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The Open University has been training practising social workers for over twenty years. 250 social workers qualify with the OU each year, a total of 6,400 social workers since 1997.
There are three routes to qualifying as a social worker with The Open University:
The Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship is the newest work-based route to qualify as a social worker. The Open University recently hosted a webinar bringing together their social work leadership team, employers and apprentices to demonstrate how the programmes work.
The common thread between the routes is the fact they are all work-based. As well as offering flexible distance learning and outstanding support, they all share a strong emphasis on integrating academic learning and professional practice.
The webinar had a particular focus on the Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship, which is delivered in partnership with employers. As with all of our programmes, the apprenticeship combines academic study and professional practice in the workplace.
Those of you who are familiar with social work education know there's often a big debate about how you get social work students to integrate academic study and professional practice. But that's our starting point. Our placements and other practice-based learning are embedded within the modules. People use their experience to learn and put their learning into practice on the job.Joanna Rawles, Head of Social Work (England) at The Open University
By providing an opportunity for motivated staff to ‘learn while they earn’ in this way, apprenticeships harness the motivation of experienced staff, unlocking their potential and strengthening the supply of qualified staff into the profession.
Joanna went on to explain how distance learning works in practice, sharing screenshots from the OU learning environment. She demonstrated how apprentices are guided through a structured curriculum, with week-by-week learning and interactive activities drawing on their professional experiences.
Obviously we all know social work to be an interactive profession, a relationship-based profession […] and I think there’s a misconception that distance learning is about leaving students to get on with it themselves in isolation […] but that's actually very far from the truth.Joanna Rawles, Head of Social Work (England) at The Open University
Students receive support from both an academic and a practice tutor from the OU. They are also supported by colleagues in their workplace and through a community of fellow apprentices around the UK. This message reinforced by Louise Wannell, a current social work apprentice, who shared her experience via video.
Louise talked about the different interactive materials that she’s experienced via the OU’s intuitive website, and how she uses the online calendar to plan her study around other commitments. She also talked about attending induction days for each module, meeting fellow apprentices and teaching staff. Louise had wanted to become a social worker for many years but couldn’t afford to leave work in order to study. The apprenticeship "came along at just the right time for me," she said.
There was also a video from City of York Council, Louise’s employer, discussing apprenticeships as an opportunity for them to develop existing staff. Lesley Furnival, Practice Consultant in Children’s Social Care for the council explained that ‘learning whilst earning’ was the only way some of their social care staff could gain a higher qualification.
This was something she was keen to support, to recognise and reward experienced staff who are committed to progressing their career with the council. The webinar also included insights from Michelle Fitzgerald, Corporate Apprenticeship Manager at Brent Council. Michelle discussed her reasons for choosing the OU apprenticeship route, how they developed a fair system for selecting their two current social work apprentices, and the benefit of working with the OU to integrate their recruitment process.
To make it an equal opportunity process we had an internal application process where we asked individuals and their managers' questions around their previous experience and why they thought that they would be a good social worker .We planned our application process alongside The Open University’s so that there was minimal duplication and plan to work on a joint application with the OU in future.Michelle Fitzgerald, Corporate Apprenticeship Manager at Brent Council
Find out how The Open University’s social work programmes can benefit your organisation
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