This post was inspired by a search engine term that took someone to this blog. They searched ‘everything thats in a social work degree’. I have to say, this took me back to when I was thinking about studying social work as quite obviously it was the content that made me want to pursue the course. I remember I applied for social work at a number of universities, and ‘youth work with public health‘ at another. My enthusiasm for community work, engaging groups of people, voluntary participation and informal education prompted my second course choice, but ultimately social work was the career for me.
Social work appears to differ in practice terms across the globe (currently compiling information about social work around the world so that we can see and discuss the differences and similarities) but in my opinion has one specific aim; to equip people with the necessary tools to bring about positive change for themselves and others. A broad definition that I have given, but that is exactly what social work is. It is a profession that provides many opportunities for those doing the job, but also equips us with the skills and ability to work in a range of settings, intervening with a range of issues.
How exactly do we do this?
Through using a range of theories, methods, models, laws, ethics, values, codes of conduct, research, and, expertise from colleagues within other disciplines (such as psychology, early years, youth and community, medicine, emergency services, environmental health, counselling, and many more) across a range of sectors (public, voluntary, private, independent etc). Social work to me is about change, and this involves bringing people together so that this is achieved, in the least disruptive way. We also work closely with our service users, who play a significant role in our profession from the moment we join.
From the moment we join?
Yes, from the moment we join. I must say now that the social work degree varies from university to university, and I do not wish to claim that this blog post is definitely what you will study. The participation and involvement from those who have experience of social work intervention is fundamental to good quality social work education. Many universities will use service users in various ways, whether that be with co-marking essays, delivering lectures, supporting group work, producing educational material etc.
I remember my interview like it was yesterday. It was one of those times where I knew exactly what I wanted to get out of that day… and that was a place at that university (I may, one day, say which University I went to, but for now I will hold back). The interview consisted of three parts;
- A group interview
- A ‘one to one/panel’ interview
- A written test
In a way it was similar to one of those employment interviews that you absolutely dread, and when you finish you think to yourself ‘what was I worried about? That was absolutely fine’. So make a mental note now, if you are applying for university, enjoy the interview process, its your time to shine. So, our group interview if I remember correctly was talking about what professional or personal experiences we had that made us want to get into social work. Inclusion and equality are fundamental concepts within social work, so the interview process isn’t all about how many years work experience you have had in a social care related field (professional paid or voluntary experience is important) but about what you have learnt, experience, done, achieved etc. Also our personal experiences are equally valid, whether we have been teenage parents, an informal carer, used/accessed support services, helped a friend in need, or raised a family, (many more that could be added to that list). The person who was observing the group part of my interview would have looked (I imagine) at what my personal and professional experiences meant to me, and could I see what it meant to others.
What was described as a one to one interview actually involved three people. For that reason I will call it a panel interview. My nerves were all over the place, but remember, keep your eye on the end goal… to get a place at university. In this tiny room I sat with a professor and another person (later was explained he/she was a service user). Well, the interview started (or so I thought), the professor started panicking about something, so being an interview, I jumped in ready to reassure, to calm him/her down, to offer advice, to explore the problem etc… only to find she was genuinely claustrophobic and she needed to find the key to the door to make sure we couldn’t get locked in. So slightly red-faced from my burst of enthusiasm for social work intervention, I sat back down and pretended I hadn’t just made a fool of myself. The lesson learnt from that, is despite thinking I did a good job :), they are not going to throw in any surprise role play or try to trip you up.
With our invite letter came an article about a youth offender. This formed the basis of our written test. The article read quite factually, and was from the mothers perspective. Our question was very simple and that was ‘as the social worker, what would you do?’ A simple question, but a question that could have a million and one answers. Don’t be afraid in these situations to think outside the box. Be creative, be as idealistic as you like, but always acknowledge that some interventions may fail unless a comprehensive assessment is carried out (intervention may still fail, but less chance with decent assessment).
