3.1 Breaking bad news
Breaking bad news is never an easy option, so informing a student near the end of their programme of study that they have failed their placement will naturally upset the individual. Walsh (2014) explains how students may react to the outcome of assessment with a feeling of:
- denial – they respond with disbelief and shock to a failed assessment
- betrayal – they may feel hurt that their friend has failed them (some students interpret the supportive mentorship relationship as a close friendship rather than a professional one)
- sadness – some will cry, which can be upsetting for the mentor
- anger – some may react with aggression and/or denial, and may verbally abuse the mentor
- disbelief – a student may place blame for their failure on a personality clash with their mentor
- bargaining – they may react by blaming others, their placement, the HEI course or their mentors
- relief – some students may be relieved and willing to accept a failed assessment. In some instances failure can have a positive outcome.
Support is crucial for students who perceive that this as a stressful experience. An opportunity should be provided for them to repeat the experience when appropriate, and to have access to a range of support services from the HEI, linked lecturers, module leaders, counselling and student union processes.
This can be an equally stressful experience for the mentor, who will require support. Managing the process of underachieving or failing students must be made with confidence (Brown et al., 2012). A decision to fail a student nearing the end of the programme can be a challenge, because the underperformance should have been addressed earlier. Jeanette’s decision could cause tensions within the team or the organisation if it is perceived that some of the mentors assessing Veronica on her previous placements did not fulfil their assessment obligations. However, failing to fail students can have serious consequences for the service user, who may be put at risk.
Mentors require support and guidance when they fail students, because they have to deliver difficult messages to the underperforming student. They need to develop confidence and must be clear about the roles and responsibilities in making these decisions. The next session focuses on these issues.