Meeting points for Social Work and Social Policy: Curricula analysis and pedagogical experiences in the Portuguese context

Francisco Branco, Maria Inês Amaro

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Background and purpose: description of the problem, study objectives, research question(s) and/or hypotheses
The relationship social work-social policy is a foundational nexus of social work profession, present in the thought of the more prominent pioneers. Despite the different visions and approaches adopted facing the social and urban question, that relationship shaped the emergence of social work as profession (Branco, 2016).
Although their strongly contextualized nature (Healy, 2005 and Payne, 2006) and the different visions of social work purpose, the occupational reality nowadays configures social work as policy-based profession (Poppe & Leighninger, 2011; Amaro, 2015).
With this background, Social Policy is intimately connected with Social Work and consists on one of the major issues for Social Work education. It is through social policy teaching that social work students can develop not only competences in social policy analysis and policy practice, but also the critical reflexivity about their professional purpose and the political dimension inherent to social work values.
Nonetheless, it seems that different approaches to Social Work education address differently social policy teaching and its significance and place in Social Work curricula. Equally, not always social work students seem to be aware of the relevance of these two fields nor motivated for social policy learning, appearing that it is not evident why social policy is relevant for social work.
The research will explore how social work and social policy meet in educational settings and analyse innovative pedagogical experiences in order to shed light on how social policy is being taught to social work students and how innovation at this regard can increase awareness of the critical importance of the connection between both disciplines.

Methods: study design, including a description of participants and selection strategies, data collection procedures, measures, and approaches to analysis
This research is part of an on-going action-research experience which is in development since 2015 in the field of Social Policy teaching to Social Work students.
The analysis will be based on the Portuguese experience. A curricula analysis is being undertaken in Portuguese universities in order to understand if, how and by what means social policy is integrated in social work curricula. A particular attention it will be payed to the curricula design, the social policy courses syllabus, but also to the learning approaches.
Also case-studies will be developed concerning experiences of a “Policy Practice Lab”, and “Students Debates” as active learning strategies, including the analysis of contents, results and students and professor testimonies.
These empirical studies are supported by a more comprehensive literature revision on teaching social policy to social work students.

Results: specific results in summary form
So far, we have been analysing the potential and limitations of the ‘Policy Practice Lab’ experience and developing the “Students Debates” strategy (Keller et al., 2001) and enlarging the research corpus to portraying how social policy appear in Portuguese social work curricula.

Conclusions and implications: description of the main outcome(s) of the study and implications for practice, policy, or further research.
The action-research experience evidence emphasises the relevance to conceptualise, to experience and to evaluate new active learning strategies in social policy teaching.
With the new stage of research and the enlarging of research corpus we aim to contribute to a more effective social policy teaching and to disseminate innovative and creative pedagogical practices.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication8th European Conference for Social Work Research
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event8th European Conference for Social Work Research - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Apr 201820 Apr 2018


Conference8th European Conference for Social Work Research
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Social Work education, Social Policy teaching, Policy Practice Lab, Social Work and Social Policy


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