Social Workers have the ability to positively influence people’s lives – they may work in a number of different roles, including those in the Government and Education.
If you are interested in a varied, person-centred career, this is certainly one to consider, and knowing how to get to a career in Social Work is something which will help you make an informed decision about whether it is a career you would like to pursue. You could perhaps then use this article to plan out your academic career in order to achieve your goal of becoming a Social Worker.
This article is here to give you a detailed overview of which subjects you should be studying at all levels of education, why they are relevant, and the grades which you will need to achieve to progress into a career as a Social Worker. It also explains the ongoing training and tasks which you must complete throughout your career.
In summary, to become a Social Worker, there are a set of qualifications which you will be required to have at certain levels. These include:
- 5 GCSEs at pass grades and above, including English and Maths
- 2-3 A-Levels in any subjects – however recommended subjects include A-Level Psychology, Sociology, Health and social Care, Law and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL)
- An undergraduate degree in Social Work which is approved by Social Work England
- An optional master’s degree in Social Work (which enables you to go into teaching etc)
- A DBS Check
- Registration and renewal for a place on the Social Work England register
- Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
I would strongly recommend that you read this whole article in order to get a more detailed overview of each step in becoming a Social Worker. You can also make use of some helpful other resources which are linked throughout.
Table of Contents
1. What GCSEs Do You Need to Become a Social Worker?
GCSEs are an important part of any career path, and Social work is no exception to this. In order to get on to a Social Work degree, you will need to have 5 GCSE passes, including Maths and English Language. You may also find having a second language (such as French, Spanish or German) to be useful if you intend to take a language A-Level.
What GCSEs Do You Need to Study Social Work Related A-Levels at Sixth Form?
GCSEs are important for progression on to A-Level courses. There are a variety of related A-Levels which you may want to study at Sixth Form. Generally, Universities don’t require you to have A-Level qualifications in specific subjects, though there are some which will be useful in giving you baseline skills to move on to a degree. More information about these A-Levels can be found in the next section, but they should be considered when choosing GCSE subjects.
If you are interested in studying Psychology or Sociology at A-Level, you will need to have passes in your GCSE Science subjects. Whether your qualification is in Combined or Triple Science is not important, but it will be important that you have some scientific grounding in order to be able to take these related A-Levels at Sixth Form. If your school offers GCSEs in either Psychology or Sociology, you may also want to consider taking these, as they could be beneficial to your understanding of the A-Level (however they are not essential).
You will also need Maths and English Language pass grades to be able to get on to most A-Level courses. However, this is not just because they are the GCSEs that the Government require you to pass – Maths is important for Psychology and Sociology, and skills in English are useful for Law, Psychology and Sociology, as they are often very essay-based subjects.
Additionally, if you are considering studying a Modern Foreign Language (MFL), you should take the same language at GSCE, to give you a basic understanding of the language before you attempt to tackle an A-Level in it. MFL courses at Sixth Form require you to have a GCSE in the language which you want to pursue most of the time (unless you are bilingual, and able to show that you are capable of understanding and speaking the language).
Which GCSEs Will Help You Develop The Skills You Need To Become a Social Worker?
Social Work requires a variety of skills, including:
- Critical thinking
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
Critical thinking skills could be developed at the GCSE stage by studying subjects like History, which provide you with the skills and opportunity to evaluate evidence and come to conclusions based on this. Developing this ability at an early stage will give you the chance to improve it throughout your education, so that by the time you get to work, you will be highly skilled at critical thinking.
Emotional intelligence and empathy skills are not generally something that can be taught in a classroom, but you may find that being around other students and interacting with them on a daily basis will give you good experience of being with people, and will therefore perhaps even give you the chance to start developing these skills.
The same can also be said for communication skills. Using opportunities that your school give you to work in groups can be incredibly beneficial, and communicating with as many of your peers as you can will give you the chance to interact with as wide a range of people as possible – in other words, socialising at school may aid you in developing your communication skills (though this doesn’t mean you can be disruptive!)
What GCSEs Do You Need to Study Social Work at University?
To study Social Work at University, you will have to have achieved 5 GCSE passes overall, including in Maths and English Language. Despite this seemingly low entry requirement, you have to remember that you need the GCSEs which will enable you to progress on to the A-Level courses which you would like to study to build your skills for University.
