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Developing social work practice

This is an interdisciplinary module with subject matter derived from psychology, sociology, social policy, law and social work studies. The study materials will enable you to contextualise the experiences of service users and carers and approaches to social work practice, as well as providing opportunities to examine the nature of the organisations that supply social work services.

Throughout your study you will be encouraged to further develop your research literacy and explore how research findings can inform practice and be used by practitioners. In addition to online learning, the module includes 80 days of practice-based learning.

Vocational relevance

Developing social work practice is the first of two compulsory modules leading to the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work which is a professionally qualifying award.


K832 is a compulsory module in our:

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

This module is delivered over eight months and has a practice placement experience running alongside academic study. The module will start at the end of January and finish in September. Prior to the start of your placement you will need to complete 10 days of verified practice experience in your normal workplace and pass an assessment of ‘Readiness for direct practice’.

After successfully completing this module you will:

  • have acquired the necessary professional skills to enable you to work in partnership with service users and carers and other professionals to foster dignity, choice and independence, and effect change; and be able to evaluate the changes and your own contribution to change
  • be equipped to engage in critical and reflective professional practice according to the Standards for social work education and Codes of Practice and Conduct relating to the nation of the UK in which you practise
  • be able to think critically about the complex social, cultural, legal, economic and political contexts in which social work practice is located.
  • have the knowledge and understanding to analytically appraise and use evidence and research in decision-making, and to use professional judgement about practice and in the evaluation of outcomes
  • have developed key skills appropriate for the academic level in the areas of digital and information literacy, academic, professional and reflective writing.

During this module you will study five blocks: Foundations for Social Work Practice; Communication and Interpersonal Skills; Social Divisions and Diversity; Human Growth and Development; and one from Social Work Practice with Children and Families, or Social Work with Adults. For the last block you will be able to choose either the children and families option or the adult option alongside your placement to support your practice learning. Relevant teaching of law, digital and information literacy, values and ethics, safeguarding practices, theories and approaches in social work intervention, research methods and evidence-based practice has been threaded through the module blocks as appropriate.

The learning materials include a range of module-directed multi-media activities for you to engage in to support your learning about social work. You will access the learning guides and activities online through the module website and will be supported through additional readings and books in print. Likewise, you will also engage with video and audio resources, draw upon a range of online tools that suit your study needs, and take part in activities with other students at online learning events.

In addition to module-directed activities within the learning materials, there are opportunities to engage in independent learning. The design of the module is informed by the fact that when you become a qualified social worker, you will be expected to be able to address complex situations, think for yourself, collaborate with other professionals and be accountable for your actions. Both academically and in your practice you will increasingly be called on to make your own decisions and evaluations.

This module will help you to develop knowledge and skills in these areas through these regular opportunities for independent learning that will enable you to relate your study closely to your own practice context and to your particular learning needs.

The module has three main learning components:

  • practice learning (10 days of verified practice experience in your normal workplace preparation for ‘Readiness for direct practice’, followed by a practice placement of 80 days)
  • a residential school and three practice skills workshops – these are typically held face-to-face but online alternatives will be provided for events and activities we’re currently unable to offer face-to-face due to public health restrictions
  • five blocks of study, which you will study online.

You will be expected to critically apply relevant knowledge, skills and values in a practice setting to a professional standard. This will entail demonstrating your analytical use of module concepts and research findings, showing a critical appreciation of a range of social work theories and methods, and evidencing your ability to apply them appropriately to practice.

It is a professional requirement for you to engage in practice skills development, which will take place in the residential school and three practice skills workshops. These events are usually held face-to-face, but where this is not possible due to public health restrictions, online alternatives will be provided. You will be told in advance of any changes. The practice skills workshops will form an essential component for skills development.

You will be required to demonstrate your ‘Readiness for direct practice’ before you undertake your first practice placement. Readiness for direct practice will be assessed by attending online learning events, undertaking 10 days of verified practice in your normal workplace and completing a tutor-marked assignment. This is a regulatory requirement which you will need to evidence; and if you do not pass the assessment of Readiness for direct practice you will be de-registered from the module.

