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Foundations for social work practice

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Are you interested in social work or social care? Whatever your starting point, 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 module includes a minimum 10-day period of verified practice learning in a social care/social work setting. For sponsored students this will be under the supervision of a practice verifier by your sponsoring agency. If you are studying this module as an independent student, it is your responsibility to organise your placement. All students are also required to attend seven compulsory workshops/tutorials (or their online alternatives).

This module is open to all students, but is also a compulsory module on the OU degrees in social work; entry onto which requires you to be sponsored by your employing agency.

Registration onto this module does not lead to automatic entry to a social work degree. To register for this degree, you must meet a number of criteria, outlined in the entry requirements sections of the BA (Honours) Social Work (England) (Q32) and BA (Honours) Social Work (Scotland) (Q41).

Students studying in Wales should refer to Foundations for social work practice (KZW113).

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 students this will be the responsibility of your sponsoring agency. To carry out this practice experience, you may be asked to provide a current Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) 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 learning events - 3 face-to-face day-long workshops, and 4 online tutorials (with the exception of students studying in Northern Ireland, where all workshops will be face-to-face). Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with an online alternative. These learning events provide you with the chance to explore the theoretical themes in relation to the realities of social work practice. Any workshop days missed will require you to complete an alternative piece of work to compensate for this absence.

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.

Professional recognition

This is one of a set of modules that together constitute approved programmes leading to social work degrees in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The degrees are endorsed by Social Work England (SWE), the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC).

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.

This module is available for standalone study. 

Independent students are strongly recommended to have some experience in a social care setting. This can include voluntary work. You should also consider studying modules Introducing health and social care (K102) or Introducing the social sciences (DD102).

To study this module as part of the Social Work degree, you must be:
•    registered for the honours degree in social work (or have declared it as your qualification intention) 
•    registered as a social work student with the Scottish Social Services Council if you study in Scotland
•    sponsored by your employing agency
•    working in a practice context.

If you are studying this module as part of the Social Work degree, the sponsoring agency will provide you with appropriate practice learning opportunities and undertake to allow you one day a week study time for 120 credits study while you are on the programme. (There will be a pro-rata reduction in the entitlement of study time allowed if you are studying less than 120 credits per year.) Further information for sponsoring agencies is available – speak to an adviser.  

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 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 a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

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 three one-day practice skills workshops and four online tutorials with your tutor group. Students in Northern Ireland will 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. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with an online alternative.

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 2022, the last time it will be available for study.

Course work includes:

8 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
3 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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