How to become a social worker in Scotland

How to become a social worker in Scotland

Through promoting people’s rights, promoting social justice and making vital interventions in the lives of those in need, social workers make an immense contribution to society.

It’s a challenging and important role where you can make a tangible impact every day. It also one that is seeing increasing demand. But what are the paths to becoming a social worker? What do you need to consider when choosing a path?

We take a look at the process of study, training, accreditation and registration as a social worker in the Scottish context.

Why become a social worker?

Often a last line of defence for people in crisis, social workers play an immeasurably important role in the provision of social services.

Social work relies fundamentally on building good relationships, both with individual service users and other service providers, and much of it involving face-to-face contact. The work is suited to dedicated, socially-engaged individuals with empathy, patience and great social skills.

Qualified social workers are also currently in high demand, especially in children and family services.

What do social workers do?

Social workers work to mitigate harm and achieve better outcomes for people experiencing difficulties. They are there to assess people’s wellbeing, signpost beneficial services, flag causes for concern, and arrange intervention when necessary.

The work can involve either scheduled visits or in-residence meetings at facilities like schools, care homes, hospitals and prisons. Wherever it takes place, importance lies in building a trusting, professional and non-judgemental relationship with people in order to properly assess their wellbeing and ensure they have access to any required additional support.

Social workers are also in a valuable position to promote equity and social justice while challenging oppression and discrimination where they see it.

What fields of social work can I practise in?

As a social worker, there are a range of fields in which you can practice. Common client groups include:

  • older people
  • people living with disabilities
  • people experiencing mental health issues
  • homeless people
  • refugees and asylum seekers
  • people experiencing issues with alcohol or drug use
  • children at risk of abuse or neglect
  • people in conflict with the law
  • families in conflict

While studying an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in Social Work, students have the opportunity to undertake practical placements working with different service groups. This often gives students a better idea of what area they may like to specialise in and who they enjoy working with, which helps when choosing jobs to apply for.

How does a social worker differ from other professions in social services?

A social worker is an accredited profession, meaning that social workers must be registered with a professional body to practice.

While it's possible to work in many social services professions without a degree, social workers must gain an accredited qualification and be registered with the appropriate body. In Scotland, this is the Scottish Social Services Council.

Elderly person welcome social worker into house.

Steps to qualifying as a social worker in Scotland

Before becoming a social worker in Scotland you must:

  • gain a recognised social work qualification from a university
  • register with the Scottish Social Services Council

The university path to qualification involves either:

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for the BA Hons differ by institution, but will generally require four Highers. It is also possible to qualify for Year 1 entry via an HNC, or for Year 2 entry via a relevant HNC/HND plus minimum six months of relevant and challenging work experience.

Entry requirements also vary for a Masters, but institutions generally request a 2:1 in a social science subject.

While it's possible to work in many social services professions without a degree, social workers must gain an accredited qualification and be registered with the appropriate body.

What will I study as part of a social work degree?

Undergraduate degrees focus on social work practice issues throughout the four years of study. Much of this is interdisciplinary, and students typically cover:

  • psychology
  • social policy
  • law
  • social work practice
  • sociology

The degree also involves a great amount of practical experience in social work settings. Students undertake three placements – one observational placement in Year 2 and two assessed placements in Years 3 and 4.

These placements can take place in a variety of social work settings, including statutory social work departments and voluntary organisations. Students get the opportunity to work with:

  • children and young people
  • older people
  • people with disabilities or mental health problems
  • people who use criminal justice services

In Year 4, students write an Honours dissertation on a social work topic that interests them and are allocated a supervisor with similar interests. They will then have the opportunity to carry out detailed research with social workers and people who use services.

Registering with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)

To register with the SSSC you must have gained, or be working towards, a BA (Hons) Social Work, an MSW Social Work or an MSc Social Work.

Student social workers are advised to register with the SSSC as soon as they are offered a place on a social work course. The SSSC can then grant your registration on the condition you gain the required qualifications.

Once registered, you can then apply for jobs in social work.

From another part of the UK

A Memorandum of Understanding between professional social work bodies in the four countries of the UK means that registration within Scotland is open to those who have gained an honours degree in social work in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. This applies also to those who studied in Scotland looking to work in other parts of the UK.

From outside the UK

Qualified social workers from outside the UK looking to practice in Scotland must register with the SSSC. They can apply to register with a non-UK qualification which the SSSC will then assess. If approved, they will then be qualified to practice in Scotland.

Studying Social Work at Strathclyde

Learn more about undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities in the field: