Developing practical and employability skills through an inclusive and structured placement programme by Dr Wing Man Lau and Sue Slade (MFRPS11)


The UK pharmacy regulator, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), sets Standards for all UK Pharmacy Schools. The Standards stipulate that the undergraduate programme (MPharm) must provide students with practical experience in working with patients, carers and other healthcare professionals. This has led to a need to expand experiential learning within the pharmacy curriculum across the nation.

However, the GPhC does not provide specific guidance on how to achieve experiential learning so pharmacy schools are left to arrange practical experience and plan their own learning outcomes.

Placements bridge the gap between theory and practice. They allow students to learn and practise various clinical and communication skills integral to being a competent pharmacist in dealing with patients in real-world situations. Previously, the typical MPharm curriculum traditionally included off-site short placements, where the pharmacist in charge was responsible for supervising the students. The placement itself was not required to be structured in a particular way though guidance was often issued by the pharmacy schools to the placement provider as to certain learning outcomes that schools were looking to achieve.  Students were often issued with a workbook with tasks they could complete during their placements. Under the circumstances, it was difficult to ensure that the placement provider would deliver the learning outcomes as designed or to provide all students with equal learning opportunities. Some studies have indicated that students regarded such placement arrangements as more like a day out than a vocational experience. 1-4

When we revised the MPharm curriculum at University of Reading to meet the new University Curriculum Framework and the GPhC Standards, we needed to expand experiential learning in our programme. Previously, students in Year 3 had been given the option to carry out a week’s placement in a hospital. Not all students opted to take the opportunity. Those who did were given a workbook detailing expectations and tasks to carry out whilst on the placement. The learning experience was variable even among those who undertook the placement, as it relied heavily on the willingness and capability of the pharmacists as well as the students. Furthermore, the students did not always feel they could put theory into practice.

Developing the best placement programme collaboratively

We believe that real-life patient contact and workplace experience is irreplaceable. Therefore, we set out to develop an extensive programme to give every student a structured placement experience. The programme would cover the main sectors of pharmacy practice in the first 3 years of the course. The aims were:

  1. To provide students with first-hand workplace experience and field-specific knowledge and skills that increase their employability
  2. To provide a spiral structured learning experience, starting from “knowing how” to engage with patients and progressing to finally participating in all aspects of patient care.
  3. To implement an inclusive placement programme where all students achieve the same learning outcomes and are well-supported by placement staff in managing complex and difficult situations.
  4. We have set up a Pharmacy Placement Team to design and develop a new inclusive placement programme, working collaboratively with various departments and teams across the university to engage external partners. The team is led by me (Pharmacy Placement Lead), and consists of Mr Dan Grant (Pharmacy Programme Director), Mrs Sue Slade (Hospital Lead), Mrs Caroline Parkhurst (Community Lead), as well as members of the Careers & Employability team, Student Applicant Services, Legal Services Department, and the University of Reading Medical Practice. We have also enjoyed the support of a number of NHS trusts across England and various local community pharmacies as external partners.
Team member Roles and responsibilities
Dr Wing Man Lau Oversee the whole placement programme; student facing role; student support; programme design; student workbooks design; student application and allocation.
Mr Dan Grant Strategic role; student application and allocation
Mrs Sue Slade Internally supervise placement programme (ISP) Hospital Lead; supervise and run all ISP visits
Mrs Caroline Parkhurst ISP Community Lead
Careers & Employability team General administration support; external liaison; student queries; contracts
Student Applicant Services Student support with DBS and health declaration submission; student queries related to submission
University of Reading Medical Practice Occupational health support for students



The new pharmacy placement programme

We have now introduced compulsory experiential learning into all years of the MPharm programme at University of Reading. For placement learning, students experience both community and hospital pharmacies very early on in the course. The program has been designed in helping our students develop professional attitudes and competencies by exposing them to real situations that demand satisfactory clinical, professional and communication skills that are essential to effective professional practice in any general pharmacy setting.


Credit hours Internally supervised placement Externally supervised placement
1st year 4 (community and hospital)
2nd year 8 (hospital) 8 (community)
3rd year 8 (hospital) 37.5 (hospital or community)

Internally supervised placement programme (ISP)

Our ISP spans years 1–3 of the MPharm programme and addresses specific, achievable learning objectives that spiral throughout the 3 years. It has been designed according to Miller’s triangle of competence and Kolb’s experiential learning theory. The hospital training is based in a local NHS hospital and is run in-house by our Hospital Lead, Mrs Sue Slade, and two Placement Tutors who all have dedicated placement roles on my MPharm programme. The staff-student ratio averages 1:4. This ensures a high quality learning experience because the tutors can build rapport with the students, evidence the students’ improvement individually, and tailor the teaching to suit the students’ needs.

