Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education


In 2003 the social work qualifying course became a three-year degree. The Department of Health set out requirements for social work training in which it identified five core areas that all students must undertake specific learning and assessment on. Communication skills is one of these.

Good communication, both oral and written, is at the heart of best practice in social work. Communication skills are essential for establishing effective and respectful relationships with service users, and are also essential for assessments, decision making and joint working with colleagues and other professionals.

The purpose of this review was to identify key good practice messages to assist social work educators in developing frameworks for teaching communication skills on social work qualifying courses. However, an absence of evaluated practice has made it impossible to recommend a framework for teaching communication skills. As a result, this review identifies areas where further research is required to underpin good practice.


The knowledge review identified a range of useful approaches to teaching communication skills but did not identify a unified body of knowledge on which teaching programmes can be based. It has also highlighted areas that need more work. However, the expertise among social work educators is much greater than is reflected in the literature. The findings of one survey indicate that there is a considerable amount of innovative practice being undertaken in this field that is not covered in the literature.

Hopefully, this knowledge review will be a catalyst to encourage educators to publish their knowledge and experience on teaching communication skills and to encourage others to research the areas identified in the key messages.

Conducted by: CRD; University of Bristol; University of Reading; University of Southampton; University of Staffordshire; Open University


Trevithick P, Richards S, Ruch G, Moss B, Lines L, Manor O. Knowledge review 06: Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education. Available on the SCIE website


Commissioned by the Social Care Institute for Excellence