Studying for your Social Work Degree

Studying for your Social Work Degree

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Studying for your Social WorkDegree is PERFECT for anyone wanting to train to become a social worker. After reading this fully comprehensive guide you will understand:

  • the structure and culture of HE, and how social work fits into it
  • what to expect, and what will be expected of you, as a university student
  • teaching and assessment methods within social work, so that you can perform to the best of your ability in an academic environment
  • how to manage your social work studies in an effective way and make the most of the resources available to you.

The books in our Critical Study Skills series will help you gain the knowledge, skills and strategies you need to achieve your goals. They provide support in all areas important for university study, including institutional and disciplinary policy and practice, self-management, and research and communication. Packed with tasks and activities to help you improve your learning, including learner autonomy and critical thinking, and to guide you towards reflective practice in your study and work life. Uniquely, this book is written by an experienced social work lecturer and an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) lecturer.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781912096749
Publisher: Critical Publishing
Publication date: 05/21/2018
Series: Critical Study Skills
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 858,175
Product dimensions: 6.15(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Pat Cartney is Head of Social Work in the School of Health Sciences Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Manchester. She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her teaching  and research interests focus on exploring how people learn best about professional practice and how they become knowledgeable and skilled social work practitioners.

Jane Bottomley is a Senior Language Tutor at the University of Manchester and a Senior Fellow of the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes (BALEAP).She has been involved in the development of a number of content-based academic study skills courses at the University of Manchester and has published widely in this field. 

Steven Pryjmachuk is Professor of Mental Health Nursing Education in the School of Health Science's Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at the University of Manchester and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. His teaching, clinical and research work has centred largely on supporting and facilitating individuals – be they students, patients or colleagues – to develop, learn or care independently. In December 2014, Steven was elected as vice Chair (2015-16) and Chair (2017-18) of Mental Health Nurse Academics UK, an organisation representing 65 Higher Education Institutions providing education and research on mental health nursing.

Read an Excerpt


Studying social work in higher education

Learning outcomes

After reading this chapter you will:

• have gained knowledge of higher education and its place in the UK education system;

• understand some of the terminology and 'jargon' used in higher education;

• have gained knowledge of institutions which set standards for social work education;

• have gained knowledge of levels and qualifications in social work;

• understand the relevance and importance of lifelong learning and continuing professional development;

• understand the importance of student autonomy and independent learning in universities;

• have gained knowledge of how courses are structured and delivered.

This chapter will develop your knowledge and understanding of the study of social work in UK universities. It will outline the 'qualification frameworks' that are relevant to becoming, and developing as, a social worker, and discuss the role of important educational and professional bodies. In addition, you will be introduced to the types of teaching and learning that you will encounter as a student social worker.

Before you read the chapter, test your knowledge with the Quick quiz below. You can revisit the quiz as you read, or come back to it after reading the whole chapter to see if your answers have changed. Key words in this chapter are highlighted in bold and can be found in the glossary in the Appendix.

Quick quiz

What does HE stand for?

1) How is HE different from FE?

2) What are the main qualifications offered by universities?

3) Which is the higher level qualification, a degree or a diploma?

4) What is the minimum academic qualification you need to become a qualified social worker?

5) What mark (percentage) do you usually need to obtain a first-class degree?

6) What are 'credits' and how can you get them?

7) What do you think 'Accreditation of Prior Learning' might be?

8) What is 'lifelong learning'?

9) What are the most common types of assessment in universities?

What is HE?

HE stands for higher education', one of two options in UK tertiary education, ie education available to people of 16 years or above.

HE is mainly provided by universities, and principally awards degrees and diplomas. In contrast, further education (FE) is provided by colleges, which deliver courses and award qualifications which are vocational in nature (NVQs; City & Guilds; BTEC), preparing people directly for the workplace. However, in recent years, there has been a blurring of the line between the two types of institution, with many FE colleges, sometimes in association with partner universities, also offering degrees. This is one way of making degrees accessible to a wider range of people, some of whom may find it convenient to attend classes in a local FE college or to study in the evenings. Recently introduced 'higher and degree apprenticeships', which offer the potential to obtain a degree while learning on the job, also blur the boundaries between vocational and academic learning.

Your social work degree

Social work education in the UK is fully integrated into the HE sector. Although there is a large vocational skills-based component to learning how to practise, to be a social worker also requires highly developed intellectual skills. Universities are considered to be the best place for students to acquire and develop these. Social work is thus an academic subject, equivalent to any other, such as medicine, engineering or English literature, and therefore measured against the same standards.

Qualification frameworks

HE qualifications, sometimes called 'academic awards', are regulated across the UK via two frameworks: the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (QAA, 2008), and the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in Scotland (QAA, 2014). These frameworks help institutions and employers judge the value of an individual's education and help ensure equity between academic subjects. Table 1.1 shows the academic levels assigned by the QAA to each stage of HE, and provides information on how they relate to a study pathway in social work.

