Can You Become a Social Worker Without A-levels? | learndirect

Can You Become a Social Worker Without A-levels?

Posted on 21/08/2019
Can You Become a Social Worker Without A-levels?

Yes - you can! You can go to university and qualify as a social worker with no A-levels with an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Social Work with learndirect. The diploma is a Level 3 qualification and a recognised A-level equivalent, which means that it could be your ticket to university and a career as a social worker.

If you want to know more about studying social work and becoming a social worker with no qualifications, you’re in the right place. Check out our FAQs about becoming a social worker below!

What is social work?

According to the International Federation of Social Workers, social work is a ‘practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change, development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people’. In a nutshell, there are 4 things at the heart of the social work profession: support, protection, empowerment and change.

Social work aims to increase the wellbeing and quality of life for vulnerable people – such as children and young people, the disabled and the elderly – through empowerment and support. It works to protect people from neglect, abuse or harm and supports those with social or health issues that hinder their daily life. It’s all about making a positive change, not only to the individual but to society overall. Social work’s purpose is to work towards a happier, healthier and more inclusive society, where people’s differences are celebrated and accommodated for.

Social work should not be confused with social care, which involves direct patient care. Social work is a qualified profession and field of study, whereas social care is vocational and largely made up of an unqualified workforce.

What does a social worker do?

A social worker's responsibilities vary depending on caseload. However, typical duties include:

  • Creating rehabilitation plans for those recovering from a long-standing illness
  • Implementing safeguarding policies for vulnerable adults or children
  • Writing and preparing care plans for each individual
  • Monitoring and evaluating patients and keeping records of their progress
  • Advocating for patient rights and keeping up to date with relevant legislation
  • Making changes to people's homes so they can live as independently as possible
  • Referring patients to relevant community resources and organisations (e.g. legal aid)

Social workers are advocates and guardians for people with social, health or interpersonal issues. Rather than providing direct care, they safeguard, assess, support and help people in need to resolve the issues that impact their life. To do this efficiently, they liaise with other health and social care professionals and local authorities, such as child social services and counsellors, to ensure that the appropriate support is in place for each case. As a result, social workers are rarely office-based and can spend their day travelling from hospitals to care homes, schools to patients’ houses. This makes the career ideal for anyone who wants to make a positive difference to people’s lives, whilst having a varied workday every day. 

What can social workers specialise in?

Like in any profession, there is room for career progression and development. Often, this comes in the form of developing a specialism, and there are many different areas of care that social workers can specialise in, such as:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Mental health
  • Working with children and families
  • Alcohol, drug and substance abuse
  • Housing and homelessness
  • Criminal justice and ex-offender rehabilitation
  • Palliative and hospice care

To develop specialist knowledge, you will often need to undergo additional training in the form of work placements. These can last as long as 2 years, depending on the position. Each speciality has its own challenges and responsibilities. For example, working in child protection can involve investigating potential cases of child abuse and taking appropriate action, whilst working with substance abusers can involve counselling patients and rehabilitating them into normal life.

What qualifications do you need to be a social worker?

You will need an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree in social work that has been approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To get onto an undergraduate university degree programme you will typically need at least 5 C grade GCSEs, including maths, English and science, along with 2 relevant A-levels.

However, with an Access to HE Diploma under your belt you can get to university with no A-levels. All you need is GCSE English and maths at Grade C or above (4 - 9 in the latest grading system) or an equivalent Level 2 qualification in these subjects to enrol onto learndirect’s Access to HE Diploma (Social Work). Each university has its own entry requirements though so it is important to check these before you submit your application.  

For a postgraduate Master’s qualification, you will need to have a degree at 2:1 or above and also have GCSE English & maths at grade C. If you haven’t got the GCSEs, Functional Skills Level 2 English & maths are an ideal alternative.

Along with your social work degree, you will also need to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check and become a registered member of the HCPC, or your relevant regional standards council, before you can practise as a social worker.

Do you need a degree to be a social worker?

Yes. You need a bachelor’s degree in social work or a Master’s degree in it if you already have an undergraduate degree in an unrelated subject. Undergraduate degrees in social work take different forms depending on the university, so look out for courses with BA, BS, BSSW or BASW in the title when searching for your undergraduate course. You will need to make sure that, whatever course you pick, it is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) if you’re studying in England. If you’re studying in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland courses are approved by the Scottish Social Services Council, Care Council for Wales and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council respectively.

Undergraduate degrees can be obtained at university or via social work degree apprenticeship schemes. To get onto an apprenticeship scheme you will need to have Level 3 qualifications (A-levels), which means that an Access to HE Diploma may also help you for this route into the profession if you wish to learn and qualify on the job.

What does the Access to HE Diploma (Social Work) involve?

The diploma comprises of 20 units designed to prepare you for a social work higher education programme at university. These modules are a mixture of study skill and academic-based content so that you gain essential subject knowledge, whilst developing the skills and confidence you need to thrive in a university environment.

The academic modules cover core social work subjects, including:

  • Safeguarding
  • Disability and special education needs
  • Psychology and sociology

For more information on the diploma’s modules please click here.

The diploma is divided into credits and you will need a total of 60 to achieve your Access to HE Diploma.  A total of 600 study hours are recommended to achieve this, which means that you could complete your Access to HE Diploma in as little as 10 months if you dedicate 2 hours to studying each day. 

How long does it take to become a social worker?

A typical undergraduate degree in social work takes 3 years to complete, whilst a Master’s degree can take up to 2 years to achieve. This means that you could qualify in as little as 2 years if you already have an undergraduate degree.

For those who do not have previous qualifications, you will need to achieve your Access to HE Diploma first. As mentioned above, this can take as little as 10 months depending on the frequency and length of your study periods. This makes the total time to qualify just less than 4 years. If you take the maximum amount of time to complete your Access to HE Diploma (Social Work) – 18 months – you’ll be looking to qualify in 5 years from the beginning of your study with learndirect.

What field of social work pays the most?

According to the National Careers Service, the average starting salary for a social worker position is £24,000 and can range up to £40,000 for those with experience, although there are no fixed national pay scales. Those working in London will earn a little more than this to accommodate for higher living costs than in the rest of the UK.

The majority of social workers work within statutory services, which make up the public health system (e.g. social services and the NHS). These services tend to have specific pay bands and scales that are set for every aspect of care, making it difficult to pin down which area of social work pays the most.

NHS social workers are paid according to the Agenda for Change (AfC) band pay system. Newly qualified social workers within the NHS start on Band 6, which pays from £26,000 to £35,000, whereas more experienced social workers often progress to Band 7 or 8 where the upper salary limit is £43,772 and £50,000 respectively, depending on years in service.

However, like most professions, higher salaries come with increased amounts of responsibility and experience (e.g. senior and managerial positions), especially if you are qualified in a speciality area of social work. For example, those in a managerial position within social work for the elderly can earn around £42,000, whilst heads of service in child protection could take home as much as £60,000 per annum, making this area of social work particularly lucrative.

If you dream of becoming a social worker, but haven’t got the right A-levels, enrol on Access to Higher Education Diploma (Social Work) with learndirect today and begin your journey to higher education.


Enrol on Access to HE Diploma (Social Work)