Shaping the future of social work and changing lives at Blackpool Council

Our Social Work Degree Apprenticeships are designed in partnership with employers, service users and carers. We equip social workers to give excellent care by combining university learning and hands-on experiences. They work with adults, families, those with disabilities, and others in their communities.

The University has recently collaborated with Blackpool Council to help them develop the skills of their social work professionals. Blackpool Council is a local authority which employs around 2,500 staff. It has been a unitary authority since 1998. In recent years the Council has committed to developing its social work employees by encouraging them to engage in Degree Apprenticeships. At present they have ten employees enrolled on the University’s Degree Apprenticeship in Social Work, with a further nine having previously graduated from the course.

Developed in partnership with several employers, including Blackpool Council, our Social Work Degree Apprenticeships enable students to benefit from the industry knowledge and research expertise of the University’s academic staff as they put theory into practice. Throughout their course students consolidate their learning through workplace-based activities and by undertaking placements across other departments, widening their experience of working within a team of social work professionals.

Julie Johnson, Professional Lead, Social Work Practice and Standards at Blackpool Council, explains: “Right from the beginning, we wanted our apprentices to be treated like any other social work students, so we did two placements in the second and third years. We decided that the first placement of 70 days should be in a different team to the one where they usually work in. The second placement of 100 days is in yet another different team, so they get a breadth of learning across the organisation. That worked absolutely brilliantly.”

Alongside the learning they engage in at UCLan, Blackpool Council provides its apprentices with additional learning programmes and mentoring, further enabling them to understand the links between theory and practice. Mick Currey, Professional Lead in Adult Social Care at Blackpool Council, says: “The University looks at the academic development of social work theory and policy, and what we do is support the apprentices to understand it in practice. They’re already using theory all day every day - they're just not aware of it. It’s a really useful way to help them to understand what's going on in different situations and relationships.”

Being in the workplace all year round means that students get to consolidate their term-time academic learning during University holidays.

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"It's totally amazing. It's such a good programme. We’re really keen to develop our staff. It’s just fantastic."

Mick Currey, Blackpool Council

Mick also believes that the benefits of employing Degree Apprentices become apparent straight away: “When you get a new member of staff coming into the team who’s an apprentice, they don’t need as much support as a newly qualified social worker who’s come straight from university. Once [the Degree Apprentices] qualify, they’ve already got it. Ask the apprentices and they’ll tell you "I’m trying to help people empower themselves to change their lives, and if I can’t do it, I can use statutory powers to do it. And what I’m also doing is making sure that everybody around [the person I’m trying to help] is doing what they’re supposed to do.”

The value that graduates of the Degree Apprenticeships bring to the workplace can be almost instant, particularly as they are able to support unqualified staff, having gained experience in both qualified and unqualified roles themselves. Julie says, “The beauty of it is that once they go on that learning journey, they pass their knowledge down to colleagues who work within an unqualified role. It has a real positive knock-on effect.”

For any employers or learners thinking about studying a Social Work Degree Apprenticeship, Julie provides some advice: “It's totally amazing. It's such a good programme. We’re really keen to develop our staff. It’s just fantastic.” Mick adds: “For me it's a no-brainer. It's absolutely brilliant.”