Continuous practical assessment at the School of Dental Sciences

Professor Janice Ellis, Professor of Dental Education

School of Dental Sciences

Medical Sciences

What did you do?

During stages 3, 4 and 5 of our BDS and Stages 2 and 3 of our BSc course students are continuously assessed on their clinical and professional skills and knowledge.

Who is involved?

BDS course students at stages 3, 4 and 5; BSc students at stage 2 and 3; Newcastle Dental Hospital staff; members of the general public requiring dental treatment.

How do you do it?

Students undertake a wide variety of dental treatments for the members of general public within clinics at Newcastle Dental Hospital and also at off-campus community clinics on average of 5 times per week. Each clinical session is followed by a brief formative assessment of students’ performance, with further recommendations on areas for improvement.

Throughout the academic year patients are accepted for student treatment through our school web site. They need to be willing to commit their time in order to attend all the necessary appointments. Usually we have 16-18 students working at the clinic, who are closely taught by 3-4 members of staff. The quality of each procedure is evaluated at certain pre-agreed check-points throughout the treatment session.

Every procedure completed by the student is recorded and the student is evaluated according to 4 domains: Knowledge, Professionalism, Treatment Quality and Patient Feedback. Grading criteria for each domain are defined and these align to the General Dental Councils standard of a ‘safe beginner’.

At the end of each clinical session the student is required to reflect on their performance and grade themselves for each of the 4 domains. This is then followed by a 1:1 discussion with the member of clinical staff who has supervised their work. Overall performance and each procedure is analysed and the student grades can be moderated. The agreed grades are then recorded within the schools’ custom made electronic portfolio, iDentity. This data can be retrieved and analysed at any point but is routinely reviewed for BDS students twice in their 3rd year to see how students are settling in, and once in their 4th and 5th years to review readiness to progress. iDentity also allows reports to be produced which enable staff to review student performance against expectations and the cohort norms.

Why do you do it?

It is essential for dental students and dental therapy students to be able to develop and apply their clinical and professional skills in an authentic workplace based environment, and by working with real patients who require different approaches this also allows development of key communication, team working, leadership and management skills.

This assessment is not about the final grade, but rather is used to provide multiple detailed episodes of formative feedback in order to help students develop. The requirement that students also initially reflect on their own performance embeds the skills of self-reflection which are an essential aspect of being a reflective safe practitioner with an understanding of the importance of life-long learning.

The continuous assessment motivates students to constantly improve and learn from any mistakes made. By recording all the treatment details and grades, students are also able to build their professional portfolio.

Does it work?

The assessment has been running for the last 15 years, with iDentity being used for 10 years. We have been continuously receiving great feedback from both students and patients, but most importantly this form of assessment allows students to become more reflective and confident and effectively develop their skills by receiving continuous feedback from the experienced clinical staff.

Contact details

Professor Janice Ellis, Professor of Dental Education


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