The APEL Route To Social Work

Care Appointments meets two men who’ve made the transition from Social Care to Social Work…

So just what exactly is Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL)?

In basic terms, it’s a process where individuals who have considerable practical experience in a particular field can turn this experience into an academic qualification, and coupled with relevant certifications and qualifications in related areas, this can result in gaining a degree. The biggest plus point and attraction for many people looking at the APEL route is that they can continue working while they become qualified – the ‘earn as you learn’ approach makes it much more feasible for adults with families, for example, to progress their careers.

One man who has first hand experience of how successful the APEL process can be is Alex Jack, who, since completing his qualification, has become a fully fledged social worker in South Ayrshire Council’s Fostering and Adoption team. Alex was also one of the first social workers to qualify through APEL in South Ayrshire.

We asked Alex what he was doing before commencing on the APEL route to Social Work?

“I was a Social Work Assistant based in an acute hospital with links to rehab, long stay and mental health hospitals. I was involved in assessment for services needed to facilitate the discharge home for hospital patients, nursing home care, care management and development of services.

So what made Alex decide to embark on the APEL programme?

“I have always been interested in training. The APEL was the next step for me following HNC, SVQ coupled with my experience. I felt that the course was tailored to my training needs – it enabled me to work on my studies, providing a degree of flexibility and all the support that comes from university level of study. The Regulation of Care and the profile of the department is also being raised at this time.

Being qualified has enabled me to approach work, and research around work, in a professional manner. This is due to me understanding more about social work and its place in society, through study. Being qualified has also enabled me to be a part of a research study focused around my present area of work. All in all, the job has taken on new meaning and direction both personally and professionally.

What encouragement and information was Alex given up front?

“There were several information days explaining the universities’ and departments’ roles, and what I would need to expect of myself. My local authority were very keen to take part in the initial steps towards the APEL. My own line manager and team were also very encouraging. This enabled me to work out study periods during my working week feeling that my team were behind me.”

We asked Alex what the process had involved and what his experiences – good and bad – been?

“The study involved two nights a week and sometimes a Saturday at the university, with the majority of the time in study needed down to my own motivation and determination. One of the best aspects was building relationships with fellow students and staff – we were all in it together so we developed camaraderie and being the first students through the route our input to university staff was very welcome and beneficial they told us, for future students.

“Finding anything bad is difficult – I have to say there were teething problems but the staff were very helpful and determined that this route of study should succeed. You have to be willing to sacrifice your own time and be determined to stick to the plan. I also have to recognise the wonderful support from my long suffering wife Sandie!”

We wondered how Alex felt he was benefiting from the qualification now in terms of his day-to-day job?

“Being qualified enabled me to move to South Ayrshire Council’s Fostering and Adoption team. I am gaining understanding around the world of children who have to be looked after and the huge responsibility on social work staff to make it a positive experience for the most vulnerable people in society. I am also, as part of my team, providing assessment and training to foster carers and perspective adopters. The service is changing at this time via Registration of the workforce and the Care Commission which has raised the job spec higher – it is good to be involved and have input in this.

“Children placed in the care of foster carers or adopted have many challenges to face in life. Supporting foster carers and adopters to enable children or young people in this is a very challenging and rewarding part of the job. Constant study and research into attachment, bonding, the legal processes and any childhood issues are needed to enable carers/adopters to support children in their care.”

Given that Alex was something of a pioneer in terms of APEL in his area, we asked what advice he might have for others looking to follow in his footsteps on the APEL route to Social Work?

“Make sure you know what you are embarking on. It is hard work – it calls for determination and motivation to succeed. Having the support of your line manager and team is also vital. It is also good if your family know what you are getting into. The results are well worth it and very rewarding. Going up to receive my degree on my graduation day in my chosen career was something to experience for both myself and my family.”

And looking to the future, what lies in store for Alex?

“I hope, after a short break, to continue study in the shape of an MSc in social work. This involves, to a large degree, research, which I have a particular interest in. I also hope to do some work with students studying at university”

Tommy Gilmour, like Alex Jack, works within South Ayrshire Council, and is midway through his APEL experience. He was a member of a complex needs team in resource centre for adults with learning disabilities before commencing on the APEL DipSW course.

Tommy explains his role: “Working, as part of the team, I am involved in assessments of the service users’ needs and we devise care plans based on the assessments made. We also devise and implement programmes designed to meet the assessed needs, such as the mental, social, physical requirements of the service user.

So what drew Tommy to the APEL scheme?

“A friend and ex-colleague of mine had, at the time, recently qualified through the APEL route and advised that as I had the qualifications to apply for the course (HNC in Social Care and an SVQ level 3) then I should seriously consider it. I just felt that it was naturally the next step forward for me, with regard to my learning.”

What has Tommy’s experience of the programme been like thus far?

“The information I received at the start highlighted the amount of work that would be involved in the course, and that for the next two years the course would become a huge part of my life. I found this very daunting at the start because my wife was expecting our first child and I was worried that my commitment to the course might be affected when the baby was born. However, through South Ayrshire Council we had study groups where I could meet with others at various stages of the course, which encouraged me because I could see for myself that the completion of the work was achievable. But more importantly the course work was being completed by people who also had families of their own. This in itself was enough encouragement for me.

“I have been working at my job as usual – 5 days per week – as well as attending Glasgow Caledonian University on a Tuesday and Thursday from 6pm to 9pm for lectures. This has been the hardest part of the course, and my APEL colleagues would probably agree. Also, those from South Ayrshire only got 3 study days per semester so you had to juggle your work and your study time. Although at first this seems a very negative aspect of the APEL route, it did, however, make me an extremely well organised individual.”

At the halfway point, can Tommy see the benefits of the course in his day-to-day work?

“At present I am on work placement in a Young Persons Support Team as a student Social Worker. This is an area that I have never worked in before, but with the skills I have gained from my previous experience in social work, coupled with the theory and the research gained through reading social work literature for my University assignments, has meant that I’ve settled into my role within the team quite quickly.

“When I have completed the DipSW course I’ll be returning to South Ayrshire Council, where I will be appointed to the post of Social Work Assistant, in lieu of my impending qualification as a Social Worker. Once qualified, I’ll become a Social Worker within a Community Care team.”

As with Alex, we asked Tommy if he had any advice for other budding APEL’ers?

“The APEL route is hard work and takes a lot of commitment, but it is only for two years and it’s not so difficult that it cannot be completed – many people before me have proved this. Social Work is not a career where you gain your qualification and that’s the end. It’s a career where you have to commit yourself to Continuous Professional Development (CPD) in order to continue to practice as a Social Worker. Therefore, this means that my completion of the DipSW qualification is only the beginning, as I have to undertake further training and studying every three years. Although I am entering into a Community Care team when I qualify, I don’t want to always remain there. My hopes are that I can complete my further training, and move on to different areas within Social Work.”