Case Studies

Case Study: Social Work Response to Innovative Teaching Intervention

Dr Claire Felix-Baptiste, Course Director for the BA (hons) Social Work degree programme between 2014 and 2019, identified that, within her course, black students were not performing as well as their white counterparts. Indeed, black students were more likely to be referred, deferred or to withdraw from social work education.  

In response, and based on research for her professional doctorate, Claire and her team initiated a comprehensive course review to address this attainment gap, a move which changed how the course was delivered and assessed, being designed around individual learning styles and needs. This included developing a more meaningful relationship with personal tutors and collaboration with LSBU departments and stakeholders, whilst giving consideration to her students’ identities. The outcome of this intervention was that between September 2016 and July 2019, 89% of Claire’s students received First Class or Upper Second Class degrees. 

This case study explores a deep redesign of course content as part of the revalidation process. Together, these changes have made a big impact, however you might find that just some of these tweaks could have a positive impact on your outcomes. 

The cohort

The BA (Hons) Social Work attracts approximately 50 students per year. In recent years, the course has attracted predominantly BAME students, around 80%, with some 35% entering via the access route. 

Factors which triggered the interventions 


Claire has had a social work career as a community race activist, having spent 7 years as National Race Equality Lead for Rethink, the UK’s largest mental health charity, as well as being the chair of the National BME Mental Health Network (Campaign for Change group) from 2002 to 2009. Claire’s efforts in race equality were recognised and showcased by the NHS in their Delivering Race Equality Consultation Document (2006). 


Claire was the Course Director for BA (Hons) Social Work from 2014 to 2019. The interventions were triggered when Claire began a professional doctorate entitled ‘Factors that Influence Academic Success on the Social Work Degree: A Black Newly Qualified Perspective’. During the data collection process, Claire noticed that her student cohort had a long history of differentials in progression and attainment levels, something which was exacerbated by ethnicity. Claire was curious about what might be happening. 

Critically reviewing the data

As the Course Director, Claire noticed that her students had a large attainment gap and brought this to the attention of her teaching team. Claire’s team had an honest and open discussion about the attainment gap issue; this allowed for self-reflection and subjective positions were considered, something which remains a key feature of their work. 


Based on their data review and subsequent team discussions, Claire and her team agreed to undertake five key steps:

1) Better engage students in the learning process 

The team agreed a strategy to better engage students, particularly the final years. This involved monthly meetings with students (or their reps) three times per semester. 

They also ensured that the course was delivered by a diverse range of social work educators who better reflected the student identities, thereby role modelling and getting the students critically to reflect on how their own identity was central to learning. This strategy sends a powerful message about race equality and LSBU. 

All students were allocated a personal tutor for the 3 year course duration to maintain a continuity of support where possible. Accordingly, students were encouraged to identify their personal learning style and they then developed an academic action plan which was reviewed by their personal tutor. 

Claire also encouraged self-directed group work as a third mode of learning. Given the diversity in the student population, this approach can help to promote cross cultural learning.  

Additionally, Claire offered academic development workshops at key stages of progression in partnership with colleagues from LSBU’s Centre for Research Informed Teaching (CRIT) and Library and Learning Resources. This initiative helps students prepare for the forthcoming elevated academic levels, as in Biggs’s (1996) theory of ‘constructive alignment’, a teaching approach which brings together the assessment criteria and subject content. 

Claire and her team also facilitated weekly placement surgeries, where students could pop in and receive on the spot advice on academic or placement issues. 

2) Review the assessment processes 

Claire and her team initiated service user involvement in student recruitment, curriculum development and teaching and assessment. 

One of the most important outcomes in terms of assessment processes was that Claire introduced diagnostic, formative assessments and feedback in all modules. Her team also offered exemplars of modelling and standard setting at every opportunity. 

3) Improve our communications about LSBU academic standards 

Claire introduced a newsletter twice a year to keep students informed about practice developments, key features including practitioners, students, academics and research being consulted on key disciplinary issues. Moreover, aspects of anti-discriminatory/oppressive practice have been embedded in all modules demonstrating we are serious about equality. 

4) Improve engagement and feedback 

 Claire and her team demonstrated a visible commitment to student feedback by developing and circulating a Feedback Pledge – a statement focused on tutors’ commitment to providing quality feedback. Students were also encouraged to give tutors modular feedback throughout the semester; they were no longer obliged to wait until week 12 to give feedback. Together, these initiatives created a responsive cycle of feedback between student and teacher. 

5) Review the course content and core reading 

Finally, Claire and her team audited all module reading lists and broadened them to reflect the diversity of the student group.


