ll be spending some time thinking about:

  • What is, and how do we articulate the value of third sector placements for students' learning?
  • What do third sector organisations need, and what do they do, to prepare to host a student placement?

What was clear from our first session, is that people are interested - both in sharing and learning about student placements. We want to continue to bring together third sector organisations, and keep momentum. So, we’re going to meet again in July, and work together as an actions focused group to begin to address more specific questions.

Don’t worry if you missed the first session. If you are part of a third sector organisation, and you want to get involved in July and beyond, reach out: and

And, if you’re in the student placement world, but you’re not a third sector organisation, there’s space for you too. For now, get in touch with us directly for a chat.