MEd Academic Practice – When placements breakdown…

Yesterday, I attended another short course and workshop at Birmingham City University…the last course being an ‘Introduction to Blogging’. I’m a sucker for learning at the moment…finishing my PhD and an MEd in Academic Practice alongside numerous other activities. Always learning with no intention to stop. I should maybe learn how not to take on so much though. This afternoon session, like many other courses I am doing at the moment, is in preparation for a new Masters course I’m co-planning with my colleagues at the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA). The course was called ‘Breakdown of Placements’…as in when placements breakdown for whatever reason. I thought it was going to be about the step-by-step infrastructure of placements and best practice (which, in part, it was). The one and a half hour workshop – a research opportunity for the university to find out specific perspectives on the theme – provided perspectives from different faculties and members of staff that were invaluable…and very helpful to the CCVA’s future course structure and curriculum design. One of my worlds (and languages) at the moment…

Breakdown of Placements:

  • Where the placement comes to an end prior to the expected date of completion;
  • Where there is a need to determine culpability.

Review Process:

  • Workshops with experts and interested parties;
  • Working groups of Associate Deans (ADs);
  • Approval by Student Complaints, Appeals and Discipline Committee (SCAD).


  • Comments and feedback on the issues related to ‘breakdown of placement’ – what are the issues? What could you have done in hindsight? How are you making placements successful?;
  • Session feedback collated, summary report drafted;
  • Summary report circulated to attendees;
  • Report to the working group – what we found, current procedure, changes that can be made.

Breakdown of Placements 5

In groups, we were asked to expand on four key statements:

  1. Foundations of a successful placement:

From my group:

  • Content and capabilities. Correct info from course and course Director for the company/organisation to know the EXPECTATIONS of the placement AND vice versa. Paperwork – course (broken down into weeks) and clerical;
  • Midpoint review
  • Self-reflection – this is what I would like to learn, this is what I can bring – personal profile from student and placement;
  • Placement interesting enough/quality of placement for students to engage;
  • Facilitation and monitoring;
  • MENTORING – quality and development. Training and materials available. In workplace, external, university, student (?). It is mentoring not supervision;
  • REWARD and VALUE. What will they get/achieve? Making it clear.
  • COMMUNICATION – all involved get the same messages (cultural link)
  • Time and recognition from partners – length of time;
  • Preparation and allowing relationships to build;
  • Recognising the rhythm of the industry/partner/university;
  • Post-placement/alumni presentations to the next year group.

From Fashion Design course:

  • Dedicated member of staff to find and support placements. Specific for the sandwich year. Placement assessed through reflective journal…to even reflect on a negative experience…must be able to critically reflect on the negative experience;
  • Having an alternative to the placement if they can’t do it – having a fail safe. Option of two placements if one fails. Split the sandwich year over two placements, choosing to do this from the outset (placements in China?). Sandwich year optional, can be 3 or 4 year degree;
  • External factors out of your and the placements control can’t make the student fail;
  • Flexibility of time for shorter placements…if they can’t do it in term time, there’s a flexibility of when;
  • Support from careers advisors…student union careers;
  • Onus is on the student to find the work placement…it tends to push them;

From Business course:

  • Presentations from the industry partners;
  • Student guide setting expectation;
  • Employer handbook;
  • Any employer that takes one of our students gets an employer handbook;
  • Health and Safety form to complete;
  • Contract;
  • Briefing outlining expectations and assessment they’ll undertake;
  • Return in February to choose final year options;
  • Regular contact – 2 tutor visits a year;
  • Employee complete an appraisal at every visit;
  • Dedicated Moodle site when out on placement and when completing for assessment so they don’t have to return to complete. Put all part of an email group;

Breakdown of Placements 1

  1. Causes of breakdown:

From my group:

  • Personal circumstances – when would we bring them back from China? Also links to timing/timescales;
  • Cultural misunderstanding;
  • Mismatched expectations/assumption;
  • Students not taking responsibility for their professional development – cause of concern and “at risk”;
  • Initiative (both sides student and placement);
  • Not giving time/reflective time needed;
  • Timing/timescales – not enough time given to find placements;
  • Personality and relationship to placement e.g. staff member leaving the university when they are established the placement.

From other groups:

  • Financial difficulties
  • Students become disillusioned, not realise expectations;
  • Students felt unsupported from the university;
  • Unprofessional practice (from small employer), negative experience actually gave the student a backbone;
  • Odd hours;
  • Students not being professional;
  • If you feel like the student isn’t interested, you don’t have the time or resources to develop the student – it is the student taking professional responsibility;
  • Getting the student to realise it is a privilege to be there. Set high expectations;
  • Hours/expectations.

Breakdown of Placements 2

  1. How to rescue a placement:
  • Relationship with company/organisation;
  • Open door accessibility to more than one person/reciprocal communication/fluid lines of communication;
  • Feedback mechanism – keep in touch with both parties
  • Early intervention – regular points during the placement to feedback;
  • Have processes ready if a breakdown/potential breakdown can be seen – CLEAR;
  • Timing/knowing when to intervene/call it day – “if they’re going to fail they will fail”;
  • RECOGNISE – who monitors this? Responsibility.

Breakdown of Placements 3

  1. Other issues:
  • One process cannot fit all – too many anomalies specific to each course/discipline – can BCU create a generic/generic forms/template which can be adapted for each course? “Pick ‘n’ mix”?
  • Payment (?)/Health and Safety/Legal – “terms of engagement”;
  • International partnership – bilingual Chinese/English information;
  • Financial implications
  • WORKLOAD – staff/mentoring and monitoring/placement training – and TIME including for post-evaluation;
  • Number of placements available and time to secure placements.

Breakdown of Placements 4

The image below, I came across the day after the workshop and thought it was appropriate…even for student placements…

What makes an employee...
What makes an employee highly engaged?

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