For the academic years between 2016 and 2019, 89% of students consistently achieved good degrees of First Class or Upper Second Class degrees. Claire is particularly interested to see whether similar outcomes have been achieved anywhere else in Health and Social Care faculties (or even across the university). Claire observed that Social Work’s BAME students perform well, perhaps because they are in the majority population and their identities are not at threat. 

The evidence-based and proactive steps taken by Claire and her team showcased the impact that timely interventions can have. This example has shown that a holistic approach, certainly when devised and implemented by an entire teaching team, can allow both students and staff to benefit from an enhanced learning experience. 


Biggs, J. (1996) ‘Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment’, Higher Education, 32(3), pp. 347-364
Case Studies

Case Study: Decolonising the Curiculum – OurLSBU

What would you do if a group of BAME and LGBT students in your class shared their dissatisfaction with the white, straight male-centric curriculum? 

Dave Lewis, lecturer in Photography in the School of Arts and Creative Industry, faced just this challenge from his students. Let’s see how responded.

Students on Dave’s BA (Hons) Photography class noted that their course made little reference to people of colour and to women. In a cohort of 114 students with only 17 BME (15%), the students on the photography course also pointed to the lack of diversity within classes both in terms of student numbers and in terms of the mostly white teaching staff.

Dave knew that it was not enough to merely add a few more artists to the reading list. His interventions were designed to engage the students in questioning artists’ perspectives and to normalise the work of BME and other marginalised artists.

What changes were made (and why)

The interventions Dave made took the form of changing the pedagogical approach to classes as well as the development of a human rights component to a documentary module. This new component challenged dominant perspectives and asked the students to reflect upon their own world view, politics, values and artistic practices.

All interventions were designed to introduce difference into the class in order to de-colonise the curriculum.

New module: Human Rights and the Image

In designing this new component for the level 4 documentary module, Dave knew that it was important to model an understanding of perspective and the differences there may be to the mainstream.

Students were not given classes on ‘issues’ or asked to create projects based on major themes covered by the press and saturated by the media. Instead, they were asked to find a localised artistic project that had resonance for them personally and to consider not only their own perspective but also that of their photographic subjects.

Part of their brief was to defend their project to the other students in the class. The following questions were used as a framework:

  • What is the area around rights that you are interested in photographing?
  • Why is it important to you?
  • Why do you think this issue is important to anyone else?
  • Are you trying to illuminate the issue or make change through your photography?
  • Who are the individuals/groups affected by the issue?
  • What key role will the participants play in the making of your project (apart from being photographed)?
  • What has been done in the past to address these issues?
  • How do you think your approach will bring the issue to light?
  • Can you see your project working online delivering to a wider audience?
  • Will the project be solely photographic? Or with sound, moving image, a book?

Working from the project out, students explored their chosen human rights issue. They were required to provide a reflective analysis of their artistic project that included primary and secondary sources relating to the broader issue as well as other projects that set their work in context. Oher individuals’ perspectives about the issue could also be incorporated and used in the project itself.

Normalising BAME Art

Dave and other black tutors on the Photography course critique dominant perspectives by examining examples of their own works and publications/practices as well as those of other BAME artists. This not only critically engages the students but provides BME role models for students who feel a lack of diversity.

Dave prefers to use the word ‘normalise’ than ‘role model’ as he would rather all students think that a BAME artist is not something out of the ordinary.

Autograph: ABP

Autograph: ABP is an international charity that promotes and archives work by photographers and film makers who focus on race identity and human rights. The Photography team have included visits to the organisation as well as guest lectures delivered at LSBU in their teaching.

These events not only allow students to see the breadth and depth of work that challenges a mainstream point of view, but also allows them to encounter ways to deal with topics they might find fraught with tension. Again, the visits normalise the work of artists studied and encourage students to analyse different perspectives.

Community Projects

LSBU is situated in a diverse area of South East London. Staff on the Photography BA (Hons) course are concerned to help our students recognise the place and power of art within the community. This year’s level 5 group show will be held in Peckham – an area of multiple deprivation where approximately half the population is BAME.

A community arts project involving level 4 and 5 students is also planned for Peckham in 17/18.

The outcomes

The outcomes of challenging dominant perspectives and normalising BAME artists within the Photography BA (Hons) course is evident in the attitude and awareness the students bring to their work.

Workbooks of both BAME and white students include more investigation of black artists previously seen as outside the mainstream. The students are also more questioning, seeking out tacit rules and transgressing them through their artwork.

The idea that art is more than the product of elite white men and that acknowledging difference brings legitimacy to artists previously ignored encourages our BAME students to see themselves as becoming successful artists and helps create strong voices unafraid to present their view.

With thanks to…Dave Lewis, School of Arts and Creative Industries

Photography from: Unsplash