Training should welcome all ages

    Most of the social work world has welcomed the new social work
    degree with open arms. It is a chance to improve the status of this
    profession and make it more attractive as a career.

    Under the previous regime, many students with an interest in social
    work at an earlier age missed out on the opportunity to use higher
    education as a route into social work practice. As a result, many
    chose other careers such as teaching and nursing where they could
    gain a vocational qualification at graduate level. Some transferred
    to social work at a later date but for many this was never
    practically or financially possible.

    Students are no longer required to have experience but they are
    expected to show the ability to learn and develop with a level of
    awareness. Questions have been raised on the suitability of
    students with limited practical experience working in complex and
    potentially risky situations. But the social work degree is
    designed to acknowledge these issues, and extended placements give
    students the chance to gain practical experience in a supportive
    environment.

    But we need to make sure we do not swing the balance too far and
    create social work training that is inappropriate and impractical
    for the mature learner. Stockport College, which runs a part-time
    and a full-time Diploma in Social Work programme, has always
    attracted experienced practitioners and a significant number of
    mature students.

    Mature students – with their considerable practical and life
    experience – have a great deal to bring to social work training and
    practice. But more support is sometimes required to compensate for
    their lack of recent academic experience. The key lies in
    persuading students that they can learn and meet academic
    requirements, and this involves building their confidence and
    self-esteem. This is an area that cannot be overlooked. Mature
    students have invaluable knowledge, skills and experience but need
    a supportive environment to transfer these to social work.

    It is essential that we train a diverse workforce to meet the needs
    of a diverse society, and we must welcome younger students, who
    bring a fresh outlook. The challenge for social work educators is
    to recognise the potential and to ensure that learning
    opportunities are flexible enough to meet a diverse range of
    educational needs.

    Ali Gardner is a lecturer at Stockport College of Further
    and Higher Education.

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