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PgCert Mental Health Social Work

Why this course?

The PgCert is only available to qualified social workers currently employed by local authorities.

It prepares experienced and qualified social workers, registered with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) to undertake the statutory role of Mental Health Officer (MHO).

In undertaking the role of MHO, candidates are able to contribute positively to care and treatment of those experiencing mental disorder by ensuring an approach that recognises the impact of social as well as medical circumstances on their lives.

Between 85 and 90% of all candidates complete the course within a 12-month period. On completion of the programme, 100% of candidates are appointed as Mental Health Officers by their local authority.

Key aim

The purpose is to train social workers for the role of MHO.

This is as defined in Section 32 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, and as qualified by the direction of the Scottish Ministers (Requirements for appointment as Mental Health Officers) Direction (January 2009).

In 2007, the SSSC published a new set of standards and practice competencies for MHO training. This stated that the certificate must be:

  • provided by a university, within a programme provider partnership
  • delivered at SCQF Level 11, which equates with Masters level
  • be approved by the SSSC as a specialist course

The delivery partnership

A partnership was established to develop and deliver the new Postgraduate Certificate in Mental Health Social Work Award. It involves:

  • the University of Strathclyde
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • 13 local authorities in the West of Scotland, represented by the Scottish Social Services Council Learning Network West

The University of Strathclyde is the administering university for the award.

You’ll be registered with us for the duration of the course, and will be subject to our rules and requirements.

You’ll study

The course is taught over the period of an academic year, normally August to June. You’ll complete two modules.

Work placement

An assessed period of practice is integral to each of the two modules on this course. The assessed practice runs through each module and runs from September to December in Module 1 and February to May in Module 2. The practice experience can only be undertaken in the candidates’ employing local authority supervised by a suitably qualified member of staff (Practice Assessor), supported by the course team.

Course awards

The course has been externally evaluated and assessed as producing Mental Health Officers who are competent to practice from the perspective of the local authorities who employ the candidates on completion of the award. In addition, the candidates, despite the intensity of the workload, praised the experience of undertaking the course. The course is the only MHO award in Scotland where recruitment remains high.

Open days and events

Workshops to prepare candidates for applying to the programme are provided in January each year. This includes an overview of the programme as well as a detailed explanation of what an application for the programme should contain. Information and selection handbooks are circulated to all local authorities in December each year to prepare candidates for the event. 

Course content

Semester 1 - Class 1: Mental Health Officer Theory and Practice 1 (L5962)

This module enables candidates to apply critical knowledge and understanding of mental health and wellbeing and mental disorders.

You'll also be able to make a comprehensive assessment of complex need and manage risk within the relevant legislative and policy frameworks in collaboration with other disciplines and organisations. 

Candidates will also be able to demonstrate ethical and professional practice in performing the role and task of an MHO within a multi-disciplinary framework.

Semester 2 - Class 2: Mental Health Officer Theory and Practice 2 (L5963)

Candidates will apply critical knowledge and understanding of mental wellbeing and mental disorders to the potential outcomes for vulnerable people at risk of being subject to the powers of the relevant legislation.

You'll apply lawful interpretations of capacity and incapacity evidence knowledge and understanding of mental disorder in relation to offending behaviour, in work with mentally disordered people in the criminal justice system and address the rights of that individual and others involved in complex statutory processes within a multi-disciplinary framework.

Learning & teaching

You need to attend for 30 days of direct teaching/contact time during term time. Additional work and self-directed learning will be completed as directed. You’ll also be required to undertake programme-directed assessed practice learning in each module.

You'll need to commit to a minimum of 600 hours of study, practice learning and assessment within an academic year.

You’re required to attend these sessions during term-time and to have agreed study time outwith term-time to complete the course.

The course content is provided through a range of teaching approaches including direct learning, directed learning and independent learning as well as the practice experience.

As the course is preparing candidates for a complex role in practice much of the focus is on ensuring candidates are able to directly apply the knowledge from lecturers and directed learning (specified reading) into practice, therefore skills workshops are an integral part of the course content.

In addition, open book exams on the law and less formal approaches to testing knowledge, eg group quiz activity are also used.  Role-play is also used to expose the candidates to the formal tribunal hearing setting within, which they will practice following completion of the award.

Candidates are provided with personal tutors to guide their journey through the course and to support them with any pastoral issues, which may arise during the course. 

Guest lectures

A number of external specialists provide input to the course. A significant amount of the course relates to the powers and duties afforded to local authorities, the NHS and MHOs to provide care and treatment for those experiencing mental health problems. Specialist input, therefore, includes:

  • medical staff, including psychiatrists and psychologists
  • lawyers
  • representative organisations such as the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland and the Mental Health Tribunal Service
  • currently practising MHOs provide skills workshops

Service users and carers also provide input to the course both as guest lecturers and by contributing to the design of the course content.


Each module will be assessed separately.