An undergraduate degree has four classifications. These are shown in Table 1.2, along with the marks usually required at each level.

Courses and credits

You can see from Table 1.1 that, in order to enter the social work profession, you must obtain a degree from an HE institution, usually a university. If you study full time, it will take three years to obtain an honours degree (or four years in Scotland). However, universities recognise that this timescale is not possible or ideal for many people, so they have flexible learning systems which allow students to fit study into their lives in a practical way. This can involve:

• distance learning, where the student mainly studies from home via correspondence, using web-based resources – perhaps occasionally attending university workshops etc;

• blended learning, which combines traditional classroom study and web-based learning;

• part-time study (including the new higher degree apprenticeships mentioned earlier).

Flexible learning is facilitated by the credit points system which underpins HE education. Each course module that you study has a number of credit points attached to it. Each credit is equal to 10 hours of study, either in class, or through self-study (QAA, 2008, 2014). These credit points build up to eventually form your degree, whether over three years' full-time study, or over a longer period if you study part time. Table 1.3 shows that a student has to earn 360 credit points in order to be awarded an honours degree.

Look at the QAA frameworks (2008, 2014) online to see descriptors detailing exactly what is expected of a student at each level. Note that not all universities offer the CertHE. Some universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may offer an ordinary degree without honours to students who have obtained a certain number of credits at Level 6. A four-year Scottish Honours Degree requires an additional 120 credits at Level 9/10.

Universities provide students with information on each module with regard to its academic level and the number of credit points it carries. Many modules, often called 'core modules', will be obligatory; some modules will be optional. All modules are organised around the following:

• a set of learning outcomes which identify what you will be able to do or understand by the end of the course;

• a process of teaching and learning which will help you achieve the learning outcomes;

assessment which will measure your achievement and provide evidence of it while advancing your learning.

Top tips

Thinking about 'the big picture'

Learning outcomes, teaching and learning, and assessment will be aligned, so you should think about 'the big picture' and consider them together. When preparing for assessments, for example, look again at the learning outcomes to check what you will be expected to demonstrate. In class, think about how the classroom activities are partly preparing you for assessment, and ask if you are not sure.

Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL)

Credit points can sometimes be assigned for prior learning or experience, through a process known as Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). There are two branches of APL:

1) Accreditation of Prior Certificated Learning (APCL) allows you to transfer any credit points you already hold from one institution to another. One example of this is when English social workers holding only a diploma (having qualified before 2004) decided to 'top up' to an honours degree by completing 120 credit points at Level 6. Some returned to their original place of study but some chose to transfer their credits to a different institution and study for additional credit there.

2) Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) allows you to acquire credit points for your practical or professional experience, provided that it meets the academic standards demanded by the university involved. To support an application for APEL, a university will often require a portfolio of evidence, ie a reflective account (usually written) of your learning experiences.

Not all universities run an APEL scheme for social workers although this option is available in some. While this transfer system allows for flexibility in HE, please do note that it can often be a very complicated process, with institutions sometimes disagreeing on the transfer values of particular modules.


• List examples of your own practical or professional experience which you think would be valid in terms of APEL, along with examples of evidence you could provide as support. (An example is provided.)

Lifelong learning and continuous professional development

The flexible approach to study outlined above is underpinned by the much-valued educational principle of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning, by definition, extends beyond your degree, and may involve postgraduate study or general professional development. If you are a registered social worker, lifelong learning may involve taking post-qualifying modules, sometimes called 'standalone modules', which are offered by many universities. These could help in maintaining your continuing professional development (CPD).

CPD in social work is regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). HCPC specifies the CPD standards for all professionals, including social workers, who are registered with them. Social workers are required to maintain a continuous and up-to-date record of their CPD activities, which must be relevant to their current or future practice. CPD activities must contribute to the quality of the social worker's practice and service delivery, and ultimately benefit service users.

Case study

How is CPD demonstrated in the personal account below?

"I am passionate about social work, even after 30 years in the profession I still want to make a difference! As social workers we work in complex and dynamic environments, which requires resilience but also continuous learning, critical reflection, professional growth and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing nature of the role.

I have been extremely fortunate to have had numerous professional developmental opportunities in my career working across all service user groups. These have ranged from accessing training and support to becoming an approved social worker (MHA '83 now AMHP) and then a children's guardian, after a change of direction from adult to children's services.

In my view we are never too old to learn and need to embrace continuing professional development to maximise our skills and knowledge to give the best to the children, young people, carers and vulnerable adults we work with."

Principal Social Worker, Children and Families


What do you think your priorities in terms of CPD will be when you qualify as a social worker?

