This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Social Work Education on 17.09.12, available online: http://wwww.tandfonline.com/10.1080/02615479.2012.720250.
The paper explores issues that arise in the assessment of failing social work students in practice learning settings in England. It draws on existing literature on the topic, as well as a small empirical study. The qualitative methodology is influenced by practitioner-research paradigms. Based on twenty in-depth interviews with practice educators, the research utilised the voice-centred relational method of data analysis which revealed five distinct “emotional stories”, explaining why practice assessors’ found the process of working with a failing student challenging and difficult. These stories include the “guilty story”, “angry story”, the “what is my role story”, the “idealised learner story, and the “internalisation of failure so I couldn’t always fail them story”. The paper considers the possible adverse impact on the assessment process of these often unacknowledged emotional responses experienced by practice educators, namely, that there is a very real possibility that students are being passed as competent when the evidence may strongly suggest otherwise. The paper offers some ways forward in light of the findings, linking these to the change process underway in social work education in England but suggesting these have wider relevance to practice assessment in other contexts.