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Foundations for social work practice

This key introductory OU level 1 module will develop your knowledge of the key roles of social work, and introduce the social work standards and codes of practice relevant to each UK nation. You will also build key skills in information and communication technologies, information literacy and reflective writing.

This is a compulsory module in our BA (Hons) Social Work (Northern Ireland) and includes a minimum 10-day period of verified practice learning in a social care/social work setting. For sponsored social work students, this will be under the supervision of a practice verifier by your sponsoring agency/employer. If you are studying this module as an independent student, it is your responsibility to organise the 10-day practice learning period. All students are also required to attend seven compulsory face-to-face workshops/tutorials which take place in Belfast on a Saturday (approximately one per month 10am-4pm).

What you will study

The module concentrates on writing about practice, and learning how to apply theoretical learning to practice contexts. The module is divided into eight blocks of learning. Each block covers a particular aspect of understanding social work and uses case study material to illustrate and apply these ideas into practice situations.

Block 1 - provides an overview of some of the ideas about how individual psychology and identity are relevant to all social work settings. This includes what values underpin professional identity in the complex situations social workers deal with.

Block 2 - explores the social context that is important both to understand how services are delivered, but also the wider supports and environments that can support or restrict people’s opportunities and life chances. How social workers are concerned with these inequalities, and issues of social justice are examined.

Block 3 - uses children and family work to consider how and why social workers might come to be engaged with people.

Block 4 - concentrates on using issues facing older people in coming to consider the skills and approaches to formal assessment in social work, and how to establish an understanding of someone’s situation.

Block 5 - develops social work approaches of groups and community work to support people with mental health distress. The themes of stigma and discrimination are explored in particular and the models of the constructive ways social workers can address these issues.

Block 6 - provides information about adults with learning disabilities and in particular how their engagement in reviews of services they receive personally, or more general service reviews and evaluations is an important principle for social work with all service users and their carers.

Block 7 - uses models of work with families with children with disabilities to consider partnership working and ideas of early intervention in social work.

Block 8 - concentrates on the issues of professional development and understanding of the personal and regulatory requirements for individuals wishing to develop their professionalism generally or continue with the social work programme.

In order to pass the module, you will be required to:

  • complete a minimum period of 10 days verified practice learning in a social care/social work setting. If you are studying as an independent student it will be your responsibility to arrange the practice experience, including identifying a verifier. For sponsored social work students this will be the responsibility of your sponsoring agency/employer but you will need to discuss this with them at the start of the module. To carry out this practice experience, you may be asked to provide a current Access NI Enhanced Disclosure Check certificate. If you do not have a certificate and one is required, it will be your responsibility to negotiate and fund it.
  • attend seven compulsory workshops/tutorials, which will be face-to-face events. These learning events provide you with the chance to explore the theoretical themes in relation to the realities of social work practice and practice core social work skills. If you are unable to attend on your allocated workshop date, you may be offered an alternative date. Any missed workshops will require you to complete an alternative piece of work to compensate for this absence. Please note that attendance is mandatory and evidence may be requested by a tutor to authorise any absences.
  • participate in roleplays with a service user or carer representative using a case scenario, to assess your skills and competency in preparation for future practice learning and contact with service users. You must successfully pass the summative roleplay in order to complete this module.

During this module you will develop your ICT skills and can gain marks for this both in continuous assessment and in the end-of-module assessment. There will also be online discussions that take place to continue your interactions with your tutor and fellow students and develop your online communication skills.

Entry requirements

This is a key introductory OU level 1 module to provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning. This will help you to progress to modules at OU level 2.

To study this module as part of the BA (Hons) Social Work (Northern Ireland), you must be:

  • registered as a student on this qualification
  • sponsored by your employing agency
  • working in a practice context.

If you are studying this module as part of the Social Work degree, your sponsoring agency will provide you with appropriate practice learning opportunities. Further information for sponsoring agencies is available – please email a NI staff tutor or speak to your Student Support Team.

Studying social work is demanding, if you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact us.

Preparatory work

You will receive guidance of how to get started online in your module mailing. This will provide you with information on using your computer for OU study and working with the Computing Guide. For example, it explains how to access and use your website and online discussion forums. If you have time before the module starts, you can work through this and explore all the online services available to you.

What's included

All study materials are provided. The main mode of delivery of the teaching is through the module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module-specific materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You’ll also be provided with printed resources – the Social Work Handbook and Practice Learning Guide for your nation, printed copies of the web pages for each block of study, supplementary Readings, a Practice Workshop Guide and a Practice skills envelope which provides information about what is required from practice settings.

You will need

We recommend that you purchase the following book: Davies, M. (ed) The Blackwell Companion to Social Work (4th edn) Wiley-Blackwell - ISBN 9781118451724

You should have access to Microsoft Office (Microsoft Word and Excel) for the duration of the programme, and we strongly recommend that they are run on a Microsoft Windows-based computer.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Monterey or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material, mark and provide comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Part of your tuition is delivered online so some of the contact with your tutor will be through email and online discussion forums, although phone communication may also be used. If you’re new to the OU, you’ll find your tutor is particularly keen to help you develop your study skills.

You’ll attend seven face-to-face workshops. These learning events will provide you with the chance to explore the skills needed for social work and social care practice.

Requests to be excused from a workshop are dealt with by the tutor who is running it. Compensatory activities will be assigned by your tutor for any workshops that are missed.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

You must submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA) online.

It is a condition of the module assessment that to pass the module you must not have engaged in behaviour that is confirmed as being damaging or dangerous to service users or to other students or programme providers, or that creates an unacceptable risk to yourself or to others.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying K113 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Foundations for social work practice starts once a year – in February.

This page describes the module that starts in February 2024, the last time it will be available for study. Foundations for social work practice is currently under review for inclusion in the BA (Hons) Social Work (Northern Ireland) (R61) for future cohorts. We’ll update this page as soon as possible.

Course work includes:

8 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
3 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment

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