You will learn

This module has been designed to support students to begin the journey of becoming confident, critical, analytical and reflective practitioners who can work with other people to help meet the often complex needs of those who require social work support. This also entails being able to provide professional authority and leadership as qualified social workers.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

A module tutor will help with the academic content of the module, mark and comment on your written work, and provide academic advice and guidance. Most of the contact with your tutor will be through email and online discussion forums, although phone communication may also be used. Your tutor will run three compulsory practice skills workshops. These events are usually held face-to-face, but where this is not possible due to the ongoing pandemic, online alternatives will be offered. The practice skills workshops provide essential support for you to apply module concepts to your practice learning. As well as the workshops, you will be expected to participate in your online tutor group discussion forum.

A placement tutor will provide individual support and arrange meetings in relation to your placement and professional development. Questions of a professional social work practice nature should be directed to the placement tutor.


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

The first tutor-marked assignment (TMA) will comprise an assessment of your ‘Readiness for direct practice’. You must receive a pass mark for this TMA in order to be able to proceed with the rest of the module. There will two further pieces of written assessment, one submitted during the module and the other at the end.

Additionally, your practice learning will be assessed through a Practice Assessment Report submitted at the end of your placement, which will lead to a pass or fail recommendation to be considered by a Practice Assessment Panel and finally ratified by the Module Result Panel at the end of the module.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your TMAs.

Professional recognition

On successful completion of both K832 and K833 you will be awarded the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work, entitling you to use the letters PG Dip Soc Wk (Open) after your name.

Information about the regulatory approvals in place for the PG Dip Soc Wk (Open) can be found in the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work qualification description (E85).

Residential School

Online alternatives will be provided for events and activities we’re currently unable to offer face-to-face, such as residential weekends and day schools.

This online learning event will take place over a weekend, and will provide you with an opportunity to focus on preparing your ‘Readiness for direct practice’ assignment and will include online workshop activities to foster skills development for effective communication, observation and reflection. It will provide opportunities for you to explore:

  • the value of evidence-based practice and the stages of the research process
  • the importance of working in partnership with service users and carers (to include a focus on communication and relationship building skills and ethics)
  • the use of critical reflection and reflexivity in practice
  • the role of professional supervision
  • Professional Occupational Standards and ways of evidencing achievement
  • self-assessment of prior learning and establishing personal learning priorities.

Participation is compulsory if you want to gain credit for the components required to demonstrate readiness for direct practice. If you do not pass the ‘Readiness for direct practice’ you will not be able to start your placement and will be de-registered from the module.

Course work includes

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
Embedded residential school

Future availability

Developing social work practice starts once a year – in February.

This page describes the module that will start in February 2022. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2025.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    This module is only available as part of the Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work, which has minimum academic and other entry requirements and a formal admissions process. For full details please see Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work (E85).

    Further information and how to apply is available from the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care website.  

    To study this module you must be supported by your employer (or an organisation with whom you have an established relationship as a volunteer), who will be required to provide a suitable practice learning opportunity for you.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Outside the UK

    This module is not available for study outside the UK and ROI, because the work-based learning must take place within a relevant regulatory framework.

    Preparatory work

    You will receive guidance on how to get started online in your first module mailing. This will provide you with information on using your computer for OU study by working with the OU Computing Guide. For example, it explains how to access and use your module 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.


    Start End England fee Register
    29 Jan 2022 Sep 2022 £3870.00

    To register for this course - see 'Entry requirements'. Registration closes 13/01/22

    28 Jan 2023 Sep 2023 Not yet available

    To register for this course - see 'Entry requirements'. Registration closes 12/01/23

    This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2025.

    Future availability

    Developing social work practice starts once a year – in February.

    This page describes the module that will start in February 2022. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2025.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Residential school

    This module has a compulsory residential school. There’s no additional cost, but you must pay for your travel to and from the venue. Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with online alternatives.

    If you can’t attend the school, there’s an online alternative.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    Online learning guides containing interactive activities, video and audio resources, a reader, set book, assessment guide, practice learning guide, and a programme handbook.

    You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

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

    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.

    Materials to buy

    Set books

    • Braye, S. & Preston-Shoot, M. Practicing Social Work Law (4th edn) Palgrave Macmillan £28.99 - ISBN 9781137560292
    • Davis, R. & Gordon, J. (eds) Social Work and the Law in Scotland (2nd edn) Palgrave Macmillan £32.99 - ISBN 9780230276314

    Note: Students only need to purchase one set book for this module. Students studying in England should purchase 'Practising Social Work Law (4th edn)' and students studying in Scotland should purchase 'Social Work and the Law in Scotland (2nd edn)'.

    If you have a disability

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.