The assessment of each of the modules has three components:

  • practice assessment – report of competence to practice by practice assessor alongside a 1,000-word reflective commentary from the candidate
  • assessment of knowledge and understanding – 2,000-word assignment
  • critical analysis of practice – 3,000-word assignment

Each of the three components must be passed for the successful completion of the module. Candidates may not proceed to Module 2 of the award without successfully completing the assessed practice element of Module 1, they may however carry forward a fail of any of the academic assessments.

Candidates will be assessed in relation to the Module Learning Outcomes and the Scottish Social Services Council standards to be competently demonstrated as they relate to the specific module.

Entry requirements

Applicants must:

1. Be nominated by their employing local authority, be supported by their employing local authority and be provided with appropriate learning opportunities.

2. Hold a professional social work qualification recognised by SSSC. These include:

  • BA (Hons) Social Work
  • Diploma in Social Work (DipSW)
  • Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) together with its predecessor qualifications
  • Certificate in Social Service (CSS)

If you trained abroad, a letter of comparability with the CQSW or a letter of verification issued by SSSC (or another registering Council in the UK) will be required.

3. Normally have a minimum of two years post-qualifying experience. You should be able to demonstrate that you've improved and extended the level of competence acquired when you qualified.

4. Satisfy the programme provider that you have the capacity to achieve the Mental Health Officer standards, that you can be competently demonstrated as eligible to be appointed as a Mental Health Officer, and can achieve the award at SCQF Level 11 by:

  • critically reviewing your professional development since qualifying as a social worker. This should include issues of effective communication with adults who have individual communication support needs, and working with professional tensions, challenges and conflicts. Also included should be evidence from workload of challenging discrimination and demonstrating an understanding of what's meant by this
  • analysing interest in, and motivation for, undertaking mental health work including the extensive networking and collaborative practice involved
  • showing developed skills in empowering clients. This should be particularly in relation to developing their understanding of their rights to legal support and advocacy, and their views about how their needs may be more effectively met through complex decision making processes
  • exploring current awareness of the Mental Health Officer role, the complexity of the power/control issues involved and how you would use Mental Health Officer training in your current work setting

Selection for the programme is a collaborative process across the provider partnership and consists of:

  • application
  • interview (if applicable)
  • selection decision phases

These will verify your:

  • eligibility in relation to registration as a social worker with the SSSC
  • experience
  • preparedness and capacity for the specialist role
  • eligibility for the programme of study within the universities

The process will also provide feedback to you and your agency about any further preparation or experience necessary before the programme starts.

Final decision on acceptance to the course within the parameters of the minimum standards described lies with the Joint Course Management Committee.

Fees & funding


All fees quoted are per academic year unless stated otherwise. All candidates on the course are directly funded by their local authority.


  • £2,700

Rest of UK

  • £2,700

Please note

The fees shown are annual and may be subject to an increase each year. Find out more about fees.


Successful graduates from this programme will immediately be appointed as Mental Health Officers (MHOs) by their local authority, negating the requirement to seek employment as an MHO.

This appointment can lead candidates into promoted posts, eg senior practitioner and management roles. As the role of the MHO is a statutory requirement for local authorities, graduates become members of a small but essential workforce that aims to promote the rights of people with mental disorders as well as ensuring appropriate access to treatment when required.

The MHO workforce is currently under resourced and, as such, qualified MHOs are in high demand across Scotland, obtaining the award, therefore, enhances the employability of all graduates.

Contact us


Please note we are now closed for entry in 2019/20 and the next opportunity to apply will be from January 2020.  Please check back on the website for any updates and read over the information provided below with regards to how to apply.

The University of Strathclyde Postgraduate Programme online application form should be completed.

Once you have completed the online application please download:

The pack contains information about, and forms for, an application to the Joint Programme of the School of Social Work and Social Policy, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Scottish Social Services Learning Network West - Postgraduate Certificate Mental Health Social Work (MHO Award). It contains:

  1. Programme information
  2. Programme and assessment schedule (including dates for programme)
  3. Entry requirements and selection process
  4. Professional registration requirements
  5. Information for operational managers/area managers/head of services

Application forms

Please ensure the application pack containing the following documents is then attached to your online application.

  1. Course Specific Candidate Application Form
  2. Agency Report from Line Manager
  3. Nomination Form
  4. Undertaking of Release Form
  5. Confirmation of Practice Assessor allocated
  6. Confirmation of payment of fee on local authority letterhead

All documentation must be original copies with signatures as indicated. These should then be scanned and uploaded to your Pegasus account.

Please remember that your application cannot progress to the selection stage without all documents being uploaded to your Pegasus account. Failure to supply the requested information may result in a delay to your application that can impact on your Registration and commencement on the programme.

If you have any problems, please contact the postgraduate admissions team at the University at hass-pgt-enquiries@strath.ac.uk or by telephone on +44 (0) 141 444 8600.

A full application is required for each individual seeking a place on the programme. Applications should be submitted in the first instance, according to the agreed procedures for each partner authority, in time to be forwarded to the Postgraduate Team on or before 17:00 Friday 29 March 2019.

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