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How partnership working enabled Social Work practice success

Rob on site at ‘The Courtyard’ where his 100 day placement is located.

Rob, an Open University BA (Hons) Social Work (England) student in his final year, feels “honoured to have the best job in the world, playing a part in the lives of some amazing young people”.

Having gained more than eight years’ experience as a Leaving Care Personal Adviser, Rob set out to skyrocket his career, knowing that a degree from The Open University would be key to his progression and qualifying as a Social Worker. As well as gaining deeper understanding of different areas of service, Rob is looking forward to becoming a more holistic practitioner.

Whilst completing the academic learning through online supported distance learning, throughout the programme Rob has also gained experience in practice, with the support of his Local Authority employer partnership with the OU. Rob is one of nine social care employees working for Oxfordshire County Council whose BA in Social Work study is employer sponsored. Oxfordshire County Council is committed to developing its social care workforce, which has been rated good by OFSTED for children’s social care services for the last decade. “My employer has regularly checked in on how I am doing with my assignments and have always been there to offer support when needed. In my placements, I was lucky enough to have really supportive Practice Supervisors and Educators on site, as well as an exceptional Practice Tutor from the OU”.

One of Rob’s placement Practice Educators adds: “It’s been a pleasure to work with both Rob and the OU as both have been the perfect recipe for a successful placement. The link lecturer was very supportive, flexible, easy to communicate with, and made being a Practice Educator and onsite supervisor straightforward. I thoroughly enjoyed supervising an OU student - it was a really positive experience”.

Early stages of the course encouraged exploration of personal beliefs, values and ethics - something Rob had not focussed on previously. Rob says, “looking at these in further detail by reflecting on work I have completed, both positively and critically, has helped me learn and adapt different techniques to work with different service user groups, which can only help to achieve more positive outcomes for them”.

Developing his interest in mental health, Rob’s first placement at an adult mental health centre provided him with experience working with service users who have conditions such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. “Working intensely with a group of service users and carrying out emotionally challenging tasks with them was a tough but extremely rewarding experience”.

When the coronavirus restrictions of 2020 cut short Rob’s first placement, he was left feeling anxious and frustrated. Turning to his “exceptional tutor who was always on hand to help, and newfound network of peers”, provided unwavering guidance and support. Fortunately, the flexible approach of both his OU Practice Tutor and employing Agency Co-ordinator enabled Rob to complete his placement within his substantive post. The reliability of his Practice Tutor was so invaluable that Rob made a request, successfully, for the same arrangements to be carried across his second placement too.

The learning guides and module materials have enhanced Rob’s knowledge of social work theories and laws, and he’s received positive feedback for his high standard of working whilst on placements. Feeling more confident in practice, and reflecting on his OU experience so far, Rob says “the learning material is really relevant and easy to understand. I’ve grown so much as a practitioner and already taken a more advanced role where I can formally share my gained experience with others”.

Now a Lead Practitioner, Rob continues to be inspired by his social work colleagues every day, seeing their work with children and their dedication towards the young people they work with. This not only inspires Rob but greatly assists his studies too - seeing the theory being used in ‘real life’ scenarios and practice.

Looking forward to qualifying, Rob reflects that “the best thing about studying with the OU is the flexibility to maintain a healthy work-study-life balance, backed by the learning style and scheduling which fit in with my personal life”. Alongside his work and study, Rob still finds time to be a husband and father of two young children too.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Children & Family Principal Social Worker tells us “Rob’s progression is testament to our ‘grow your own’ programme and we can already see the benefits his new skills will bring to our social work workforce. We are delighted to be building on his knowledge, experience and commitment by sponsoring him to develop his career, and we look forward to seeing him flourish as a qualified social worker soon”.

If you feel inspired by Rob’s story, discover our flexible social work degrees, or if you’re not currently working in a social work setting, find out more about pursuing a career in social work.

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