Becoming a Social Worker
Few professions can boast to be as rewarding as social work. There are many routes into becoming a social worker, depending on your experience and qualifications. Have a look at our article on What Is A Social Worker if you aren’t quite sure what you’re getting yourself into. If you really are interested then this quick guide will show you how to start!
Firstly, Social Work in the UK is managed by the UK care regulators, as it is a protected title. This means that only approved courses have any value. Social workers must generally have a BA degree in social work or a Master’s Degree. The latter postgraduate course takes two years and is for those with a degree in a different subject. There is an option for part-time study in some universities.
The entry requirements differ according to the course, but most will ask for a minimum of 240 UCAS points. This translates into five GCSEs grades A*-C, which must include English and Maths. You will also need two A Levels. In Scotland you will need four higher, while in Northern Ireland the minimum requirements are one A and two B-grade A-Levels, on average.
Some bursaries for social work are available through the NHS Business Services Authority (https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/social-work-students) and there are similar bursaries in Wales (see https://socialcare.wales/careers/student-funding). There are also a limited number of bursaries available through the Scholarship Hub (https://www.thescholarshiphub.org.uk/). If you live in Northern Ireland then your bursary and fees are paid.
There are Social Work Programmes though the Open University (OU) though they require you to find your own employer and social work placement to sponsor you, which may take some time. The advantage of this path is that you can work at your own pace, while in full or part-time employment. This option could be best-suited if you are already working in the social care profession.
There is also a fast-track option to get into social work if you want to work with children and families. This is an option if you have lots of experience or a 2:1 degree in a different subject. For example, Think Ahead (https://thinkahead.org/) is a graduate programme for Mental Health, Frontline (https://thefrontline.org.uk/) is a 2-year training course, and Step-Up to Social Work is an intensive 14-month training programme (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/step-up-to-social-work-information-for-applicants).
The latter two courses are not available in Scotland, and are only recognized there as an ‘entitling’ qualification to allow entry into the register for social workers. Other measures must be taken in order to meet the Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE) in adult social care.
At the time of writing, social work apprenticeships are being developed by universities and employers. You can look at the Skills for Care website for details (https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/Learning-development/Apprenticeships/Social-work-apprenticeship.aspx). These will allow students to study and work simultaneously.
The academic aspect of any social work course will focus on theory, ethics and legislation. Half of the courses will be practical, in the form of work placements. You will also need some experience of social work or social care when applying, which could be voluntary, placement work or paid. Life experience can also be valid in some circumstances.
If you are a foreign social worker and you want to work in the UK then you will need to investigate the regulations for each country (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) as each has its own regulator. You have to register with this regulator. Check whether your social work qualification meets the standards for registration, and then complete an application form and pay the registration fee (differing by country). Be aware that this may take some time.
The UK has a points-based system for sponsoring migrants, so if you are not an EU or British citizen you will probably need to obtain a visa through sponsorship via an employer who is already registered as a sponsor.
Finally, when you have qualified, it’s time to find some work! There are different portals to find social work employment, such as this website (see www.socialworkers.net ).
You could also look at the British Association of Social Work (BASW) website (https://www.basw.co.uk/) or the Professional Social Work magazine (https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/professional-social-work-psw) also published by BASW. Local authority websites post vacancies, and recruitment agencies are also an option.