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One size does not fit all when it comes to supervision

05 Mar 2020
  • Our standards

Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson is an operating department practitioner and senior lecturer in Operating Department Practice at the University of Bedfordshire.

Andrea has conducted research into students with additional learning needs in healthcare higher education.

In this blog post, she reflects on the need to provide appropriate support to those you delegate work to, drawing on her research and her own experiences in practice.

In the health and care sector, we have demanding and stressful roles. In this type of work, giving and receiving supervision and support is so important.

If a professional has a good supervisor they can reflect with openly, they’ll likely find the long shifts and difficult situations more bearable. And with the feedback and reflection that is part and parcel of effective supervision, they’ll be encouraged to challenge their own practice and make changes that have a positive impact for service users.

In line with HCPC standards of conduct, performance and ethics 4.1 and 4.2 if you’re delegating work to someone – whether that’s a colleague or a learner on a placement with you – you need to continue to give them supervision and support that’s appropriate to their individual needs and strengths.

The benefits of effective supervision

Effective supervision has so many benefits for the professional you’re supporting.

There’s the quality aspect, of course. Having a safe space to discuss and reflect on practice and receive feedback allows professionals to challenge their own practice and address the limits of the knowledge, skills and experience, or areas that are beyond their scope of practice.


It builds confidence and self-awareness, especially for newly qualified professionals or learners on placements. A supervisor who provides a positive learning environment will help to encourage the person they’re supporting to reach their full potential.

Critically, effective supervision also supports the supervisee’s development and recognises them as an individual. Everyone has their own learning style and needs, and an effective supervisor will identify ways to best support that individual and encourage their development.

No one size fits all

Good supervision takes patience, approachability and trust between the supervisor and supervisee. You should see positive developments over time in your supervisee’s performance, willingness to take on constructive feedback and awareness of the limitations of their skill base.

But it also means being aware of and willing to learn about individuals’ learning styles and learning differences, which may require you to modify your supervising methods.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’. Instead, you have to learn about the individual and how they work. Seek out opportunities for training and development and strive to enhance your awareness of others’ strengths and needs.

Supporting professionals with learning differences

In my research, I found that sometimes supervisors were unsure of how learners may be affected by Specific Learning Disorders (SpLDs) such as dyslexia. They also expressed an uncertainty over how best to support and mentor those with learning differences.

In addition, some students were reluctant to disclose any learning differences in practice, which created anxiety.

As you might expect, this lack of awareness leads to problems and uncertainty over how best to support supervisees with SpLDs.

The students in my research may have benefitted from some reasonable adjustments to practice-based learning. Some students with dyslexia reported finding ways to manage their learning outcomes on their own.

But reasonable modifications, discussed with supervisors, could help these students optimise their learning opportunities without having to spend additional time and energy finding workarounds.

Opening up the dialogue

On the positive side, my research revealed a definite appetite to learn more about SpLDs. Supervisors would like more training, so they can offer the best support.

They are keen to make any modifications they can to support their supervisees and want them to feel comfortable disclosing any learning differences without feeling awkward or anxious.

Around six months ago, the University of Bedfordshire introduced a tool to help supervisors decide how best to support a learner with a SpLD. This was an original idea used at the University of Hertfordshire and shared for modification with us, resulting in the Clinical Practice Learning Needs Assessment.

The tool gives the supervisee an opportunity to speak about how their learning needs can be met in practice based learning environments. Feedback has been positive so far, with learners saying it is helpful in initiating the conversation and with supervisors, resulting in the right questions being asked.

If someone does disclose an SpLD to you, don’t be afraid to ask them to explain more about it and how it affects their day-to-day development.

As registrants, people with learning differences have the potential to provide wonderful support and supervision to others who may be experiencing similar difficulties. From my own observations, they demonstrate incredible empathy and an intuitive compassion for others.



Better supervision, better care

Any one providing supervision, will need get advice when they need it – whether that’s through a trusted colleague or seeking out guidance and resources.

It is advisable to ask for feedback from supervisees also, to establish what are you are doing well or could do better as a supervisor. Also to understand how those under your supervision prefer to learn and receive feedback.

If you’re giving appropriate support, you’ll see it in your supervisee’s improved confidence and increased awareness of their knowledge and limitations. And that will ultimately help to improve the care and treatment given to service users.

We recognise that access to supervision can vary across professions and workplaces. We recognise that not all professions are supervisors or are given supervision, so the approach you take may depend on what is available to you. To find out more about supervision and how it can support your continuing professional development, read our blog on the value of supervision.

Andrea's recommended resources

Page updated on: 21/02/2020