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With more empty vacancies than ever before and an increasingly high staff turnover across the country, there is a drive to encourage more students into social work. If you are considering becoming a social worker, check out our in-depth guide for a breakdown of the possible routes into practice.
Why Social Work?
Through supporting and empowering people to make positive changes, social work is a professional that is as rewarding as it is challenging. It involves working in partnership with a diverse client base, which often includes those who are amongst the most vulnerable in society. As a result, it is imperative that all social workers are fully trained and possess a full and comprehensive understanding of the core values and principles embedded within the profession.
If you are confident, organised, and most importantly, have a passion for helping others, social work could be the ideal career for you. There are many different options for speciality practice, and professionals work in a wide range of settings including residential care homes, prisons, hospitals, schools, health centre and across the community.
Minimum Eligibility Requirements
Whilst there are many differences between the routes into social work, various requirements are essential, whichever method you choose. For example:
Social work is a graduate profession, so you will need to have a degree already or be willing to study for one.
All social work students must be proficient in English, and international students will require additional qualifications to evidence this; such as an IELTS overall score of 7 or above.
You should have a minimum of 5 GCSEs grade A* to C including English and Maths and two A levels, which is a total of 240 UCAS points.
You should have relevant work experience within a similar field.
You will also be required to Disclosure and Barring Check (DBS) to ensure suitability.
After you have finished your studies, you will need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before being able to practice.
All qualifying social workers must have had a minimum of 170 days in placement, with experience working with at least two different service user groups.
The Traditional Route
Undergraduate: This continues to be one of the most popular routes into social work, and a BA/BSc in Social Work will ensure that you have the opportunity to develop the skills required for the job, as well as earning practical hands-on experience. The undergraduate course lasts for three years, and funding is available from Student Finance. Some universities may also offer a part-time undergraduate course, which takes around five years. However, some may state that this option will need to be employer-sponsored.
Postgraduate: A postgraduate qualification in social work usually takes two years, and it includes the Postgraduate Diploma or the Master’s course. This full-time course is aimed at those who already have a degree and would like to become a qualified social worker, with most universities requiring a 2:1 and above. Depending on where you live, you may get some assistance with funding. However, continued restrictions to the NHS bursary means that this is not universally applicable.
An Open University degree is studied from the comfort of your own home. Everything is online, and you can work at your own pace. This option is particularly well suited to those who are already working within the health and social care field as you will need to find an employer to support your studies and provide opportunities for work-based learning.
Fast Track Initiatives
Think Ahead: Think Ahead is a mental health social work scheme, which is similar to Frontline but with adult social work. Trainees work in a local authority, receiving their Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work in the first year and their Masters in the second year. There are no fees for the course, and qualifications are fully funded. The first year you will receive a training bursary of £17,200 (£19, 100 in London) and in the second you will get a salary of 21,000-30,000 depending on where you are located. It is important to note that with the majority of the fast track schemes, you will also be expected to hold a full driving licence.
Frontline: Offering exemplary on the job training, this national career pathway was originally inspired by Teach First and it targets high flying graduates. The Frontline programme is also funded, and it offers a similar bursary and salary package to the Think Ahead Scheme. This fast track option is aimed at those looking to advance in social work with children and families. Frontline training is a comprehensive program which also includes leadership development. Both Frontline and Think Ahead also require trainees to attend a summer institute program for five weeks of intensive training.
Step Up to Social Work: Step up to Social Work began in 2010 and it focuses on encouraging career switchers to join the profession. It integrates the knowledge and theory that you need during a block of time in university and practical experience which is acquired on placement. You will need a 2:1 or above or a 2:2 with a Masters as well as experience in a health and social care related field. Tuition fees are funded for this 14-month course, and the university will also grant bursaries for maintenance costs.
This is a relatively new route into social work, with apprenticeships offering a practice-based option with on-the-job experience. The apprenticeship typically takes around 3 years to qualify, and there are not any formal entry criteria. Apprentices are assessed at the end of the course, with the results from this resulting in their qualification. Employers with a payroll below £3 million are eligible for government funding, which will cover 95% of the apprenticeship program.
Whether you opt for the traditional route, a fast track scheme or an apprenticeship will depend on which one is the best fit for you. All of these different routes into social work offer a qualification that is then recognised throughout the UK, provide on the job experience and ensure that you have the skills needed to make a positive difference through a continued programme of learning and development.