Becoming qualified is your first step towards a worthwhile career protecting and positively impacting the lives of vulnerable people. Learn more about the variety of social work courses on offer
Social services departments are currently stretched to capacity due to funding cuts, a decreasing number of students enrolling on social work courses and an increase in the amount of people in the care system. As a result, there's a need for qualified and experienced social workers.
There are a number of ways to gain social work qualifications, from undergraduate social work degrees and the Masters in Social Work (MSW) to fast-track training programmes.
Social work degrees
In order to practice as a social worker in the UK you'll need to be educated to at least undergraduate level and registered with one of the four regulating bodies. These are:
- Care Council for Wales
- Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) - England
- Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC)
- Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).
On undergraduate social work degrees you'll learn about mental health, disabilities and other issues, the theory of social work, partnership working, ethics and values, and the legislation relevant to the profession. Many programmes are focused on practical learning so you'll be required to undertake at least two work placements in a social work setting as part of the course.
Entry requirements differ between institutions so you'll need to check before applying. For example, to study BA Social Work at the University of Bradford you'll need BBB grades at A-level, while at London Metropolitan University you'll need a minimum of BBC for entry onto their 2018/19 BSc Social Work programme.
In Scotland you'll usually need four Highers of at least BBBB, if not higher, to gain a place on an undergraduate social work course. In Northern Ireland you'll need three B grades at A-level or higher.
The majority of full-time undergraduate degrees take three years to complete and are comprised of a range of modules. At Bradford, for instance, you'll study modules in state and society, mental health, working with adults, and service users and carers' perspectives. At London Metropolitan, you'll study modules in human growth and development, law for social work practice and protecting children and adults, among others.
To gain a place on many programmes you'll need previous work experience of working in a care setting. Experience can be paid or voluntary and may include helping out at a local youth club or care home for the elderly, getting involved with a victim support organisation or advice service or caring for a relative or friend.
Masters in Social Work (MSW)
The Skills for Care 2018 Social work education report revealed that 74% of postgraduate qualifiers in 2015/16 were employed as social workers six months after graduating, compared to just 67% of undergraduates. If you'd like to build on your undergraduate knowledge, or if your first degree is in an unrelated subject, you should consider an MSW.
Entry requirements vary depending on where you choose to study, but all postgraduate programmes specify the need for substantial social work experience. During the application process you'll be expected to demonstrate a solid understanding of what social work entails and knowledge of current happenings in the industry.
For entry onto the MSW at Sheffield Hallam University you'll need a 2:2 or above in any discipline, while Manchester Metropolitan University expects a 2:1 (although candidates with a 2:2 may be considered with substantial work experience). Graduates of social science subjects are of particular interest.
In exceptional circumstances candidates without a first degree may be considered, if they have extensive professional experience. The best way to gain this experience is through volunteering.
An MSW generally lasts two years full time, with a considerable amount of time (usually 170 to 200 days) spent on placement. At Sheffield Hallam modules include an introduction to social work, readiness for social work practice, research knowledge, methods and skills and the organisational context of social work. At Manchester Metropolitan University, you'll cover critical perspectives on society, families and individuals, developing professional practice and applying law, safeguarding and inter-professional practice.
Social Work Bursaries
Financial help is available to students on both undergraduate and postgraduate social work courses, in the form of Social Work Bursaries, supplied by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA).
Social Work Bursaries are non-repayable and can be used to help with study and living costs. There's only a limited number available, so there's no guarantee you'll receive support. If you're eligible and manage to secure a bursary, it'll be paid directly into your bank account. You'll keep receiving the bursary for the duration of your studies, unless you withdraw.
Undergraduates can apply for a Social Work Bursary from their second year. The basic bursary rate for 2018/19 is £3,362.50 if you attend a university outside of London, and £3,762.50 if you attend a university inside the capital.
Postgraduates can apply from their first year of study. In 2018/19 the basic grant is worth up to £3,362.50 (studying outside of London) and up to £3,762.50 (inside London). The means-tested maintenance grant is worth up to £2,721 a year (outside of London) and up to £4,201 a year (inside London). Discover more about funding postgraduate study.
Year by year this is subject to change, so check with the institution that you're applying to before committing to a course.
If you're a career changer or a graduate from an unrelated discipline, a number of organisations provide fast-track training options to help you enter social work.
Among these is Frontline, a way into children's social work via a two-year graduate programme. With a focus on leadership development the scheme gives you the opportunity to qualify as a social worker through on-the-job training and academic study.
The programme starts with a five-week Summer Institute where you'll learn about good social work practice from leading academics. During the first year you'll spend more than 200 days on placement with a local authority child protection team and 46 days studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work. On completion you'll be able to register with the HCPC as a qualified social worker.
In year two you'll work as a newly qualified social worker, responsible for your own caseload, in your local authority Children's Services department. You'll be supported by your employer and Frontline to complete the ongoing leadership development programme. You'll also continue your studies and work towards a Masters in Advanced Relationship Based Social Work with Children and Families.
To be eligible for the programme you'll need:
- a 2:1 or higher in your first degree
- GCSE maths and English at grade C or above (or equivalent)
- IT literacy and good spoken and written English.
Your first year tuition fees and Summer Institute accommodation is covered by Frontline, and you'll receive a tax-free, National Insurance-exempt bursary to support you through your studies. This ranges from £16,756 in regions across the UK, to £19,591 if you're based in inner London.
In your second year you'll earn a newly qualified social worker salary, which depending on your location will typically range from £25,000 to £35,000.
Step Up to Social Work
Another option is the government's Step Up to Social Work initiative - an intensive, full-time training programme covering everything that trainee social workers need to know in just 14 months.
The course covers social work ethics and practice, child development, assessment of risk and the legal framework surrounding social work. Trainees receive a £19,833 bursary for the duration of the course.
Entry requirements are subject to change so check the website for the latest entry requirements. You'll typically need a minimum 2:1 qualification, or a 2:2 first degree followed by a Masters or Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) to apply, as well as GCSEs in English and maths at grade C or above, the right to remain and work in the UK and demonstrable experience working with children, young people and families.
The Think Ahead programme is a relatively new route into social work, which aims to train mental health social workers within two years.
The scheme starts with a six-week Summer Institute where you'll gain an understanding of the different approaches to mental health social work. In Year One you'll receive a tax-free training bursary of £17,200 (£19,100 within London), paid monthly over a 14-month period, and work alongside other Think Ahead participants in children and family services, child and adolescent services and forensic services teams under the supervision of an experienced consultant social worker. By the end of your first year you'll have gained a postgraduate diploma in social work and will be qualified to register with the HCPC.
In Year Two you'll work more independently as a newly qualified social worker on a 12-month contract in a mental health setting within your local NHS Trust or local authority. Salaries will vary depending on your location and employer, but are typically in the region of £21,000 to £30,000. You'll also continue your academic studies as you work towards a Masters degree in social work.
For a place on the scheme you'll need the right to work in the UK. Necessary qualifications include GCSEs in maths and English at grade C or above, and a 2:1 undergraduate degree in any subject other than social work.
Applications are made online. If successful you'll take a series of online tests and attend an assessment centre before being offered a place on the programme.
Find out more
- See what else the social care sector has to offer.
- Find out how to become a social worker.
- Discover 10 opportunities to volunteer with children.