We all face difficulties in our lives. Sometimes these difficulties are complex and can mean we struggle to move forward and make positive choices for ourselves. Skilled and compassionate social workers can help us do this.
This is a diverse career and you’ll find social workers in a variety of places like criminal justice services, hospitals, adult or children’s services and education.
It’s impossible to describe everything you might do as a social worker but here are some key examples.
Social workers can:
I was a young carer so missed a lot of school and left at 16 without qualifications. I set up my own business but in my late 30s I injured my back. At that point I thought what am I going to do? I really wanted to do social work and if I had a chance when I was younger that’s what I would’ve done. I first of all did an HNC at college and the following year I applied for a social work degree.Stephen Horsburgh Mental health officer
There are over 10,000 social workers registered with the SSSC in Scotland. Explore these career stories which show that studying social work can open the door to a world of diversity.
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Make a difference with a career in social work
We know that most students accepted on social work programmes in Scotland have work experience in social services for example in child care or adult social care. This could be paid employment, volunteering or providing unpaid care to family or friends. If you don’t have this experience you should consider how to gain it and make sure that it is of good quality, for example where you have held a range of responsibilities and can show you can manage complex issues. Look at the children and young people and social services and healthcare pages for ideas. When you write your university application make sure you relate your experience directly to the programme and what you hope to gain from becoming a social worker. Show that you have done some research into what practising as a social worker is really like.
You should speak to the university at an early stage to find out how they will support you if you have (for example) a physical disability, long term condition or learning difficulty that may impact on your study. Universities have a range of support available. Here is a useful page from UCAS about the support available.
The entry requirements depend on the university you are applying to. We have included more detail below in Studying social work in Scotland. In general, for an undergraduate degree (where you don’t already have a degree) you will need some qualifications at SCQF level 6 (for example a higher) or above. In most cases you’ll need numeracy at SCQF level 5 or above (for example National 5 Maths). Useful subjects include English, Psychology and Sociology.
We all come with different backgrounds and experiences and if you are the right candidate universities can offer some flexibility in entry requirements. This can include the offer of a numeracy test if you don’t meet the minimum qualification requirement for numeracy. Social work programmes want to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds so look for statements about this on their websites and contact them directly to find out more.
Social work programmes in Scotland prepare you to work with people of all ages. This will be of benefit if your career takes you to different settings or even different countries. After all, social work is a globally recognised profession.
Your study will be challenging and diverse and is designed to prepare you for the complexities of working as a social worker. You'll study the law, theory and ethics, and human lifespan development from a variety of perspectives. Other areas of study could include social policy, psychology, politics and social research methods.
During your study you’ll complete 200 days of assessed practice in a social service setting. Assessed practice is where someone would watch and assess you while you are carrying out your work.
Explore the routes to find out what will suit you best and where you can study. Applications open around October each year and close in January.
You can study social work and stay in your current employment. This can be helpful if you’re not able to attend university full time because of where you live, or financial and family commitments. Employers can sometimes pay for a worker to complete their social work training as it helps develop their workforce, and you may be eligible for part time funding from SAAS. There are other funding options available if you apply for full time study.
You will need to work in a suitable social service role with a good level of responsibility, for example creating and implementing care plans. You should also be able to demonstrate that you have worked with and supported a range of different people. You might already work in social work services (for example as a social work assistant) or community justice (for example as a community justice support worker). You may need to work a minimum number of hours each week and will need to stay in employment until the end of your study.
This programme starts at SCQF level 8. To enter you will need to hold relevant credits equivalent to the first year of university which is 120 credits at SCQF level 7. For example, an HNC Social Services (96 credits) plus extra credits from a related subject like psychology or sociology. Usually these credits will come from a college or university course, however you may be able to claim some credit from learning you have gained through experience. Advanced entry to SCQF level 9 is possible for applicants who have the appropriate experience and qualifications.
You will need to spend some time on campus at the university for teaching blocks (two weeks per calendar year). Other learning is delivered online with email and telephone contact with personal tutors. You can also arrange placements near you (in appropriate cases at least one placement can be your workplace) so this may be a good route for those living in remote and rural locations.
View the RGU website for full details on entry requirements and course.
This programme has four stages starting with two introductory modules, an introduction to health and social care (K101) and introducing the social sciences (DD102). These modules will help prepare you for degree level study which will help if you do not hold Highers or other qualifications at SCQF level 6. However, you still need to meet the minimum numeracy requirement (for example National 5 Maths) or pass the numeracy test offered by the OU. You also need to show strong capability in english (and have a minimum of National 5 English or equivalent).
This is a work based distance learning route. To enter you need to be working in social services in Scotland and your employer must sponsor you. There are a limited number of places for independent (self funding) students who would pay their own funding providing they have their employer’s agreement.
View the OU website for full details on entry requirements and course details.
This post graduate qualification contains 120 credits at SCQF level 11.
It includes a residential weekend, face to face workshops and two large practice placements.
To apply you’ll need an honours degree with a minimum 2:2 classification.
This is a work based distance learning route. To enter you need to be working in social services in Scotland. You need to be sponsored by your employer who must agree to provide your practice learning opportunities.
