Objectives  Evidence suggests that the most important component of communication skills training (CST) is experiential learning through role-play sessions that rely on facilitators to guide learners. However, there is little published evidence about processes of assessing facilitator competence in CST. This paper reports on the development and application of procedures to assess facilitator competence in a large-scale CST programme.

Methods  Thirty-two novice facilitators in a large CST programme were audio-recorded while facilitating small-group CST training sessions in order to explore whether the training they had received had prepared them to competently facilitate. Audio-recordings were assessed using the Comskil facilitator assessment coding system. Facilitators were rated as having achieved basic competence, advanced competence or expert competence.

Results  Facilitation tasks that were most frequently coded as being used always included inviting the learner to give feedback first and inviting all group members to give feedback. The facilitation task coded least frequently as being used always was involving group members in solving problems. Of the 32 facilitators, 18 reached at least a basic level of competence. Psychosocially trained facilitators and MD facilitators differed in their use of five facilitation tasks.

Conclusions  Modest training and minimal practice does not result in complete facilitator competence. Some facilitation skills appear to be more easily acquired than others. These findings highlight which skills should be prioritised in the further training of novice facilitators. A long-term project currently underway will study whether facilitator competence improves with practice and regular feedback.