Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

3 Failing the student

It is possible that, despite an action plan, the mentor might have made a decision to fail the student if the required competencies for that particular placement had not been achieved. The next activity is focused on a case study where you explore failing a student in practice.

Activity 4 Case study: Jeanette

Allow 20 mins

Read the following case study.

Staff Nurse Jeanette is the named sign-off mentor to a learner named Veronica Barnes who has struggled to meet her learning outcomes. Jeanette has been reviewing her progress weekly. Veronica is at the end of her placement, and is near the end of her programme of study, and has not achieved the required competencies. In Jeanette’s opinion, Veronica has failed.

Now respond to the questions listed below.

  • What support will Jeanette need after making the decision to fail Veronica?
  • How do you think Veronica will react to the failure?
  • What support will Veronica require?


It is important to clarify the role of the sign-off mentor when assessing students in practice nearing completion of their programme. The NMC (2008) requires each student to be allocated a sign-off mentor for their last placement in their final year. Paragraph 2.1.3 of the NMC standards defines a sign-off mentor as ‘a nurse or midwife designated to sign-off proficiency for a particular student at the end of a programme and must have been supervised on at least three occasions for signing off proficiency by an existing sign off mentor’.

As the sign-off mentor, Jeanette will find the decision to fail Veronica a challenging one that needs to be managed sensitively. Documented evidence is crucial to establish a pattern over a period of time. Jervis and Tilki’s (2011) research study examined the complexities that mentors encounter when failing students. The timing of fail decisions should occur earlier in the student’s programme rather than later: an early ‘fail’ decision provides the student with an opportunity to receive focused support, whereas a ‘fail’ decision towards the end of a programme of study leaves little time for remedial action to be taken.

You are told that Veronica is nearing the end of her programme and that Jeanette has been reviewing Veronica’s progress weekly, so she has invested time before reaching this final decision. Robust documentation is crucial in demonstrating the integrity of assessment decisions made so late in the programme.

Mentorship programme

You can discuss your responses to Activity 4 with your supervisor if studying this as part of an NMC Mentorship programme.


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