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Developing a ‘core of steel’: the key attributes of effective practice assessors

12 December 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 22



the Nursing and Midwifery Council has emphasised that its recently introduced standards for student supervision and assessment aim to ‘ensure that no one gets onto the register who shouldn't be there’. A key element in achieving this is the new practice assessor role, implemented to bolster practical assessment processes.


to identify the key personal characteristics of robust practice assessors who are prepared to fail underperforming students.


a national study, using a grounded theory approach. Thirty-one nurses were interviewed about their experiences of failing students in practice-based assessments.


robust practical assessors have a ‘core of steel’, characterised as having five key features: solidarity, tenacity, audacity, integrity and dependability.


organisations should base their selection of practice assessors on how strongly they exhibit these five characteristics. Designating all current mentors as new practice assessors, when it is known that often they are reluctant to fail, could perpetuate failure to fail.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) recently made changes to the way students are supported and assessed in practical placements, publishing new standards to this effect (NMC, 2018a). During a stakeholder event held in Birmingham last year, the NMC made clear that ‘the business of these new NMC Standards is to ensure that no one gets onto the register who shouldn't be there’. This reflects ongoing concerns that UK practical assessment processes have not always managed underperforming students effectively (Duffy 2003; Gainsbury 2010; Hughes et al, 2016; Burden et al, 2017) and that some incompetent students have gone on to enter the NMC register (Fordham-Barnes, 2018). One of the recent changes the NMC made regarding practice learning and assessment is the development of two distinct new roles: the practice supervisor and the practice assessor, each taking up different elements of the previous mentor role.

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