The framework for Social Work education in Scotland

The Framework is made up of the Scottish Requirements for Social Work Training, an Introduction to the Standards in Social Work Education and the Standards in Social Work Education.

The framework for Social Work education in Scotland

Introduction to the Standards in Social Work Education


From 2004 onwards, student social workers must achieve an honours degree in social work, or an equivalent postgraduate award, to become professionally qualified.

This document sets out the learning requirements that each programme of social work education in Scotland must meet. These learning requirements form the Standards in Social Work Education (SiSWE).

The purpose

The SiSWE will be used for a variety of purposes. In particular:

  • higher education institutions will use them to design, monitor and review social work education programmes;
  • staff who are responsible for examining and assessing the work of students will use them as the criteria for awarding the degree;
  • the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) will use them to decide whether or not to approve social work education programmes; and
  • social workers and employers will use them as a basis for planning further professional development.

The guiding principles

Social work has always had a strong ethical basis that emphasises the importance of building a positive, professional relationship with people who use services as well as with professional colleagues. Social workers must be able to balance the tension between the rights and responsibilities of the people who use services and the legitimate requirements of the wider public (for example, where there are issues to do with child protection, criminal justice or mental health). They must also be able to understand the implications of, and to work effectively and sensitively with, people whose cultures, beliefs or life experiences are different from their own. In all of these situations, they must recognise and put aside any personal prejudices they may have, and work within guiding ethical principles and accepted codes of professional conduct.

These principles say that social workers must:

  • maintain and promote the dignity, safety, choice, privacy and potential of people who use services and balance these with consideration of the needs of others for protection;
  • treat everyone equally, and value their distinctiveness and diversity; and
  • maintain public trust and confidence in social services.

These guiding principles are also at the heart of the national care standards, which set out in detail what people who use services can expect. Graduates from the new social work education programmes will gain the knowledge and skills they need to deliver services to these requirements. The principles are also embedded in the Code of Practice for Social Service Workers published by the SSSC. This Code sets out the standards of professional conduct and practice that social workers must meet. All social workers must understand and agree to follow the Code as a condition of their continuing registration with the SSSC. Student social workers must register with the Council and sign up to the Code. The SiSWE use the Code as the ethical basis for practice and the value base underpinning study for the new qualification.

Social workers work in complex social situations to protect individuals and groups and promote their well-being. Social workers need to be able to act effectively in these demanding circumstances and, to achieve this, students must learn to reflect critically on, and take responsibility for, their actions. Since the nature, scope and purpose of social work services themselves are often fiercely debated, graduates should also be able to understand these debates fully and to analyse, adapt to, manage and promote change. The new social work education programmes must be designed to prepare newly qualified social workers to do this.

Students on these programmes must understand that social work is a moral activity in the sense that social workers make and follow up difficult decisions about human situations that directly benefit or harm an individual or group. They should be able to understand moral reasoning and to make decisions in difficult ethical situations, especially where there are conflicting moral obligations.

Practice is seen as an essential element of the new qualification. Development of the students' skills and abilities in practice is based on the fact that practice is a setting for learning, a way of learning and an essential part of the learning that students must complete.

The vision

People who use services expect to be able to use them quickly and easily. Society demands increasingly seamless services, delivered more efficiently. To achieve these requirements, the way in which social services are delivered is changing and will continue to change. More and more, social workers will be working closely with a range of other professional groups in health, social care, criminal justice and education services. Social workers must know when they need to work together to deliver better services. To work effectively, as part of a multi-skilled and multi-disciplinary team, all of the different professionals involved need to understand and value the distinctive contributions each can bring to the task of delivering the services that people want. They must also be aware of, and tackle, barriers to working in an integrated way.

In delivering seamless services, social workers need to be able to use modern information and communications technology to bring real benefits for people using services and achieve greater organisational effectiveness. The demands on them mean that they need high level skills in personal organisation, managing their workload and dealing with conflict and stress.

Social work services are designed for people and they depend essentially on people. How to work with people using services, carers, professional colleagues and volunteers, and work closely in partnership with them is central to the SiSWE.

The new social work education programmes prepare social workers to work in this challenging and changing environment. They are designed to improve service standards by producing social workers who are:

  • competent to work across a wide range of settings;
  • confident in what they know and can do;
  • clear about their professional identity and that of other professionals;
  • flexible and adaptable;
  • committed to continuous improvement;
  • responsive to change in a positive way; and
  • able to contribute to the development of the profession.