The 1st year community training is based in a local community pharmacy and run in-house by our Community Lead, Mrs Caroline Parthurst. Students learn about the community pharmacist’s roles and the specialist services available in this sector. They are given the opportunities to reflect and compare how the roles differ between hospital and community pharmacy settings.

As students progress through the programme, they continually practise new-found professional skills under supervision and apply them in real-world situations – on real patients. Such skills include patient counselling, taking a medication history and performing medicines optimisation. Students are required to complete a workbook and write a reflection on each visit, which are summatively assessed in Year 3 as part of their personal development portfolio. Transferable skills are formatively assessed on three of the five placements and summatively assessed through OSCE exams in Year 3 and Year 4.

Externally supervised placement programme (ESP)

Building on from their first year community pharmacy experience, year 2 students go to a different local community pharmacy, unaccompanied by university staff or peers, for a whole day. The students are given a detailed workbook and an introductory lecture to guide their learning. Students are reminded closer to the placement through email detailing expectations and tasks to be completed during the visit.

In Year 3, the ESP placement lasts for a week and students choose between a hospital placement or a community placement based on their own interest. The hospital option is usually overwhelmingly popular, so despite being able to offer a large number of these placements, we simply cannot accommodate the demand for it. Therefore, we have put in place an application process, whereby the students are required to submit an application form indicating what attracts them to the hospital placement and why they should be selected. They are also asked to support their application with a reflection on previous placements to identify exactly what further skills they aim to gain. This process is similar to job applications in the real world (for example, the application for pre-registration pharmacist positions), so the students are able to practise this aspect of job seeking and familiarise themselves with the job application process throughout the MPharm programme.

Again, a workbook detailing tasks that build on from previous placements is provided for the students. The pharmacists in charge at the respective pharmacies supervise our students on these visits. We brief the supervisors prior to the placement with details of the placement objectives, learning outcomes with a copy of the student workbook to standardise the student learning experience. The supervisors provide written feedback to the students on each visit to allow them to reflect from their learning.


Benefits and Outlook

To our knowledge, our structured, integrated and inclusive placement programme is unique among pharmacy schools in the UK. The placement programme has been time-consuming to set up and run, and has required careful organisation and planning for each visit to be successful and valuable. Preliminary evaluation suggests all students have found the placement experience positive and valued the structured and inclusive placement format as it helps develop their sector knowledge and skills in real-life situations.

Close collaboration with various University departments and external partners has been crucial to the running of the placement programme. We are committed to continued collaboration as a team, comprising diverse roles, in supporting our students to become competent and highly employable graduates by developing their professional, clinical and communication skills.

A full evaluation of our placement programme is under way. We will update you shortly.


1 Sosabowski M. (2008) Pharmacy Education in the United Kingdom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 72(6):130.

2 Talyor K and Harding G (2007) The pharmacy degree: The student experience of professional training. Pharmacy Education. 7(1): 83–88

3 Nation L and Rutter P (2011) Short communication piece on experiences of final year pharmacy students to clinical placements. Journal of Health and Social Care Improvement. 2:1-6

4 Diack L (2014) Experiences of Supervision at Practice Placement Sites. Education Research International. 2014:6

Development of a History Education module

Dr Elizabeth Matthew, School of Humanities
Year of activity: 2012/13


A collaborative project between the Department of History and the Institute of Education developed an innovative module in History, History Education (HS3HED), allowing Part Three students to test and develop their interest in teaching by undertaking and reflecting on a two-week subject-specific placement in a local secondary school. The module has been successful in improving students’ employability, and has been highly praised by students and external examiners.


  • Enable students to test and develop their interest in careers in History Education by applying their skills and communicating their knowledge in local schools.
  • Enhance student employability by giving students an advantage in the competition for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) places, while developing a wide range of presentational, organisational and interpersonal skills highly valued in other areas of graduate employment.
  • Broaden students’ academic experience by introducing pedagogy outside their own discipline.


Recent changes within secondary education have increased demand for well-trained teachers of History. The module has encouraged students to take advantage of this opportunity. A third of University of Reading History graduates in further study now enrol on PGCE courses.


