Failure to fail or fast tracking to failure: a critical exploration of social work placements

Jo Finch, Prospera Tedam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Failure to Fail” has emerged as a popular soundbite in professions with assessed practice learning requirements and implies that practice educators and mentors are routinely failing to fail students, who do not meet the required placement standards. This suggests there may be people in a number of professions, who are not competent, and may pose potential risks to service users or patients. This position has been particularly vociferous in nursing but has also emerged in social work, albeit more subtly. Given the current dominance of fast track social work programmes in England, (Frontline, Think Ahead and Step-Up) alongside claims that traditional social work education is failing, critically exploring this claim, and in particular the extent of fail to fail in practice placements is timely. The discussion concludes that there is limited empirical evidence of a “failure to fail” in social work education and placements but evidence is stronger in terms of some students being fast tracked to failure. We argue that understanding the reasons why it “might” or “could” be challenging to fail, and why some students are at risk of being fast tracked to failure, is more helpful in strengthening practice education.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Work Education
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Failure to fail
  • failed students
  • fast-tracking to failure
  • mentors
  • practice educators
  • practice learning and assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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