‘Social worker’ is a protected title, so the routes to qualifying as a social work professional are regulated by the UK Care Councils. It’s important to enrol on an ‘approved’ course. Here is also some information about fast-track and apprenticeships options as well as more traditional routes - and the financial support available for your studies.
Qualifications and experience
Social workers must have a degree in social work (BA), or master’s degree in social work. A master’s degree is a two-year-long postgraduate course for those with a degree in a different subject. Some universities offer part-time studying.
Experience is an important part of social work qualifications. A work placement forms half of social work courses with academic learning focusing on legislation, ethics and theory. You’ll need some experience of social work or social care when applying to study. This can be paid, voluntary or placement work, or even life experience.
Entry requirements differ from course to course. Generally, you’ll need a minimum of 240 UCAS points: five GCSEs grade A* to C, including English and Maths, and two A-levels.
In Scotland, the minimum entry criteria for a social work degree tends to be four Highers.
In Northern Ireland, the minimum entry criteria for a social work degree tends to be one A and two B-Grade A-levels, or higher.
The Open University (OU) run social work programmes to allow you to study at your own pace and continue to work. However, you have to find your own social work placement and employer to sponsor you, which can be difficult. The OU programme is best-suited to those already working in social care.
Find a course that’s approved by your UK regulatory body.
Apply for social work courses via UCAS.
Fast-track and bursaries
If you have a 2:1 degree in a different subject (or lots of experience) and want to specialise in working with children and families, you can apply for a fast-track programme. Step-Up to Social Work is a funded 14-month intensive training programme. Frontline is funded a two-year training course. Think Ahead is a graduate programme to become a mental health social worker.
The Frontline or Step Up qualifying routes are not available in Scotland. These diplomas are only recognised in Scotland as an ‘entitling’ qualification to permit entry to the register for social workers. Registrants must complete further measures to meet the Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE) in working with adults.
Bursaries are available for social work students via the NHS Business Services Authority. Find out more about the Social Work Bursary Scheme in Wales. Some scholarships are also available via The Scholarship Hub.
Some universities offer grants for social work students. For example, The University of Glasgow funds PhD studentships for social relationships and health improvement research.
Social work students in Northern Ireland receive a bursary and fees are paid.
Find out more about the BASW Educational Trust scholarships.
Social work apprenticeships in England are currently being developed by employers and universities. Once approved by the government and regulator, apprentices will be able to achieve a degree while working. Find out more on the Skills for Care website.
Overseas qualified social workers looking to work in the UK
The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Each of the four countries has its own social work regulator. To work as a social worker you must be registered with the regulator in the country in which you wish to work.
First, check if your social work qualification meets the standards for registration with one of the four UK regulators. If you wish register, you’ll need to complete application forms and pay an application fee, which is different for each country. The process of registration may time some time.
If you do not already have a job with a sponsoring employer, there are various ways you can find social work jobs. Employers often advertise through social work publications, for example, Professional Social Work magazine, through the BASW website or through local authority websites. You may decide to use the assistance of a social work employment agency. These companies discuss your work experience and may be able to assist in securing either permanent or locum/temporary work in the UK. Most of these companies are ‘for profit’ and charge for this service.
Home Office UK Border Agency is responsible for securing the UK border and controlling migration. It holds information on sponsoring migrants under the points-based system. If you are not a British Citizen or from the EU or EEA, you’ll most likely need to obtain a visa through sponsorship via an employer who is registered as sponsor.