The module was developed through collaboration between the Department of History and the Institute of Education, with an awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place and the requirements of secondary schools.

The Institute of Education contacts local schools to seek placements for students. The number of placements that are able to be offered determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, recruitment to HS3HED is conducted by interview. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Regardless of outcome, applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, and pedagogy characteristics of ITE, with these sessions being highly participatory. Seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education provide students with information on getting the most out of their placements, lesson planning, and the current secondary curriculum.

Originating in a Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching and Learning ‘Think Space’ funded project undertaken by Elizabeth Matthew (Department of History) in 2011 to enhance employability in History, the module was further developed in collaboration with Richard Harris and Elizabeth McCrum (Institute of Education), who contributed their knowledge of secondary education and awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place.

The Department of History seeks placements for students through the Institute of Education’s contacts with Initial Teacher Education Coordinators in schools in Reading and the surrounding area. The number of placements offered each year determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, HS3HED has selective recruitment. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Unsuccessful applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to the organisation of the module, lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, pedagogy characteristic of ITE, and the assessments for the module. Highly participatory seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education advise students on the secondary history curriculum, lesson planning, and how to get the most out of their placements. Post-placement seminars in the Department of History provide additional advice on assessment.

On placement, students observe and assist the delivery of lessons. To increase the variety experienced by students, partner schools are encouraged to include a wide range of year groups, and a few lessons in subjects other than History on the students’ timetables. Schools help students identify a topic and target class for an independently researched and planned lesson, for shared delivery with the student’s placement supervisor. The supervisor also gives each student an hour’s mentoring support each week.

Students are assessed by: a placement log, in which they analyse their lesson observations; a report on their independently researched and planned lesson; and delivery of an oral presentation on their placement experience and its impact on their career development. In addition, students are graded by school supervisors in four aspects of performance on placement, with this assessment being given least weighting to prevent disparities in grading standards from skewing final results.


Results on the module have been consistently high, though this is partly a reflection of its selective nature. Greatly encouraging is the enthusiastic feedback received from students on the module: in 2014-15 11 out of 12 student rated it as being ‘Excellent’ in formal feedback collected by the Department, while students also give positive feedback through informal channels. The module has been praised by external examiners for its innovation and quality of assessment feedback. In improving student employability in education the module has been similarly successful: 6 out of 7 students applying for ITE after taking the module in 2012-13 were successful in gaining PGCE or School Direct places.


The selective recruitment to the module means students experience participation in a selection process. As interviews are a key aspect of the application process for ITE places, as well as for wider graduate employment, this is a valuable skill to develop, and the feedback offered supports this.

The different forms of assessment ensure students engage with the module, learn in depth, and develop the skills to demonstrate this. Having students complete a placement log requires students to learn about and reflect on a number of key aspects of teaching and learning, while their report on their independently researched and planned lesson requires them to reflect upon how they have applied their learning. The oral presentation allows students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, and also the communication skills central to the role of teacher. By having their school supervisors grade them, students receive clear and informed feedback on their performance in school. All elements of assessment promote their full engagement on placement.

The principal benefit of the module is that it develops students’ employability skills, specifically those that will give them a competitive edge in competition for ITE places. Through their placement experience students discover how interested they are in pursuing a career in secondary school teaching, and this can be highly beneficial in shaping their plans beyond graduation.

Additional benefits are that the module provides a USP for student recruitment, and has extended the Department of History’s links with local schools, enhancing outreach activities. HS3HED has also created a blueprint for the development of other innovative placement-focused modules, both within History and more widely across the University.

Although contact hours are less onerous, offering this module is labour intensive for the Department of History in terms of coordinating student selection, matching students to placements, liaising with the individual placement providers, marking coursework and examining oral presentations. But given the benefits to students, who enjoy, engage with, and perform well on the module the Department of History believes that it is more than worthwhile. It is hugely appreciative of the vital continuing role played by the Institute of Education in the pre-placement training, and of the support provided by partner schools, particularly the placement supervisors. Their willing and generous participation has been crucial.

Embedding a virtual placement and professional mentoring in an MSc module to support student employability

Dr Sarah Cardey, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
Year(s) of case study activity: 2012-13


9397A virtual placement was created with the C4D Network, allowing student taking Communication for Innovation and Development within the Graduate School for International Development and Applied Economics (GIIDAE) to benefit from professional mentoring and networking, improving their employability as a direct result.


