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Best practice in Admissions to
Pre-Qualifying Social Work Programmes

Guidance for the selection of students on to social work qualifying degree programmes


Social work is an academic discipline and practice profession which is afforded opportunities to work with people who are often at points of crisis or vulnerability in their lives, and in circumstances in which rights and obligations may conflict.

For this reason, it is essential that the selection of applicants onto qualifying social work programmes, and their subsequent entry to the profession as qualified social workers, is as rigorous and robust as possible but also that this assessment of suitability for professional social work practice must continue throughout social work courses. 

The West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership (WMSWTP) tasked the Admissions, Teaching, Learning and Research workstream to produce this best practice resource for Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in to support their admissions and selection processes. The guide has been revisited and updated in 2023 in the light of post-pandemic practices and in the light of up to date regulatory and professional body standards and guidance and additional research. Thus, this best practice guide is designed principally to assist Admissions Tutors and course providers to implement selection processes that select the best caliber of entrants to their social work programmes, although we recognise that what ‘high caliber’ means is contested. 

The guide also outlines best practice guidance for the involvement of social work practitioners and expert by experience in the selection of students. 

This best practice guide reflects the aspirations of the previous Social Work Task Force and is explicitly based upon the resulting sector guidance and related research1 and has been developed in close collaboration with HEIs, employer representatives, experts by experience and students themselves. The document also builds upon the reviews of social work education in 20142 and will support Teaching Partnership members to meet the stretch criteria that formed the basis of Government expectations for partnerships3. We acknowledge the commitment and contribution of the workstream in developing this guide under the co-ordination of Lucy Cairns, Consultant Social Worker, and updated by Cath Holmstrom, Head of Social Work, Keele University. 

We believe that this best practice guide builds upon current admissions practices and sets out the necessary requirements for the further enhancement of admissions and selection processes. This guide lays a benchmark for good practice that can be built upon in the future


Click on the links below to download each section:

1. Introduction

Raising the quality of social work education, training and practice has been central to social work policy for several decades and was a specific area of focus during the Social Work Task Force (2008-9) and Reform Board (2010-12)4 processes. Following the publication of the Narey5 and Croisdale-Appleby6 reviews of social work education, central government (Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care) introduced Social Work Teaching Partnerships (SWTPs). SWTPs aim to formalise collaborative working between social work educators and employers, with part of the core mission being identified by Government being to raise the standard of social work by attracting and selecting ‘high caliber’ students into the profession... 

2. Key Principles in selecting social work students.

In line with SWRB recommendations and Supporting Professionals in Admissions (SPA) good practice guides14 as well as regulatory body requirements it is expected that course providers will ensure that they provide clear information regarding the nature of the course and professional expectations and a transparent approach to selection processes for potential applicants. In addition to required academic qualifications, publicity should ensure that the need for appropriate personal skills, qualities and abilities is apparent. This should be clear in materials used to promote social work programmes...

3. Academic suitability.

The standard offer for those with A-levels or equivalent, according to DfE is to be at least 

120 UCAS points or equivalent prior to entry where the applicant is taking or has taken tariff bearing awards. This is equivalent to BBB where three A-levels are taken. Details of the tariff points awarded to various qualifications can be found online...

4. Modes of assessment.

It is important that a holistic approach is taken to assessing the suitability and readiness of an applicant to undertake professional social work training. Academic ability only forms one element of the process, while an assessment of their personal readiness and suitability forms another. To enable a holistic approach a range of selection mechanisms is required. This also allows for ‘triangulation’ and decision making based upon different forms of information. Programmes may wish to use a proforma (Appendix 7) to demonstrate how each criterion is assessed and by which test or activity...

5. Appendices and exemplar proformas.

The following examples are derived from an existing range of examples33. Examples are provided for guidance only and HEIs will need to make informed choice about the preferred paperwork based on fit with their wider systems and processes...

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