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BA (Honours) Social Work (Scotland) - Learning outcomes

Educational aims

The programme aims to equip students as competent social workers by ensuring that they have the relevant knowledge, skills and values in accordance with the QAA Benchmark Statements for degrees in Social Work and National Occupational Standards, the Scottish Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE), the Scottish Requirements for Social Work Training and the SSSC’s Code of Practice for Social Service Workers.

The international definition of social work (2014), which has been adopted to underpin the key purpose and occupational standards for social work, says:

Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. This definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels.

From this key purpose the following six key standards are identified:

Standard 1: Prepare for practice and work in partnership with individuals, children, parents, families and extended families, carers, groups and communities, professionals and organisations.

Standard 2: Plan, undertake, review and evaluate social work practice with individuals, children, parents, families and extended families, carers, groups, communities and other professionals.

Standard 3: Assess and manage risk to individuals, children, parents, families and extended families, carers, groups, communities, self and colleagues.

Standard 4: Demonstrate professional confidence and competence in social work practice.

Standard 5: Manage and be accountable, with supervision and support, for their own social work practice within their organisation.

Standard 6: Work in partnership with individuals, children, parents, families and extended families, carers, groups and communities to address and manage their needs, views and circumstances.

In addition, there are 6 ethical principles that are central to the aforementioned standards:

Principle: Social justice and equality
Embracing values such as the equal worth of all citizens and their right to meet their basic needs and have equal access to wealth, health, wellbeing, justice and opportunity. This involves commitment to the principles of social justice and taking responsibility for promoting it and challenging injustice.

Principle: Respecting diversity
Recognising and respecting diversity and challenging negative discrimination on the basis of: age; gender or sex; gender identity; sexual orientation; religion; spiritual beliefs; culture; ethnicity; socio-economic status; ability; racial or other physical characteristics. This also involves treating the individual as a whole person within family, cultural, community, societal and political contexts.

Principle: Human rights and dignity
Respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all people and their rights, including as defined within the legislation. This also involves conveying empathy and compassion for people.

Principle: Self-determination
Facilitating peoples’ right to self-determination and respecting peoples’ rights to make their own choices and informed decisions, irrespective of their values and life choices, providing this does not threaten the rights and safety of others.

Principle: Partnership, participation and co-production
Promoting the full involvement and participation of people receiving services, as far as they are able, in ways that address what matters to them and enables them to be empowered, unless it compromises the safety and wellbeing of self or others. This also involves identifying, developing and valuing the strengths and resources of people and communities.

Principle: Honesty and integrity
Appropriate use of self, maintaining personal and professional boundaries, honesty, responsible confidentiality management and not abusing the trust of people receiving services. This also means taking responsibility for making ethical and evidence-informed decisions and being accountable for actions

The programme is designed to equip students to fulfil these key roles and embrace these ethical principles as competent, newly qualified social workers. To achieve this it is structured to promote the integration of theory and practice, and to embed theory and practice within an explicit framework of values and ethics.

The descriptions below account for learning outcomes under discrete headings. It should be borne in mind, however, that the integrative and holistic approach to teaching and learning social work competencies means that the boundaries between knowledge and understanding, cognitive skills, key skills and practical and professional skills are inevitably blurred.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding


  • issues and trends in modern public and social policy and their relationship to contemporary practice and service delivery
  • social processes such as racism, poverty, poor health and other sources of disadvantage and how these are associated with processes of marginalisation, risks of crime and exclusion
  • competing explanations for the characteristics and circumstances of people who use services and for the range of perceived needs, including psychological and physiological, as well as social, theories of individual and social development, identity and functioning from infancy to old age and death
  • theoretical ideas and evidence from research on effective human services, including critical and competing explanations from social work theory and other relevant disciplines
  • the legal basis of human services in Scotland and the role of professions, such as social work, in relation to such social processes
  • the roles and significant inter-relationships between a range of services, including social services, education, housing, health and criminal justice
  • the complex relationships and ethical and practical dilemmas surrounding justice, care and control in social welfare and community justice
  • the significance of inter-personal and socio-cultural factors in the delivery of effective human services in a diverse society
  • the nature of professional judgement and processes of risk assessment, including an understanding of the nature of risk and harm
  • approaches and methods of intervention in a range of family, community-based or group care settings
  • up-to-date legislation defining the rights of people, equal opportunities legislation, measures to tackle discrimination, and the roles of statutory agents, such as social workers, with a duty to uphold the law and protect the public
  • codes of practice (including the SSSC Code of Practice for Social Service Workers), the regulation of professional conduct, practice guidelines and the values underpinning them.

