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‘It's been hell.’ Italian and British practice educators’ narratives of working with struggling or failing social work students in practice learning settingsPoletti, Alberto; Finch, Jo (Taylor & Francis, 2013-05-20)Periods of assessed learning in practice settings are common requirements for social work students worldwide. The ‘practice learning opportunity’ as it is known in the UK, and ‘tirocinio di servizio sociale’ as it is referred to in Italy, are important sites of gatekeeping in preventing unsuitable people from becoming social workers. The experience of assessing failing students in practice learning settings, however, has been found to be particularly stressful and challenging for practice educators. This article documents findings from two qualitative studies that explored field educators’ experiences of working with struggling or failing social work students in Italy and England. The study finds both similarities and differences in the narratives of the assessors from the two countries. Similarities include, unpleasant emotional experience of working with a failing student, internalisation of the students’ failing as the practice educators’ own failing, perceptions that the universities may hide negative information about students and lack of acknowledgement of the gatekeeping function inherent in the practice educator role. Differences include the level of emotionality experienced by educators, the way students are spoken about and the perceived role and responses of the university. Further comparative European research that focuses on practice education is indicated.