Therefore, it is important that you don’t simply aim for the bare minimum when it comes to GSCEs. Although they won’t be the most important, or career-specific qualification which you will earn, it is vital that you take them seriously. Remember that GSCEs will be the only completed qualification to end up on your University application (if you are applying during your second year of college), and often they are used as one of the elements to determine your predicted grades.
You should also consider that, despite the fact that Universities often only require you to have 5 GCSE passes, you will have the opportunity to complete at least 9 altogether, and you should be aiming to get the highest grades you can in all of these subjects.
What GCSE Grades Do You Need to Pursue a Social Work Career?
The GCSE grades which you need to be able to pursue a Social Work career are a baseline of 5 qualifications which are at a 4/C grade or above. However, you should look into college entry requirements for the courses that you are interested in studying before you take this to be a fact.
Some Sixth Forms will require you to have grades above this standard to get on to specific courses. For example, an A-Level course in a MFL may require you to have a 6 or above – so that you can demonstrate that you are competent enough in the language to be able to keep up with the A-Level course and its content.
These requirements are not constant across the board, and this is why it is so important that you know what minimum grades you should be aiming for in your GSCEs to get on to the A-Level courses which you want to study at your local college.
2. What A-Levels Do You Need to Become a Social Worker?
A-Levels are important for your progression to University and therefore into your career as a Social Worker. Generally, Universities will have entry requirements for their courses in Social Work which are based only on grades, with no required subjects. However, there are some subjects which will enable you to develop important Social Work related knowledge before you start your degree. These include A-Level Psychology, Sociology, Health and Social Care, and Law.
Helpful A-Level: Psychology
Psychology A-Level is a great way to gain a basic understanding of individual behaviour, and the potential causes of these specific behaviours. This can then enable you to deal with the problems which working with people present.
As a Social Worker, you will need to be able to work with people effectively, and this is something which can be improved by the study of Psychology, which gives you a great deal of insight into behaviour. You may also at some points be required to use Counselling skills to work with people, and this is something which is related to Psychology, and the overview of therapeutic techniques that Psychology A-Level provides you with may be a helpful foundation for this.
Supporting clients will be a key part of your role as a Social Worker, and so communication is key in this profession. Therefore, you should consider how Psychology can enable you to communicate with clients in a useful way.
Additionally, an understanding of mental health issues is something which could potentially be incredibly useful for you as a Social Worker. If you can broadly understand someone’s ways of thinking which are impacted by a mental illness, it may give you the chance to slightly alter the approaches which you take with them, which can improve their work with you.
If you want to find out how hard A-Level Psychology is, take a look at this useful article. It is useful that you understand what the course entails before you begin studying it. You should also consider how applicable and useful the subject is before you choose it – but be assured that Psychology has a wide range of applications, and these will certainly be relevant for a career in Social Work.
Helpful A-Level: Sociology
Sociology is the study of the way that society influences group behaviour. It can help you gain an insight into the way that individual behaviour is influenced by the society that the person is surrounded by. This includes specific societal groups, as well as broader cultural aspects.
The same way that Psychology can aid you with further insights into people, and enable you to improve the specific support that you can provide a client with, Sociology will give you a wider base of knowledge on which to build the support you provide.
Additionally, Sociology A-Level may give you improved problem-solving skills which can be applied to your career as a Social Worker. Although you may not directly look at issues which Social Workers will encounter, the ability to think on your feet and provide guidance to solve problems quickly is an incredibly useful skill. Social Workers need to be able to support people in different communities in overcoming their problems, and so problem solving is a very relevant and applicable skill.
Helpful A-Level: Health and Social Care
Health and Social Care A-Level is a subject which is directly and clearly related to Social Work. The course covers a range of relevant content which is a great basis for a degree in Social Work.
For example, a Health and Social Care A-Level will give you an overview of things like how health and social care is given within the community, as well as the practical problems which are sometimes encountered during this process. You will also gain an insight into what is needed to give useful and effective care in the community.
Another benefit of a Health and Social Care A-Level is that it can sometimes contain practical elements, potentially including work experience, which is a great thing to take advantage of.