View the OU website for full details on entry requirements and course details.
You can apply to study social work full time at these universities in Scotland. Being an undergraduate means you don’t already have a degree.
The undergraduate honours degree is four years and you’ll start in the first year. Entry to second year is considered in some cases where appropriate qualifications (such as HNC Social Services or Childhood Practice) and work experience is held, and you would discuss this when you apply.
You’ll need to meet entry requirements including numeracy and literacy. For more detail about this (including where universities can offer some flexibility in entry requirements) close this box and look under preparing for a career in social work.
There’s information about the part time social work programmes at The Open University and Robert Gordon University in part time distance learning (for people already working in social services).
You can apply to study a post graduate social work programme at these universities in Scotland.
Post graduate programmes are full time and take two years. You’ll need a first degree and some universities prefer this to be in a social science subject.
The SSSC manages the post graduate social work bursary scheme.
There’s more information about the post graduate social work programme at The Open University in part time distance learning (for people already working in social services).
I love that I get to build relationships with and contribute to the rehabilitation and social inclusion of people in the criminal justice system (some of whom are the most marginalised people in society) whilst also contributing to the protection of the public.Rania Hamad Senior practitioner
Social workers can use their social work qualification in other social service roles which need you to be registered with the SSSC.
This includes support workers, practitioners and supervisors across children and young people and social services and healthcare settings.
There are also a range of specialised areas which social workers can progress to, this might mean you need to complete further learning. We’ve included some examples below but there are many more.
A mental health officer (MHO) is a qualified social worker who has specialist training and experience in working with people who have a mental illness, learning disability, dementia or related condition.
MHOs may provide mental health support to people of any age. Most of the time, they carry out their MHO duties alongside an existing social work career for example in criminal justice social work.
One of the key responsibilities of an MHO is to make decisions about whether a person will have care and treatment, even if it is against their will.
To develop knowledge and skill for this highly responsible role they are supported by their employer (a local authority) to undertake a post graduate certificate at Robert Gordon University, the University of Edinburgh or the University of Strathclyde.
Chief social work officers (CSWOs) are the leaders of the social work profession in their local authority and have a responsibility to set the strategic direction and raise standards across social services. There are 32 CSWOs in Scotland. They work in partnership with the Directors of Integrated Joint (health and social care) Boards, some of whom are former CSWOs.
This post graduate diploma is aimed at current and aspiring CSWOs. It is a flexible, work based programme studied part time. Costs are usually met by employers or through grants. It encourages a mixture of current knowledge and skills with exciting new learning. It is delivered in partnership by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the University of Dundee (UoD).
You can progress to a full Master of Science (MSc) at either GCU or UoD through the completion of a dissertation.
The childhood practice award focuses on leadership, working with professionals and supporting the development of workers so that the best outcomes are achieved for children. It meets the SSSC Standard for Childhood Practice (the standard).
There are a range of awards available which meet the standard including the BA degree and Professional Development Award at SCQF level 9, and a number of post graduate programmes at SCQF level 11.
To register as a manager or lead practitioner in a day care of children setting (like a nursery or out of school care club) social workers can use their social work qualification. They will also be given a condition by the SSSC to achieve 60 credits of a childhood practice award. This additional learning helps social workers develop confidence as leaders in day care of children settings.
Management posts in care services can often be attractive to social workers, for example in residential child care, adult day care or care homes. To register in a management role, you would need to agree to complete an additional management qualification. The main qualification is the SVQ Care Services Leadership and Management at SCQF level 10. The exception is in day care of children, where it would be the childhood practice award.
This SVQ focuses on leadership and management elements in social services, for example promoting collaborative working and managing strategy, policy and finances. It is described in more detail in the children and young people and social services and healthcare sections.
Practice learning qualifications (PLQs) are of value to social service workers with lead roles in supporting, supervising and assessing the learning of others. This includes social workers who contribute to the education of social work students on placement. These qualifications reflect the importance of practice learning throughout social services.
The awards cover leadership for learning, effective working relationships and evidence based practice.
Programmes for qualified social workers are offered at Stirling University (post graduate certificate at SCQF level 11) and Robert Gordon University (graduate certificate at SCQF level 10). Social workers (and other social service and healthcare professionals) can also choose a Professional Development Award in Practice Learning at SCQF level 10.
Care Inspectorate Inspectors come from a range of professional backgrounds across social services and healthcare. They inspect services and have a role supporting improvement, innovation and change. Services they work with include social work, children and young people, adult health and social care, and criminal justice.
Qualified social workers can apply for roles as Care Inspectorate Inspectors. They must also have or agree to achieve an approved regulator award like the Professional Development Award (PDA) in Scrutiny and Improvement Practice at SCQF level 10.
The PDA helps inspectors gain confidence to deliver high quality scrutiny and improvement through the development and critical analysis of practice. This helps make sure people who are supported in Scotland’s social services achieve the very best outcomes.
Learning about social services is a good way to show your committment to employers.
If you want to store your learning and share it with others, including new employers, try using MyLearning. It's a free, smartphone-based app provided by the SSSC.
MyLearning is also used by social service workers to record continuous professional learning.