Just a quick note: to qualify as a social worker you must do an undergraduate degree or post-graduate degree that is approved by a regulatory body (GSCC [soon to be HPC but not sure how it will work], SSSC, Care Council for Wales etc). Anyway now on to the actual three-year undergraduate degree I did (some module names have been changed slightly as to not identify the university I went to);
YEAR 1 – modules and brief description
Social Work Theory 1- This module was an introduction to social work theory, and of course theories from other disciplines that inform what social workers do. It also introduced us to the basics of evidence based practice (there is a process associated with this), We learnt about various concepts, models, methods etc. This was particularly in relation to our first year placement so this module was more around group care/community work (more in the areas of social care as opposed to statutory or professional social work- although the knowledge gained also helps in qualified roles).
Social Justice and Inclusion 1- My favourite module. This was where we learnt about social change, challenging discrimination, understanding groups, stereotypes, oppressive social structures, poverty etc. All those ideas, thoughts, concepts, that help inform our understanding of how and why people may need to get access to support services. The very issues that can negatively impact on people’s lives, but also how positive discrimination can be a tool for change.
Social Values and Social Policy– This was about understanding values professionally and what communities and groups value. We all value different things individually and collectively, but some groups come together because they have shared or similar values. How do these values enable us to build social policy? What is social policy? What does social policy mean to us all even if we don’t think it will affect us? Learning to analyse the impact of policy, debating whether certain policies were right or wrong etc.
Placement 1- Our first placement had to be in a ‘group care’ setting. So this was not our statutory placement. This has to be a more hands on role. This enabled us to understand people in their environment, understand how people interacted with their environment, understand needs of people, refine communication skills, learn from care worker colleagues etc. Take a look at the National Occupational Standards for Social Work. Lots of key roles and units we have to meet during placements.
Social Science Theory- This was an introduction to social science theory. So a very broad topic that focussed our learning around human behaviour and society. This module was the least memorable for me. All I remember was lots of conversations about a range of topics. It was very scientific and very theoretical… I should of known.
Preparation for Practice 1- This module was preparing us for our placements (and work beyond university). We explored a number of practice issues, dilemmas, ‘what if’ scenarios, learnt about social work tools, methods of engaging with people etc. Part of this module was also the compulsory 5 days of shadowing a qualified, registered social worker. We then worked through this as a class and were lectured by an academic, and a lecturer who had recently practiced (and still did occasionally) so we had a really nice mix in terms of teaching.
European Computer Driving License- This was, not sure if it still is, an essential requirement when I started. I sigh even now when someone mentions it. Basically it was this horribly long computer course with lots of tests that essentially show I can use a computer.
Preparation for Practice 2 (Law)- This was my law lectures. In year one we learnt about the legal system in the UK, how law is constructed, the various courts and their functions, criminal law, case law, civil law. As well as specific pieces of legislation such as Human Rights.
YEAR 2– modules and brief description
Social Justice and Inclusion 2- Similar to year one but far more in-depth. There was a lot of focus on BASW codes of ethics, GSCC codes of practice, more theoretical and research based teaching. We also had various guests who took part in the lectures and delivered lectures. Primary focus was how do we go about understanding social exclusion, how do we challenge such issues, but ultimately what is the best way to promote inclusion.
Human Growth and Development (Adults)- This was about understanding ‘adults’. Again lots of theory about life stages, loss, change, transition, relationships etc. We also learnt about more specific things such as when talking about transitions, we would explore stress, different types of transitions, etc. For our essay we had to interview someone about a life event and then analyse it using psychological and sociological theories.
Mental Health and Mental Illness- Loved this lecture! Fascinating lecture by a lecturer/AMHP (approved mental health practitioner) and a service user who had experienced mental illness. We learnt about different types of illness, how they are classified, the medications, the legislation and powers/duties/responsibilities of all and specific professionals under the Mental Health Act. We learnt about various models of understanding mental health, recovery, assessing mental health, mental capacity issues/dilemmas etc.
Theory and Practice 2- Same as year one but more in-depth. Used a lot of resources from the Social Care Institute for Excellence. It was theory specific so our learning was completely around theories and how they inform practice. We may have been given case studies, but we were to think theoretically and not so much in a practical way.