Helpful A-Level: Law
A-Level Law may be a subject which you don’t expect to find as a recommended A-Level for aspiring Social Workers. However, the subjects of Law and Social Work are heavily linked together. Therefore, an understanding of the law may give you some useful insight into the important, related legal information which will no doubt be incorporated into your degree programme.
If you are curious about the relationship between A-Level Law and Social Work, you may want to consider the issues such as the issue of protecting clients (especially child protection), and the relationship between social work and the criminal justice system.
Helpful A-Level: Modern Foreign Language
Studying a second language is incredibly useful for most professions, and Social Work is no exception. An A-Level in a Modern Foreign Language (MFL) will be incredibly useful to you, as it will enable you to communicate with a much wider range of people in a more effective way.
Languages, although hard work, are a great tool to increase your employability, as well as your ability to do a job well. If you work with people (which, as a Social Worker, you inevitably will), language is an invaluable skill which directly relates to your profession, and being able to speak to someone in their native language (especially if it isn’t English) is incredibly important.
An A-Level in a language may also give you better insight into people, as you will learn about the culture of a completely different country, which may enable you to be more understanding of different backgrounds and cultures.
What A-Level Grades Do You Need to Pursue a Social Work Career?
If you want to pursue a career in Social Work, the grades which are required by Universities for their Social Work courses are the grades which you will need to achieve.
Obviously, the grades required by each University and by different courses vary hugely, and so it is vital that you do your own research into which courses you are interested in applying for, and what their entry requirements are.
Many of the University courses for Social Work give out entry requirements based on UCAS Points, so it is important to know how many UCAS Points your qualifications (or predicted grades) are worth. You may want to use this UCAS points calculator to give you some reference when looking at entry requirements. If you want to boost the number of UCAS Points which you have, you may also want to look at this useful article, which gives a list of different ways that you can earn UCAS Points.
Generally, the UCAS Points required for this kind of course range from around 40 UCAS Points (for a course which includes a foundation year), to 152 UCAS Points.
If you want to make a stronger application to university, you may also want to consider doing some work experience alongside your School and Sixth Form life. Related areas which you may be able to do work experience in could include volunteering in a Care Home.
3. What Degree Do You Need to Become a Social Worker?
If you want to become a Social Worker, and are currently choosing your Undergraduate degree, you should be taking a degree in Social Work. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a different subject area, you may be able to do a postgraduate Social Work course. That being said, the fastest and most straight-forward way to get into Social Work is through completing a Social Work undergraduate degree.
What University Degree Do You Need to Acquire to Become a Social Worker?
In order to become a Social Worker, you will need a Social Work degree. These will take 3 years to complete, and will provide you with the skills which you will need to work in a range of sectors, including in Education and Government.
You should make sure that the degree which you are completing is approved by Social Work England, so that, once you have completed the course, you can go straight into working in a professional Social Worker role.
Entry requirements for these courses vary, but you may want to use this useful website to start your own research on the Universities which you could study at, and the grades which they require you to have. You can even narrow down the options shown based on your predicted grades.
Are There Other Courses Available For Prospective Social Workers?
To work as a professional Social Worker, you will need a degree in Social Work. However, if you would like to learn as you work, some Universities do offer the opportunity for students to complete degree apprenticeships. These courses will take around 3 years to complete.
Degree apprenticeships are a great way to learn relevant skills whilst you are working, and will enable you with the qualification to work professionally with an increased range of skills when you graduate. The Universities which offer degree apprenticeship programmes can be found on this helpful website.
As with degree courses, entry requirements do vary between Universities, so it is important that you do your own research regarding the Universities which you would like to apply to.
Can You Get Extra Financial Support While Studying For a Social Work Degree?
In some cases you will be eligible for a bursary while completing a Social Work degree. These are funds which you won’t have to pay back which are provided to support you while you are earning your degree.
The amount that you get depends on a variety of factors, but does not consider your household income (like a maintenance loan does). You should do your own research about your eligibility, but your University should inform you if your course makes you eligible for a bursary. More information about bursaries for Social Work students can be found here.
