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Social Work: Study


The Social Work Programme

Welcome to studying Social Work at The University of Edinburgh! This section provides an overview of the four year undergraduate programme. But to begin at the beginning...

What is Social Work?

Social workers are professionals who work with people experiencing difficulties in their personal and family lives. They deal with many different issues arising, for example, from poverty and deprivation, or relationship problems in families, or drug use. They arrange care for adults with disabilities, work with health workers in hospitals and the community, and assist the Courts in dealing with people who commit offences.

Many social workers are based in offices and see service users in the office or visit them in their homes. Some work in day centres for children, older people or people with disabilities, while others work in children's homes, care homes for older people or special accommodation for people with mental health problems. Social workers are employed by local authorities or in a wide range of large and small voluntary organisations. Some social workers specialise in community work, social education or social reform rather than direct service to individuals.

Social work is a job for creative, practical and resourceful individuals who really enjoy working with people. Social workers have to combine ingenuity and optimism with honesty and realism in the face of the demanding situations which some service users experience. It is social workers who represent society's response to the challenges of poor parenting, offending, long-term illness, mental illness and other serious problems. Social workers need stable well-integrated personalities and must be able to see beyond the immediate issues presented by service users, the general public and policy makers. Good social work combines an interest in people with a rigorous scientific attitude and the constant search for better methods of helping, supported by research and development.

Why study Social Work at Edinburgh?

The University of Edinburgh started providing training for social workers in 1918 and came to be recognised as a leading institution in social work training. In the 1960s Social Work at Edinburgh played a major role in advising the Scottish Office about the future shape of social work services in Scotland, contributing to reports that led to the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, still a core legislative basis for Scottish social work. In 1998, the University merged with Moray House Institute of Education, an institution which had a 30 year history of providing qualifying and post-qualifying social work education and training for non-graduate and undergraduate students. Today Social Work at Edinburgh is part of the School of Social and Political Sciences, a constituent of the College of Humanities and Social Science. We seek to meet the demands of a changing profession, and to contribute to understanding of and improvements in public policy and professional practice. We collaborate with service agencies to promote understanding of best practice in social work services. Partner agencies provide practice learning opportunities for our students, and their staff contribute to course planning and curriculum content.

BSc in Social Work

The BSc Social Work with Honours programme renders successful students eligible for full registration as social workers with the Scottish Social Services Council. Student registration with the Council is a condition of entry and continuance on the programme. Information about pre-entry registration will be provided.

Principal aims of the Programme

  1. To co-create/co-produce a University of Edinburgh Social Work graduate who will be curious, concerned about social justice, research-minded, a critical thinker who is able to exercise practical judgement; someone with good people skills, who understands change, is reflexive and committed to advocacy
  2. To enable students to act in an increasingly complex world and complex work environments where frameworks for understanding and effecting change are contested and uncertain
  3. To provide a curriculum in which principles of learning, teaching and assessment are constructively aligned
  4. To provide a curriculum that builds upon students' professional development needs from the stage of becoming a social work student to the point of entering the world of professional practice.

Programme Outcomes

(a) Knowledge and understanding

  • The contexts and domains within which social work is practised
  • The social science knowledge base that informs social work practice
  • Evidence and research as it applies to social work
  • Legislation and policy in relation to social work
  • Concepts of risk, trust and complexity as they apply to social work
  • The ethical base underpinning social work practice
  • Research and evaluation theories, methods and approaches
  • Competence in assessed social work practice

(b) Intellectual skills

  • The application of analytical, conceptual, critical and empirical methods to the study of professional practice in social work
  • Using, and later undertaking own, research into aspects of social work theory and practice
  • Structuring and presenting critical analysis and argument

(c) Professional/subject-specific/practical skills

  • Articulating and maintaining a professional social work identity within multi-disciplinary and interagency contexts
  • Using theories to inform practice in a professional context
  • Awareness of and adherence to appropriate ethical codes and frameworks
  • Achieving competence in assessed social work practice
  • Computing skills as required by Scottish Social Services Council
  • Numeracy skills as required by Scottish Social Services Council
  • Reflective practice
  • Reflexivity

(d) Transferable skills

  • oral communication skills
  • written communication skills
  • oral and visual presentation skills
  • independent learning
  • teamwork
  • interpersonal skills: engagement, empathy, tolerance and open-mindedness, negotiation
  • problem formulation and solving
  • information retrieval and research skills
  • self evaluation
  • international understanding
  • time management
  • working under pressure

Entry requirements

There are no specific subject pre-requisites. If you are a school leaver, BBBB or BBB 'A' levels and the equivalent of not less than Standard Grade 2 in English and Mathematics. Other qualifications e.g. those from other countries will be considered on an individual basis.

For mature students, evidence of successful study at a higher level is required within two years prior to admission, e.g. a suitable HNC qualification. Mature students should visit our website for further information:

Duration, shape, SQF level and credits

The BSc in Social Work is undertaken on a full time basis over four years.

In year 1 students are required to complete programme specific courses equivalent to two full courses and a further course or two half courses of their choice. In year 2 students are required to complete programme specific courses equivalent to one full course and two further courses or four half courses of their choice.

In years three and four students will be required to complete programme specific courses equivalent to 120 credits in each year. Students will also be required to complete satisfactorily a period of assessed practice in a service delivery setting in each of the two honours years.

The honours years courses (years 3 and 4) are designed to assist student to develop transferable skills, professional knowledge and evidence-based practice competence.

All courses are reviewed on an ongoing basis by staff, students, practitioners and service users and by external professional bodies and other stakeholder interests such as the Scottish Social Services Council.

Programme of Study

The BSc (Social Work) comprises two years of foundation studies in the social sciences followed by two years of professional education and training. In the first two years, students take four courses in social work plus other outside subjects. The social work courses provide an introduction to policy and practice in social work, as well as covering the history of social work and its place in society, and key research studies in social work. Towards the end of the second year, students apply for entry to the second half of the degree programme. Those selected on the basis of suitability for social work proceed to the professional part of the course for two more years.

Students who do not wish to progress to the professional course, or who are not selected to do so, transfer to the main social sciences degree courses of BSc or MA (one or two years respectively).

The final two years are spent in preparation for practice. Students spend about half their time in professional social work settings, in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors, where their work is supervised by a qualified practice teacher. The rest of the time is spent in the university, in classes which cover everything from the law to policy and practice as it relates to social work. All students undertake an honours dissertation which relates to an aspect of social work practice.


The BSc (Social Work) degree provides social workers with the necessary qualification for all aspects of professional social work practice. In addition, social work graduates often move into community work and health related settings, as well as into training and consultancy posts in the voluntary and statutory sectors.


Ruth Forbes
0131 651 1485