  • Set up a placement opportunity for students taking Communication for Innovation and Development.
  • Enhance the employability of students after graduation through developing their skills.
  • Give students experience of networking with professionals in the field.


Students on degrees within GIIDAE had asked for internships and opportunities to gain experience with development practice, which would in turn enhance their employability after graduation. While this was a goal shared by GIIDAE, the workload of students and logistical factors with regards development practice made it difficult to implement a physical placement scheme. As a result, a virtual placement and access to professional mentoring were sought as a practicable alternative.


The C4D Network is a community of professionals working in the field of communication for development. Through the C4D Network a “virtual placement” was created, with a communication portal run out of Oxford, allowing students to collaborate on development projects and network with communication for development professionals.

Prior to the mentoring sessions, a focus group discussion was held with students to assess what they were hoping to get out of the mentoring sessions so these could be tailored to best meet student needs and expectations. In the sessions with Jackie Davies, the founder and Executive Director of the C4D Network, students were assisted with the creation of profiles on LinkedIn and the C4D Network, and also in tailoring CVs for certain roles or organisations, reflecting the needs students had oriented.

The students also attended a networking event, and were given specific tasks so that they were active participants in the event. Students were specifically introduced to people, giving them the opportunity to learn how to network and present themselves in a professional light.

The final activity was for students to create material that could be featured on the C4D Network website. Two creative pieces were set as assignments, with the idea being that once these had received feedback they would be revised to make the pieces suitable for online publication.


Student employability was definitely improved by the scheme, with many students having received employment in communication and development roles, and one student having been headhunted through the LinkedIn profile they created as a result of the scheme. Incorporating a professional mentoring and virtual placement scheme has allowed students to develop skills in areas which central to their finding employment beyond graduation.


Students provided positive feedback on the scheme, and responded particularly well to the mentoring sessions. Beyond the direct benefits to students, the monitoring sessions were beneficial as they allowed skills that students developed in the classroom to be highlighted as skills that should be presented on their CVs, and also identified areas in which the curriculum could be enhanced in order to better develop these employability skills.

The networking event was valuable, as in feedback students expressed appreciation of the opportunity to meet people who worked in organisations in which they were interested. There was, however, a reticence among students to introduce themselves and make connections, and during the debrief session students reflected that it was difficult to network, and that they had missed good connections because of their reticence. While learning that they needed to be more proactive when networking was an important lesson for the students, this suggested that more networking support was required.

The creation of material to be featured on the C4D Network website was ultimately unsuccessful. The nature of the class makeup was such that students did not have experience of writing a blog post, and the final content of the assignments reflected this. Whilst, from an academic perspective, having students conduct an unfamiliar task was beneficial, for the goal of publishing material on the C4D Network website the assignments were of insufficient quality. With student workload within GIIDAE being high, it was not feasible to have students make necessary revisions while expecting them to complete other assignments. As a result, it would be necessary to make changes to this aspect of the scheme.

Follow up

The virtual placement and mentoring scheme has continued to be offered within GIIDAE. In addition to the virtual placement, there are now a number of physical placements in Oxford with the C4D Network available to students.

As a result of having run the scheme more than once, it has been possible to make changes to the curriculum to reflect student needs that were made apparent during the pilot year, and has brought forward the inclusion of material. To overcome student reticence, networking has become a more focal aspect of the curriculum, as has engagement with different forms of media, including social media.

Assessment on the course has been better adapted to the workload of the students. Rather than having students produce blog posts, students now produce a research paper, with the opportunity for developing this for external publication.

Running the scheme has made it more apparent which skills industry requires from University of Reading graduates in the field of international development. As a result, it has been possible to create workshops to improve these skills, and ensure that Communication for Innovation and Development remains a relevant and current degree programme.

Linked Academic Placements: solving a problem by Dr. Cindy Becker

In the Department of English Literature all of our Parts 2 and 3 modules are available as placement modules, allowing a student to identify (with our help) a suitable placement provider and work with the module convenor and me to craft a placement project or activity which links to the learning on their chosen module. The placement report then replaces one element of the assessment (usually the assessed essay) for the module. This seemed to us to be a neat way to embed placement learning within our curriculum and to ensure that students were offered the widest possible range of placement experiences.

