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

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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