Bridging the gap from qualifying to practice: The Open University’s contribution.

Transition from professional qualifying programmes to the reality of social work can be daunting for newly qualified workers. It can also be challenging for busy practitioners involved in supporting newly qualified workers.

Mo McPhail, who heads The Open University social work programme in Scotland, introduces a new book to complement the Open University’s distinctive approach to work based learning, targeted specifically at newly qualified social workers and those involved in continuous professional development – their own, and others.

In the Foreword to a new book on complex professional issues, Jane Aldgate, OBE identifies the aim of the text, ‘to move concepts and ideas from the arena of qualifying social workers into the world of continuing professional development’. This is intended as a contribution to support the development of evidence based practice and to equip new practitioners to continually update their knowledge and skills in the context of constant change and uncertainty. This is an edited volume, written by authors with experience of the OU social work degree, designed as a resource for busy practitioners. It is scholarly, accessible and manageable.

Each chapter focuses on a specific area of social work practice and provides an overview of key issues, dilemmas and complexities. A review of each chapter by a current practitioner is included. Readers are invited to reflect on practice based questions in relation to their own practice setting. Ideas for further reading are identified for more in depth exploration. The practice focus is enhanced by the identification of capabilities required for the relevant area of practice; knowledge, communication skills, confidence, competence and values. The text is also intended to broaden practitioners’ understanding of a range of social work settings and inter-professional working.

‘We hope it will contribute to building the confidence and effectiveness of those front line professionals who read it by providing chapters relevant to their own practice, but also by encompassing a wide range of practice areas which contribute to their understanding of the concerns of other practitioners with whom they are in partnership’. (Introduction, Seden et al. 2010).

The book is located within the harsh realities of social work practice, acknowledging the impact of social policy, government initiatives and

budget reductions. Flexible, professional and ethical responses are explored in relation to the dilemmas and contradictions that arise in practice, and additionally as a result of government interventions and media pressure.

Although the book is written to a UK wide and international audience, it is also intended to complement the distinctive approach to work based learning of The Open University. The Open University offers a range of teaching and learning across the spectrum of social work and social care training and education from pre-employability to qualifying programmes in health and social care, to post qualifying study. A distinct advantage for both employers and students, is that work based students are able to maintain a connection to practice whilst they study. Introduced last year is a new top up degree, BA (Hons) Social Work Studies for registered social workers who hold the Diploma in Social Work, or equivalent qualification. Two further modules; Diverse perspectives on mental health and Challenging ideas in mental health, together lead to a Certificate in Mental Health Studies. There are also routes for social care workers who are taking additional supervisory responsibilities, Managing in the Workplace.

For others, not currently involved in social care employment, there are a range of modules and awards ‘to test the water’. Popular courses for this purpose are short 20 week modules, Openings or the 60 point modules, Introduction to Health and Social Care, and ‘Foundations for Social Work Practice’. These courses of study are at the academic level equivalent to the first year of academic study. Free on-line access is also available for ‘tasting’ the Open University approach to learning in health and social care at There is also information about financial assistance for study and a ‘ready reckoner’ to check if you are eligible.

A distinctive contribution of The Open University approach is that it can both help people to explore social care and social work as career options or to support those already in employment to maintain and develop their career. This latest offer is an invitation to explore the next step in the career journey for newly qualified social workers.

Janet Seden, Sarah Matthews, Mick McCormick and  Alun Morgan (eds.) ( 2010)  Professional Development in Social Work, Complex Issues in Practice, London, Routeledge. For further information on the book visit .

For more information about studying with The Open University in Scotland visit , call 0845 300 60 90 or e-mail [email protected]