Being a university student


What is your previous experience of study? Which of the following have you experienced? Was your experience positive or negative? Why was this?

1) Big classes where the teacher talks a lot and the class mostly listens

2) Large lectures with hundreds of students

3) Small seminar groups where people discuss topics or articles

4) One-to-one tutorials with a teacher

University culture and practices may not always reflect your past educational experiences. Some students may find it difficult to work things out at first.

Case studies

Do you think these students have a good understanding of what is expected of them at university level? What advice would you give them?

1) "My course looks quite easy – there aren't many lectures and I don't have to hand in any essays until the end of the semester. So it looks like I'll have a lot of free time!"

2) "The lecturer puts some things on Blackboard after the lecture, but I'm not very confident with technical stuff so I haven't seen it."

3) "It doesn't matter if I miss lectures – I can get all the information I need from reading textbooks."

4) "I'm very nervous about speaking in front of people so I tend to keep my head down in seminars and just get through them without drawing attention to myself."

5) "I'm disappointed in my essay mark and don't understand what I did wrong – I worked really hard on it! But there's nothing I can do about it now. Maybe I'm just not cut out for this."

The students quoted above have some common misunderstandings about university life. These areas of confusion are dealt with in the following sections, to demonstrate, among other things, how study is not just about the time you spend in the classroom, why it is important to go to lectures, when and how you should seek support from academic staff, and why, sometimes, you might just need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone in order to achieve your full potential. Learning can be challenging and uncomfortable at times, and sometimes it can be about 'unlearning' and challenging thoughts and beliefs we held before we started studying. As you embark on your journey to study as a social worker, it is helpful to be aware that some of the new learning you experience may lead you to question things you previously took for granted about the world. This is part of what is 'higher' – and deeper – about the learning in higher education.

Study time

At university, you will encounter a range of teaching and learning methods, including those which involve face-to-face contact with academic staff, ie lectures, seminars and tutorials. However, you may find that there seems to be a lot of 'free' time on your timetable. Hence, it is important to understand that the time you spend with your lecturers is only a small part of your study. A 10-credit module is seen to represent approximately 100 hours of actual work (QAA, 2008, 2014). So if you attend, say, 30 hours of lectures on a particular 10-credit module, this still leaves 70 hours of study to complete outside the classroom. This may involve searching the library, reading, planning and writing essays, improving your computer skills, or collaborating with other students on a group project.

Top tips

Getting the most from your study time

Try thinking of your full-time studies as a typical 'working week' of about 35-40 hours a week, 7-8 hours a day, and plan your time accordingly. (Adapt this if you are studying part time.) Take sensible breaks throughout the day, just as you would if you were working – maybe cook a nice healthy lunch to give you energy, or take the dog for a walk to give your brain some much-needed downtime. Think about when you work best. Some people find it much easier to work in the early mornings for example, while others are more productive in the evenings. It is helpful to work out what works best for you and then to allocate your study time accordingly. For example, if you work best in the morning, you can plan to do your writing at this point and to work on tasks which require less concentration, eg filing your work, later in the day.

Virtual Learning Environments

Study outside the classroom is often facilitated by Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Blackboard or Moodle. VLEs contain vital information on the course and links to useful resources. They also host a number of useful tools. For example, VLE discussion boards can enable interaction with your peers and with the lecturers. VLEs are also important in terms of assessment: you may be required to complete some assessment tasks online, and you will probably be required to upload written assignments onto your VLE using plagiarism-detection software such as Turnitin, which compares your writing with published sources and other submitted essays to ensure it is all your own work. You may also receive assessment feedback online.

Top tips

Getting the most from your VLE

1) Check your VLE frequently as there may be new announcements or documents. Staff will just assume that you will look at these; they will not chase you up to make sure you've accessed them. It is your responsibility to be on top of things.

2) Spend some time learning how to navigate the site so that you can access things quickly when you need them. The more you use the site, the easier this will get.

3) Read your discussion board contributions carefully before clicking 'send'. Make sure the style is appropriately polite and that there is no ambiguity especially if it could cause offence. Also check your grammar and punctuation – poor writing can detract from the seriousness of your message. 'Text talk' would not work in this context.


Excerpted from "Studying for your Social Work Degree"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jane Bottomley, Patricia Cartney and Steven Pryjmachuk.
Excerpted by permission of Critical Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vi

Meet the series editor and authors vii

Introduction viii

Chapter 1 Studying social work in higher education 1

Chapter 2 Strategies for effective learning 16

Chapter 3 Becoming a member of your academic and professional community 34

Chapter 4 Critical thinking 52

Chapter 5 Academic resources: technology and the library 74

Chapter 6 Assessment 91

Appendix: The language of higher education 103

Answer key 106

Index 113

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