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Flexible study opens up careers in social work


The Open University has teamed up with employers across Wales to offer a work-based route to a degree in social work.

As an Open University student you can study at a pace that suits you, allowing you to balance the course with your other responsibilities. Once you graduate, you will be eligible to apply for registration as a qualified Social Worker with Social Care Wales.

Many Open University social work students have first studied the Certificate of Higher Education in Social Care Practice (Wales). Students working towards the certificate look at how social care is organised in Wales and the UK and the values, legislation and theories which underpin current social care practice.

Rachel Vale

As a single mum and with only her GCSEs, Rachel Vale didn’t think studying at university was an option. But in 2015 she applied to study with The Open University in Wales through her job at Powys County Council and began the course a year later.

Rachel Vale, BA (Hons) Social Work

“I graduated from The Open University in October 2020 and I was offered a job as a Social Worker with the council two months before, pending qualification,” explains Rachel. “As soon as my registration came through, I started my new job.”

Having just gone through a divorce, Rachel wanted to change her life for her family. And thanks to the flexible nature of the degree and continued guidance from her tutors, she was able to balance her studies with busy family life – and achieve things she never thought possible.

“I wasn’t the biggest fan of school”, says Rachel. “I left aged 16 with average GCSE grades. I never thought I’d go to university. I didn’t think it was an option because I didn’t see myself as the academic type. I’m the first in my immediate family to go to university so it’s a really proud moment for me.”

“The teaching materials were great,” says Rachel. “It can be a bit daunting when you first log in and see everything online, but it’s all so accessible. One of my tutors was incredible. If I ever sounded panicky in an email, she’d give me a call to chat through my workload and any issues I had straightaway. I wasn’t just a number or another student – I felt like she cared about my progression.”

Nia Cuffin, Social Worker

Forty-three year old Nia Cuffin from Anglesey is another Open University graduate who has recently started work as a Social Worker.

Nia Cuffin

Six years ago, Nia applied for a degree in social work with the Open University. The flexibility of the course allowed her to balance her studies while looking after her daughter – and she would recommend her experience to anyone looking to progress their career.

“I started my career as a Classroom Assistant, supporting year seven pupils at a secondary school. My role was to help children who had behavioural or additional needs, who may have needed extra support, to transition from primary to secondary school,” she says.

“My degree was essential for my career development to become a Social Worker for Anglesey Children’s Services. Although this career comes with its challenges, it’s a rewarding job. I’m glad I have done it; I knew I could. I was ready to be a Social Worker.” 

Combining taught modules and work based placements, the Open University’s social work degree helps students develop the skills they need to support some of society’s most vulnerable people to meet their potential. Discussing subjects such as youth justice, community care and social work law, the course helps them apply learning to their own practice as future Social Workers.

“I speak Welsh as a first language,’ says Nia ‘so I liaised closely with the Welsh language tutor who encouraged me to write everything in Welsh. She was always very supportive. In fact, all of the tutors were encouraging. They were able to give constructive criticism which really helped me develop my essays and assignments.”

“The Open University has opened my eyes to the world of academia.” says Nia. “It is something that I’d really recommend because the way that the course was delivered really suited my lifestyle. I’ll hopefully be back studying a master’s degree soon!”

Recommended by Social Care Wales, the certificate is the qualification for Social Services Practitioners and a whole range of social care roles in Wales.  It is equivalent to the first third of an honours degree and provides a pathway to join the social work degree at Stage 2, through application and interview.

There are no formal entry requirements to study the Certificate, though applicants need some current experience of working or volunteering in a social care setting. Applications are still open for starting the Certificate this October with the closing date of 9 September 2021.

Find out more about the Certificate of Higher Education in Social Care Practice

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