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Step Up to Social Work: Learning to support and empower vulnerable families

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Step Up to Social Work is a Department for Education initiative which aims to encourage graduates and career changers to start a new career in social work, working with vulnerable children, young people and families.

A full-time, fully funded programme, Step Up consists of 14 months of intensive study and real-life placements, leading to a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work. In turn, it enables applicants to apply for a role as a social worker upon completion.

Step Up students Amos, Mark and Zeeshaan, from left to right.
Step Up students, from left to right: Amos, Mark and Zeeshaan.

This year more than ever, it is essential that there is a substantial pool of talent from the breadth of society to apply to participate in the next cohort of Step Up to Social Work. A successful programme, working to increase the number of excellent social workers, will make a substantial contribution in meeting the challenge to protect the most vulnerable in society.

The application process to recruit the next set of trainees is now open, with final applications needing to be submitted by 7 April 2021.

Below we hear from three current Step Up students about their motivations when applying for the programme and their experiences of being on the course so far.


Amos, 28, training in Barnet

Amos, who will be graduating from Step Up in 2021, says this of the programme:

“Step Up is a great opportunity to develop both practical skills and theoretical knowledge to become an effective social worker, whilst working alongside experts in the field.”

Prior to Step Up, Amos spent around three years working in primary and secondary schools as a learning support assistant for students with autism, supporting young people by helping them to overcome the barriers to their learning. He also went on to be employed in the charity sector for a further three years at an educational social mobility charity.

When asked about his motivation when it came to applying:

I see myself as a person who is driven by wanting to pursue social justice on one side and supporting and empowering the most vulnerable members of society to make crucial changes in their lives on the other.

I believe that my skills are closely aligned with that of a social worker, being able to actively listen and my ability to build trusting relationships. All my work experience before training harnessed my skillset and required me to be empathetic, non-judgemental but also to make professional decisions, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

When asked about his hopes once he’s a fully qualified social worker:

“Being able to support and empower families to make lasting changes that can positively impact their lives and the lives of those around them.

I would like to specialise in systemic practice, undertake extra training within my borough to gain a comprehensive understanding of this important social work framework and move into a career which puts the protection of young people, families and the vulnerable at the core.”

And his advice for those thinking of applying for the next round of Step Up?

“Make sure you are ready for the challenge and look upon it as a really exciting opportunity to gain new skills, develop personally and professionally and gain an extensive understanding of a whole line of work!”


Step Up to Social Work programme graphic

Mark, 36, training at Goldsmiths University

Mark, who also is also due to graduate in 2021, tells us that he was partly motivated to enrol in Step Up due to his own personal experiences as a child.

“I was inspired to train in part as a result of my own experiences of poverty as a child and wanting to support others to access opportunities I had missed out on.”

Mark’s previous employment and voluntary work, which includes being a Samaritans volunteer and in accommodation for people with substance abuse needs, has led him to believe social work is the right path.

I really enjoyed working holistically with children and young people and felt social work would be a good way to develop my skills in this area. I also felt social work would be a good way to open up several other career doors in terms of work with young people, including youth offending services, residential and safeguarding.

I hope this course will be a foundation to a more varied and perhaps more impactful future.

His highlight so far?

“The ability to work closely with children and families to explore opportunities for individual empowerment and positive change. The face-to-face work is really enjoyable, as is the reflection with colleagues.

At present, I’m proud of the work I have been doing with a young girl who appears to have learning needs but is otherwise fairly quiet in the classroom. Having looked at her attainment at reviews, we are now seeking to explore her needs in depth.”

Mark is certain that his plans, once he has graduated from the programme, include working with looked after children.

“I would also like to explore opportunities to develop advocacy support for children and families - particularly for children in need and for those affected by school exclusion risks.”

Finally, when asked for his advice and hopes for future candidates:

“Make sure you have strong experience of work with vulnerable young people.

I’m particularly aware I’m a man in a setting where there aren’t many men – it would be helpful to explore ways to engage men more in the workforce.”


Zeeshaan, 35, training at Middlesex University

Zeeshaan is a foster carer for his community and also a former Police Officer who had, up until making the decision to switch to social work, been in the Metropolitan Police for 9 years.

“Coming from a policing background, I have already worked closely with social workers when dealing with vulnerable young people and I have also worked in the child abuse investigation team.

Again being a foster carer, I have worked closely with social workers and a number of looked after young people.”

He goes on to explain his reason for applying:

“I have so much hands-on experience working with young people that I wanted this to be brought under a registration. I would like to work my way up and become a manager in the service.”

How is he finding Step Up so far?

“The Step Up programme is intense but well organised. This year has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but Middlesex University has been excellent in transferring our learning onto a virtual platform and has kept us on track to finish on time.”

His highlights include:

“Being able to effect change in people’s lives. Knowing you have helped other people. Holding cases and being the lead professional in challenging yet rewarding situations.”

Any tips for future applicants?

“Be up for the challenge. This is an excellent course which I would recommend to anyone. It has a bit of everything and will give you an excellent insight into the role. It requires a lot of hard work and determination. It’s all worth it in the end!”

To find out more about the Step Up to Social Work programme, visit the information page for applicants.

Online applications are open until 7 April 2021. Successful applicants can expect to start the programme in January 2022, completing their training in March 2023.

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