4. What Post-University Courses Do You Need to Complete to Become a Social Worker?
Once you have completed your Social Work degree, you are almost able to go straight into work – there is just one small step of a registration with Social Work England in your way! Your degree will have given you the skills to work as a Social Worker, and so if you choose to (although there are further study options), you can start work almost immediately!
Required: Registration with Social Work England
In order to work as a Social Worker in the UK, you must be on the Social Work England register. It is essential that you do not practice with using the title of Social Worker if you are not registered. This is a criminal offense.
The register is available to employers, who can use it to check that you are registered before they offer you a role in work. Because the register is public, anyone can use it to check that you are included on it. The register may provide people with your first and last names, registration number, and (possibly) the town that you work in.
When applying (through the Social Work England website), you will need details of your qualification, as well as proof of identity. You will also be required to share any criminal convictions you may have, and health issues which may affect your ability to work.
Social Work is a regulated profession, and you will need to keep up with requirements that are set out to remain on the register (these will be spoken about in the next section).
What Are Your Other Options After You Have Completed Your Social Work Degree?
Although you can go straight into work after completing a Social Work degree, you can also go into further training, or a number of different professions that are related to Social Work. It is possible to do a master’s in Social Work, which can further your knowledge, and perhaps lead you into roles in education, such as teaching. Some of the postgraduate degree courses can be found here.
However, this is not necessary for most people. Often the postgraduate degrees in this area are for conversion to Social Work after an individual has earned a degree in a different area.
If you would like to explore professions which are related to Social Work, and where your degree could be useful, take a look at this useful website, which lists professions related to Social Work degrees.
5. What On-Going Training Are Social Workers Required to Complete?
In order to work as a Social Worker, you will have to fulfil ongoing requirements. These include: DBS checks, renewal of your registration with Social Work England, and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). These are all things which enable you to continue your work as a Social Worker once you have qualified. Continuing Professional Development will also enable you to keep providing the best service you can to your clients throughout your entire working life.
Required: DBS Check
A DBS check is required to show that you have no criminal convictions. It is conducted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). It is essential for a career in Social Work, as you will be working with vulnerable people from day to day.
This is important for safeguarding individuals who you work with, and will need to be renewed fairly regularly. Requirements differ between organisations, but the average renewal time is 3 years.
A DBS check may also be required on entry to your university course, in order to ensure that you will be able to progress into the profession that it prepares you for.
You can have a look at the Government website about DBS checks, but make sure to check how your employer or University approaches them – some organisations will do this for you, or provide you with the funding to do it.
Required: Renewal Of Your Registration With Social Work England
In order to continue being able to work as a Social Worker, you must renew your registration with Social Work England every year. This involves:
- Paying an annual fee of £90 (which can be split into 2 £45 instalments)
- Recording your annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
- A review of the information that the register holds about you (contact details etc)
You will not be able to continue work as a Social Worker if you do not complete this process, but it shouldn’t take you very long, and there is a 3-month-long window in which you can complete this renewal (between September and November).
You can also set up a direct debit to be taken for your renewal fee, but you will be able to find out more information about this when you come to it. Information about the renewal process can be found on the Social Work England website.
Make sure that you are aware of the requirements for renewal of your registration with Social Work England, so that the process is as straightforward as possible.
Required: Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is an important part of any professional career. As a Social Worker, it is important that you are up-to-date with all of the developments in your field of work.
As a Social Worker, your CPD must be recorded as part of your annual registration renewal. Social Work England do not set out a specific amount of hours which you must meet, but instead, they expect you to do a reasonable amount in relation to your workload – a randomly selected 2.5% of individuals on the register will be checked to ensure that this is the case.
There are a wide range of activities which can be counted as CPD, and some of these could include:
- Reviewing a professional experience, which gives you the opportunity to reflect on an event in your career, and use it to make useful changes to your practice.
- Discussing some of your work with a Supervisor, in order to again, improve the service which you provide by enabling you to reflect on professional experiences (with the help of an outside opinion).
- Doing your own research about academic developments in both theory and practice, so that you can apply new techniques to your work, by staying up to date with advancements. You should be able to reflect on how certain changes affect your work.
If you would like to find out more about the CPD requirements of a Social Worker, take a look at the Social Work England website, which contains lots of details! Here you will also be provided with guidance about the best ways to record the activities which you have done for your CPD.