Improving the quality of direct observation of practice

peopleThe assessment of direct observation is a highly important part of training and education during and after qualifying. Research suggests that focussing the assessment criteria for the observation and combining this with examining the process of reflection creates a robust assessment.

This guidance provides advice on using this new combined assessment, the additional skills and capabilities that are required of the assessor, with tips and tools for the training of assessors, information on the process of using video and setting up secure storage arrangements.

You can choose to use the new assessment criteria in place of the direct observation guidance and evidence templates contained in the critical reflection log.

We've developed guidance and templates to help you.

Since January 2016 we've been working with a small group of employers and universities to explore a new approach to direct observation in practice.

Together we developed, tested and refined new assessment criteria and guidance material for direct observation. The project also researched and developed the facility for the secure storage of video and processes and protocols to support this.

We'll be continuing to develop and test the assessment and resources during 2017/18.

  • the value of assessing direct practice – the available research suggests that it may be a predictor of field performance
  • the direct observation of practice is central to holistic assessment
  • conduct and assessment of practice is variable, this has been consistently noted in the moderation process 
  • a significant  issue is assessor capability and bias*
  • Practice Educator Professional Standards (PEPS) practice development educator (PDE) had no specific learning outcomes for observation
  • it's desirable to moderate/standardise assessment of practice – streamlining the direct observation process makes this more robust.

* For more information Humphrey, C. (2007) Observing Students Practice Through the Looking Glass and Beyond. Social work education Vol. 26, No 7, October 2007 pp. 723- 736

  • the new assessment criteria and paperwork were well received – further suggestions were made for revision and simplification
  • there is a potential benefit for having a clear evidence base for the assessor feedback
  • moderators felt that the immediate and structured reflection by the NQSW made the assessment more robust
  • the new paperwork was seen as helpful as it guided participants through the process
  • moderators felt that the new paperwork would contribute to greater standardisation of assessment
  • moderators were impressed with the quality of the evidence and the assessment
  • a training guide for assessors and for newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) on direct observation was appreciated, although it needs to be implemented consistently for it to be effective across the sector
  • the training is not sufficient on its own and needs to form part of the overall training for assessors
  • where the video element was used it was considered to be a good learning tool, further development work needs to be undertaken on this area of the project
  • the challenges of introducing videoed direct observation were seen as practical (i.e. finding the time to review videos in practice)
  • a major challenge was seen as identification of people who access care and support.

There are two elements to the assessment of the direct observation

  • The structured observation by the assessor of the behaviour, skills and knowledge that the NQSW is demonstrating in the practice situation (assessment of skills, behaviour and knowledge).
  • A post observation structured written reflection completed by the NQSW as soon as possible after the observation and before any detailed discussion on the intervention.

Both of these components provide the evidence for the assessors overall holistic assessment of the observation. 

We've developed guidance and templates to help you and a flowchart to illustrate the process 

Learning Outcomes

When the Knowledge and Skills Statement for practice supervisors is finalised and the revisions to the PEPS/PDE are completed it's expected that these learning outcomes, specifically developed to focus on observation skills, will be fully integrated to revised learning outcomes.


There is an expectation that all assessors will have achieved the learning outcomes as required for PDEs.

There's further guidance on the principles for the training of assessors in direct observation skills along with support including:


A technical solution was found to the secure storage of video material. The project used tablets to record the observation. The tablets were equipped with software which ensured that as soon as the social worker reached a place where there was a secure wifi connection the video was uploaded to the storage space and wiped from the tablet. 

Permissions were required to view the video. Discreet log ins were provided for the assessor, NQSW and  an internal moderator. Arrangements were in place for the video to be destroyed at the end of the project.

For the purpose of the project Skills for Care contracted to provide the equipment and the secure storage facility.

The project developed Data Protection guidance and consent form.