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Preparing for your initial social work placement

Abigail Davey

Faculty: Health, Medicine and Social Care
School: School of Allied Health and Social Care
Course: BA (Hons) Social Work
Category: Social sciences and social care

23 February 2023

Having succeeded in your first year of university study towards becoming a social worker, here you are, the next exciting chapter in your journey to becoming a social worker...your first placement! You might be feeling nervous, excited, overwhelmed, and passionate too hopefully. Your placement is your first real chance to start implementing some of what you have been learning at university and trying out some of those skills that are vital to your role as a student (soon to be) social worker.

Applying for your placement

Each student completes a Placement Application Form (PAF for short) as part of the process of matching them to a placement provider. This is your opportunity to sell yourself to your prospective placement agency, demonstrating what skills you have and any experiences you may have had previously that would make you a great addition to their team. By allowing yourself plenty of time to complete this, you’ll have a nice smooth start to your placement.

Getting organised

Before you even find out what placement you have been matched with, there are some things you can do to get yourself ready and prepared. I found that mapping out what the year ahead will entail for you is helpful. You’ll know what academic modules you will have running alongside the placement, and the end of each trimester when your submissions are due, so don’t forget to put them in your diary.

If you have children or other caring commitments start to think early about how these will be managed. Placement days are usually 9 am until 5 pm, although you might go to a school and, in this case, it could be more like 8.30 am until 4.30 pm. Either way, start to think if you need to get things in place for your own commitments, like afterschool clubs for your children, a childminder, or even a dog walker/sitter. Having a robust plan for these things will really support you to relax into your placement when it starts.

Initial placement is usually for 2-3 days a week, and you'll have a day at university to attend too, so by the time you factor in independent study and essay writing, I like to think of it as a full-time week.

Waiting to hear back

You might be waiting to hear about where your placement will be or, what you will be doing and when. Feeling anxious during this time is understandable. Likewise, if you’re like me and super excited about it, you might just be impatient. There are however some things you can do in the meantime. If you’re into the second academic year, my top tip is to crack on with the assignments that are due in December, placement will happen before you know it, and then this will be one less thing to worry about!

Placement allocation/Pre-placement meeting and getting ready to start

Great news! You’ve now been allocated a placement and they’ve made contact and invited you to come along to meet you! Now you can do some groundwork to set the scene for success. Things to think about are:

  • First impressions count, arrive on time and dress appropriately.
  • What do you need to know about the setting? What questions do you have? What days will you be in placement? Take a list with you (it’ll really help)
  • Do some research on the organisation and surrounding area, this will be valuable information that you can include in your learning agreement meeting (LAM) document and will help inform you about the type of work you’ll be doing.
  • Independent reading on legislation and theories relevant to the placement type is also a worthwhile task at this point if you have time!
  • Read through the placement portfolio guide, this will give you an idea of what you’ll need to demonstrate during your placement.

Being organised throughout the placement to make the most of it

At first glance, 70 days for your initial placement feels like a long time... believe me when I say it isn’t. Before you know it, you’ll be at your midway meeting and then wrapping up the experience at the end. So how do you make the most out of it?

  • Plan. Work out how many observations, reflections, and pieces of feedback you need to evidence, and make yourself a spreadsheet or timeline to help you break the task of doing all of this into smaller chunks! With that, once you’re getting stuck into working with people (adults, children, or families), think about the types of work you are doing and how you will demonstrate the Professional Capabilities Framework and Social Work England Standards as you go.
  • Ask questions. This is a learning experience after all. Please remember you are not supposed to know it all... this placement should support you to find out more, try things out and make those links between theory and practice.
  • Get stuck in. The more proactive you can be, the better. Ask for opportunities to shadow and take part in things that interest you, you’ll find brilliant opportunities to learn during your placement.
  • Reach out if you need help. Not everyone finds placement easy, and that is okay. Utilise all the support available through ARU, don’t keep things to yourself. That’s what the lecturers and support services are there for.
  • Enjoy yourself. You are only going to be a student for a short time, as such you are time rich without the pressures of a full caseload or other demands. I will always look back on my initial placement with fondness, I feel like you don’t realise it when you are in it, but you will have some of your best days there! GOOD LUCK and HAVE FUN!

Want to find out more information? Find out more about social work placements here.


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.