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Supporting failing students: How collaboration is key

02 September 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 9


Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) standards state that the balance between clinical practice and theory in pre-registration midwifery programmes must be no less than 50% practice and no less than 40% theory, with students being supported by ‘midwife teachers’ and ‘midwife mentors’ (NMC, 2009:18). Midwife teachers are expected to be involved in learning and assessment in both academic and practice learning environments by engaging in activities such as link tutoring; facilitating mentor development and updates; having a part-time clinical role or being involved with practice development, midwives' continuing professional development (CPD) or practice-based research activities.

Clinical practice is supervised and graded by sign-off mentors, ‘gatekeepers to the profession’ who confirm that students are clinically competent, commensurate with their level of training, and are fit for entry to the midwives' part of the register at the end of their 3-year programme of study.

This article will consider the importance of a collaborative approach between universities and clinical placement providers, particularly in relation to supporting failing students as, while ‘there has to be the recognition that some students need to fail’, sometimes students just require more focused support and planning to achieve the required skills, competencies and confidence in practice.

At the University of Northampton, the role of the midwife teacher/academic in clinical practice assessment is to advise and support mentors, with the ultimate decision on whether the student is competent in practice resting with the sign-off mentors, the ‘gatekeepers to the profession’ (Peate, 2018:355) (Box 1). Watson and Harris (1999:51) found that many mentors did not understand or realise that grading was their responsibility, with one participant stating:

‘I don't think we can actually fail assessments. We can only put down what we feel, and if we're not happy, I think it's up to the college then to decide if they've actually failed their placement or not.’

Sign-off mentors who are on the same part of the register and in the same field of practice may confirm that students have met the relevant standards of proficiency for the particular programme leading to registration or a qualification that is recordable on the NMC register.

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