We had, however, overlooked one factor: students vary. Whilst the system works for many, some students are hugely ambitious and so try for placements with highly prestigious providers, who can take weeks to reply to every query; others are late bloomers and only think of a placement several weeks into a module. This caused some nasty glitches in the system. We require students to confirm their placement by Week Five of the term in which the module is taught, but we found that some students were missing that deadline and so could not carry out an embedded placement as part of the module assessment (indeed, some were unable to confirm a placement until several weeks after the module had completed). We also realised that students who were keen in the first week or so of term would assume that they had ‘missed the boat’ by Week Four and so simply gave up.

We found one solution to the problem earlier this year, when we relaxed our rules to allow students to undertake placements before a module has begun: working with convenors, they could then arrange a placement in the vacation before the module was taught. This allowed students to begin thinking about a placement months before they would undertake it, solving the problem of students starting to plan a placement too late. What it did not solve was the problem of placements which, sometimes unexpectedly, take an age to arrange. Continue reading →

Online resources for physical and life sciences students by Helen Williams

Even more online support has been made available for students here at Reading seeking work placement and graduate employment. A new online tool dedicated to helping students find opportunities within the life sciences industry has been launched this month by the Biopharma Skills Consortium (BSC), which is led by the University of Reading and comprises seven universities from across the southeast.

Students can readily access advice on how to make stronger applications for work placements and employment. The resources, available on the BSC website at are designed to help students further their understanding of the industrial environment and highlight how to make a rapid impact when starting a new job.

The new resource is timely as a High Fliers report released on 14 January 2013 found that a third of jobs will be filled by graduates who have already spent time at a company, through work experience or industrial placements during their degree.

Orla Kennedy, Associate Dean for the Faculty of Science here at Reading explains: ‘The recent High Fliers report shows just how important work placements are for securing graduate employment. This website allows students access to audio clips that provide insights in to working in the bioscience sector and contains guided web links to useful web sites and training materials.’

James Gazzard, Professor of Workforce Futures at the University of East Anglia added ‘in a globally competitive job market university students and recent graduates need support to help them to effectively engage with employers. It is vital that universities develop platforms to support students to articulate their skills, particularly higher level competences gained through work placements.’

Presenting the brand new Placement Guide for staff by Em Sowden

managing placements 3The new placement guide has been written for all University staff involved in managing student placement options, internships, work placement programmes and volunteering schemes in and outside of the curriculum.operational processes involved in managing placements, alongside the details of key people within the University who can provide support. The guide also refers to national guidance on managing student placements, in accordance with the QAA and the University Code of Practice on Placement Learning and has useful templates and downloadable materials for you to use.

Placement Community of Practice

We will be holding our first Placement Community of Practice  of the year on March 5th 12.15pm-13.45pm in HumSS room 44 – lunch will be provided. It is expected that anyone with a placement remit should attend this community of practice to ensure we are sharing best practice across the University. Please contact CSTD to confirm your attendance.

If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact Placement and Development Manager, Em Sowden ext. 8354

Anna Walter talks about her academic placement (English Dept)


Way back in October 2011, at the beginning of the Autumn Term, Parts 2 and 3 English students were told about a fantastic opportunity. We were now able to go and seek experience beyond the university and go on a placement as part of any module in our year. This would be an integral part of our degree and the placement report would substitute the end of term assessed essay. I eagerly took up this opportunity. I felt I wanted some experience outside of the university environment, something extra to add onto my CV and a chance not to have to write yet another assessed essay.

I am one of very few students who took up the opportunity; I sent off emails to possible opportunities and, eventually, I was accepted to go onto an academic placement at ‘Shandy Hall’ in Yorkshire. It was the home of the author Laurence Sterne and linked with my Eighteenth Century module perfectly as we were studying Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey. ‘Shandy Hall’ is in the very tiny village of Coxwold: there is one pub, one tea room and one church. I organised a placement at the beginning of my Easter holidays. I arranged accommodation in the only B&B in the village and ran the pub asking if I could have dinner with them every evening.

This was a nerve-wracking time. I did not know what to expect, I had launched myself into the unknown but it was also very exciting. The placement could not have been more successful. Everyone looked after me and I have had the most valuable and varied experience. I spent a day restoring the first editions of Laurence Sterne’s books, another day I identified moths and another I discovered the experience of a digital Opera.

I will look back on my placement as an extremely positive experience as I have made friends and contacts now for the future that may help after my graduation in July. I have discovered another beautiful part of the country and I am currently writing up a report that includes all my combined experiences and reflects my enthusiasm for the academic placement I went on. I would recommend this opportunity to any student: it is not often you get this chance.

The Laurence Sterne Trust

Shandy Hall Coxwold York YO61 4AD: Registered Charity 529593