Human Growth and Development (Children)- This was not my favourite lecture. I struggled with this. This was again, very theory driven, but took a very particular focus. This was based on the work at the Tavistock Clinic in London. The module took a psychodynamic perspective and more specifically taught a lot about psychoanalytic theory. We had to observe an ‘ordinary child’ in an ‘ordinary family’ over ten weeks and then analyse the observations using psychodynamic perspectives. I found psychoanalytic theory very difficult to grasp… however, now I have finished my degree I can’t get enough of it 🙂
Practice Placement 2- This placement was our statutory placement (by this I mean a placement that has a legal mandate to intervene). An authority has a duty to provide whatever services we were placed in. This could be in any sector in any team. As long as the work had a legal element to it.
Law for Social Work- This was about specific social work pieces of legislation. The law that we would have to understand when working in statutory agencies. The very pieces of legislation and processes that set out the powers (can do’s) and duties (will do’s) of a public authority or another authority who those powers have been delegated to or who are mentioned within particular pieces of statute. Examples include police and NSPCC in relation to child welfare, health authority and local authority in relation to mental health, etc.
Practice Placement 3- Our third placement could almost be anywhere. As a writer throughout my degree, I was pleased to be placed in a service where the manager was a journalist for our trade media. So I got to learn lots, not only about journalism but also about mental health. I loved every second of this placement.
Working in Organizations- This again is another one of those subjects that I particularly enjoy. It was about organisations, management, change, performance, teams, culture, motivation, supervision etc. Everything that makes an organisation effective and efficient. This proved essential when I left university and became an operations manager in a social care organisation. The lecturer was brilliant, she in fact showed us that a social work degree doesn’t mean you have to be a social worker. She was teaching us about other areas we could go into whilst delivering talks about the above concepts. They were all taught in relation to social work, but also education and the wider social care ‘industry’. Also a good topic I imagine if after uni you go and work as a supervising social worker, supervising foster carers, being involved in recruitment, training etc.
Critical Reflection- This module was very powerful. I hope my old lecturer gets in contact with me (as promised!) about this as it would be brilliant to write up into a journal article. I praised this module a lot within PSW because it really enabled us to look at ourselves as people, as well as practitioners. We had to work in groups, with a service user, and explore a ‘moment in time’ from our practice where we had responded in a particular way. It needed not be something dramatic but so everyone within the group could help us understand it in terms of theory, emotions, thoughts, feelings etc. In short, it helped us to understand ‘why’, why something has happened how it did, and enabled us to appreciate that we are not robots and that we do have feelings which are perfectly natural. It was like going to therapy… in the greatest possible way.
Social Work Research- This was completely about research methods. All kinds of research related methods for various things. From the theory underpinning research, research design, data collection tools/methods, appraising research, etc. Essential for our research proposal essay. Despite it being quite heavy on the brain, it was so important for us to learn. As I mentioned earlier, to me evidence-based practice is a process where being able to critically appraise research is essential, otherwise you risk working towards evidence that isn’t that trustworthy.
Theory and Practice 3- Building on from year one and two. Far more in-depth than the earlier years. Learning more about theories, methods, models of practice, engagement, assessment, needs, etc. Learning not only the theories that are important and influential, but learning how to analyse these from their primary source and comparing them to later literature. Being able to understand the raw theory, but also being able to appreciate how it is put into practice in a modern-day way.
Interprofessional Working- I really enjoyed this module. It was all about multi-agency, inter-professional and multi-disciplinary working. We explored these issues in theory and in practice in relation to our placements, we explored how this should be improved, how we can contribute to better working relations across professions/sectors/agencies etc. We looked at the benefits, consequences, pitfalls and opportunities when working together with others.
ANYWAY… I hope the above is useful. It is only the experiences from my university. The degree is great fun but also incredibly challenging. It teaches us a lot about ourselves as much as it does about others. People need an open mind and need to be willing to identify and challenge their own belief system. Remember that the social work degree should not pre-define your role for the future; the degree equips you with a variety of skills and a specialist knowledge base. Amongst this, it takes the character and conduct of people within social work seriously. Think seriously about studying it, and you will have no regrets.
NB: Although I did do a social work degree, that is approved by the GSCC, I am not GSCC registered and do not practice as a social worker. I have remained unregistered through choice due to not needing registration. For this reason, it is important to note that I am not entitled to use the title ‘social worker’.