University of Stirling

School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health

Mentor Programme




The aims of assessment are to facilitate personal and professional development of the learner. Simpson (cited by Beattie 1991) states that the real purpose of assessment is to help students learn by clarifying how much they still need to learn and secondarily to indicate when they have learned enough.

Whilst assessing students in practice placement there is a moral element for the mentor to consider. If a student, assessed as being competent at a skill when they clearly have no knowledge base about the topic, subsequently harms a patient as a direct result of incompetence, both the student and the assessor may have been negligent.

 Assessment, and mentor accountability for that assessment, is an essential feature of the Standards too support learning and assessment in practice (NMC 2006).  Indeed, responsibility for confirming student competency at the point of registration is no longer lies with teaching staff in the University. It is the responsibility of the sign-off mentor in the final practice placement to confirm that the student is competent to practice.  The sign-off mentor’s decision is in part dependent on the record of assessment provided by previous mentors. 

Therefore it is extremely important that a mentor fully understands the assessment process and the criteria that should be used to deem a student competent.

It may be extremely important for mentors to engage in the assessment process, but it does seem to be a problematic area for mentors. Duffy (2003: 5) in her study reports that:

Findings from the study reveal that students are passing clinical assessments even when there are doubts about their clinical performance. It is revealed that some mentors are unwilling to put pen to paper regarding these concerns which presents lecturers and subsequent mentors with difficult moral dilemmas. Lecturers identified the importance of following procedure when faced with a fail scenario. They also identified that weak students often had a history of problems within clinical practice but had often been given the benefit of the doubt and so progressed through the system. Mentors identified that failing a student was a difficult thing to do and that personal, emotional, as well as practical issues influenced the outcome of their judgements regarding students’ clinical performance. It emerged that preparing mentors for their role and responsibility in a fail scenario was vital as was adequate support from both education and practice.

Bray and Nettlton (2007) also found that mentors participating in their study struggled with their dual role as assessor and mentor and found conflict within this responsibility.

  • See if senior colleagues are willing to discuss with you the conflict between the pastoral/support/educative functions of mentoring and the assessment function.

Fortunately, there is a good deal of information now available on assessment and assessment issues. See the Mentoring Pack (MPBLW 2006) for information and tips on assessing (32, 33), Assessment skills (34, 35), using questions (36, 37) and testing and reviewing evidence (44, 45).

Pdf icon Mentorship Pack [PEF 1.5MB]


In addition, a useful guide to Assessing Student Performance in Work-Based Learning (Allin and Turnock 2007a)) is available from the Making Practice Based Learning Work website, Learning Materials page.


World Wide Web icon Making Practice Based Learning Work

Failing students: The Mentoring Pack also has a section on students who may fail (45, 46), as do Allin and Turnock (2007a: 7-10), but in addition there is another booklet available from the MPBLW website on Managing Failing Students in Practice (Marsh et al.). There is some overlap in these three sources, but for such a difficult topic, this is quite useful.

A brief overview of assessment can be obtained by accessing this PowerPoint presentation (Benbow):