The nature and scope of the learning requirements

The professional framework

The SiSWE set out the knowledge, understanding and skills that social workers need, and act as a basis for their continuing professional development. They are demanding because they aim to make sure that social workers are committed to providing an excellent service and can work in a changing world where they must accept responsibility for their actions and take account of many social, economic, cultural and political issues.

The SiSWE guide the design of suitable social work education programmes for students and set the criteria they will be assessed against. They define the core elements of these programmes in terms of the skills, abilities, knowledge, understanding and ethical standards that newly qualified social workers must demonstrate.

Institutions that provide social work education programmes may structure their courses to take account of their particular academic strengths or professional expertise as long as the programme fully covers the necessary learning outcomes of the SiSWE. This means that students can choose a programme which best meets their interests and, at the same time, know that it will prepare them for registration as social workers so they can work in any setting once they have graduated.

The educational framework

The SiSWE are outcome statements which set out what student social workers must know, understand and be able to do to get the new professional social work qualification. They incorporate key elements of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education's Benchmark Statement that takes account of both the academic and practice elements of social work education programmes. In doing so, in Scotland, they replace this Benchmark Statement. They also reflect the fact that practice experience is central to the new qualification and covers a wide range of learning experiences.

Some graduates or some people with other qualifications (for example Higher National Certificates) will 'fast track' into the new social work programme if they can show their previous learning allows them to do so. Others with a first degree may choose to study for a postgraduate qualification. Programme providers must show their institutions that whatever qualification they are offering, the programme meets the requirements of the SiSWE, the SSSC and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

Aspects of professional development

Social work education programmes need to promote the following three main aspects of professional development:


Placing these elements in a triangle emphasises that they are linked essentially to each other and one cannot exist without the other two. These three linked elements make up social workers' professionalism.

The SiSWE learning requirements will develop all three elements of professional development. They incorporate practice competences and other nationally recognised requirements in social work education as well as the requirements of academic study. In doing so, they replace the six core competencies of the present Diploma in Social Work. (The Diploma in Social Work will not be offered once the new qualification is available.)

Transferable skills

All social work education programmes help students to develop high-level planning, analytical, teamwork and communication skills that they can use in other settings. In adopting this academic level as the requirement for registration, it is recognised that social work graduates need these skills to work effectively in changing and complex situations and alongside other well-educated professionals. This is reflected in the SiSWE emphasis on self-critical reflection and the importance of logical thinking and skills in handling evidence and information. The third column of the SiSWE identifies these transferable skills in a generic manner, and it is assumed that, using them, all graduates from the social work education programmes will be equipped to contribute positively to change and development in service delivery.

Registering social workers

The SSSC was set up under the Regulation of Care Act (Scotland) 2001. One of its functions is to set up a register of key social services workers. In order to be eligible to apply to the part of the register for social workers, people must have a qualification in social work that is approved by the SSSC. The courses leading to the honours degree based on SiSWE, and the equivalent postgraduate qualifications in social work, will be approved qualifications for this purpose.

The SSSC will publish the register on its website, and the public and employers will be able to check whether a social worker is registered on the social work part of the register.

The structure of SiSWE

The format of the SISWE parallels used for the Standards in Initial Teacher Education and comparable documents for nursing, midwifery and health visiting. This allows for the identification of common elements in the training of these different professions and in future, opportunities to develop integrated training initiatives.

The SiSWE are made up of the following parts:

G04 diagram

There are six key roles taken from the National Occupational Standards. Each is broken down into a number of learning focuses, and the underpinning knowledge and the high level transferable skills are identified. All of this learning supports the assessed outcomes located in the right-hand column. SiSWE must be read as a complete document that emphasises the balance between professional knowledge, professional skills and ethical practice. The learning requirements are connected in such a way that the student must be competent in all of them to complete the honours degree successfully and be able to show this in a thorough assessment of the learning outcomes.


The term 'people who use services' means any individual, group, community or organisation who receive social work services. This term will include some people who do not want or ask for these services, for example people who are on probation or parole.

The term 'carer' means people who provide informal, unpaid care to a member of their family or to another person, and who work in partnership with social workers to deliver a service. As part of their learning, students must gain the understanding and skills they need to separate the conflicting interests that some people who use services and some carers have, in order to offer appropriate support.

The term 'social worker' is defined in the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 as 'a person who has an entitling professional qualification in social work'.

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