Cognitive skills

Be able to:

  • gather information from a wide range of sources, taking account of different views and being able to analyse and evaluate critically
  • consider and evaluate specific factors relevant to practice, such as risk, rights, identity and vulnerability
  • synthesise knowledge from contributing disciplines in order to apply it to an understanding and analysis of the situation and circumstances
  • critically evaluate evidence from research and be able to apply it and to think logically, even under pressure
  • review and evaluate policies, judgements, decisions and interventions designed to be effective in mitigating personal and social disadvantage and risk.

Practical and/or professional skills

Be able to:

  • demonstrate the ability to fulfil the key roles for social work, at a qualifying level, as specified in the SiSWE
  • demonstrate an understanding of the ethical basis of social work and the underpinning values of social work practice and work within the SSSC Code of Practice for Social Service Workers
  • have knowledge of the theoretical basis of social work and apply this to practice
  • demonstrate an awareness of current research in both theory and practice
  • demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate research evidence
  • work within the legal framework for practice in Scotland
  • work in partnership with users and other professionals
  • practice critical self-reflection and engage in professional development.

Key skills

Be able to:

  • communicate effectively with individuals, groups and organisations in a range of formal and informal situations, using an appropriate style and level: face-to-face; over the phone; in writing; or by email
  • use information and communication technology methods and techniques for a variety of purposes including professional communication, data storage and retrieval, information searching and resource management
  • gather, select and manage information from a wide range of sources and in a variety of ways, for a range of purposes. These methods should include electronic searches using the internet, use of electronic databases, reviews of written materials and face-to-face, written and telephone contact with individuals and groups
  • critically evaluate information, arguments and assumptions, being aware of different viewpoints, the authority of source, the limitations of techniques and the limit of their knowledge
  • calculate, analyse figures and interpret data in both statistical and financial contexts
  • present information and arguments verbally, in writing and using electronic communications in a structured form that is logical, coherent and appropriate to the audience
  • manage own learning through identifying of learning needs, objective setting, monitoring progress by critical reflection, identifying strengths, weaknesses and areas to improve, and responding to feedback.

Teaching, learning and assessment methods

Knowledge and understanding

Core knowledge and understanding are acquired via the use of specially prepared distance-learning materials, including specially written study materials, learning guides, reference texts, and web-based resources with integrated audio and video material. Assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning, and you will be required to complete scheduled assignments, which may take the form of essays, case studies, and so on.

Cognitive skills

Cognitive skills are promoted by the critical approach of the prepared texts and the other module resources. You are encouraged to develop your own skills through the materials and workshops. As you progress through the levels of the programme, you will be expected to demonstrate a capacity to describe and articulate key understandings, then to examine, evaluate and compare different accounts and competing evidence. At honours level you will be expected to analyse critically, taking account of the basis of any evidence and reviewing the level of risk and implications of any consequent actions. These skills are assessed through the assignments.

Practical and/or professional skills

Practical and professional skills will be developed on the three practice learning modules at Stages 2, 3 and 4. Teaching will be delivered in workshops and during practice. Each workshop will include participation in activities to develop ability to understand key concepts and develop practice skills; full attendance at all workshops is expected. Written assessment will require demonstration of an understanding of the theoretical basis of social work and how this applies to practice. It will be necessary for you to show an ability to reflect on your practice. The written assignments will be an opportunity for you to show integration of the learning across the programme. Practice learning opportunities will be assessed by a practice assessor. The practice assessor will make an assessment of practice using the Scottish Social Services Council Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE).

Key skills

Key skills development and assessment will be established through OU level 1 and 2 modules, with digital literacy skills being particularly prominent in order to lay down a foundation capability for using digital literacy skills to a standard required for social work graduates and developing further information literacy and learning skills in later modules. The key practice foundation module at Stage 2 offers carefully paced and structured support in developing preparation for direct practice, study skills and basic information handling and communication skills. The Stage 3 practice module will require you to build and apply key skills in undertaking a series of learning activities/assignments centred on social work practice situations. By Stage 4, the relevant key skills will be expected to be integrated into your performance, demonstrating your ability to fulfil the key professional roles, with emphasis on consolidation of information literacy and collaborative learning skills development to equip you for continuing professional development.