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Step Up to Social Work

Step Up to Social Work is a Department for Education-funded, fast-track programme that sees high calibre candidates qualified as Social Workers in 14 months. The programme is designed to support highly skilled graduates into social care. Applications for Cohort 8 have now closed. 

Candidates receive a tax-free bursary payment of £19,833 over the duration of the programme and payment of University fees.

On completion, candidates obtain a postgraduate diploma in Social Work, allowing them to register and practice as a social worker.

Step Up is employer-led, delivered by the North, Central, East London Regional Partnership, made up of the London Boroughs of Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Camden and Barnet, in collaboration with our academic partner Middlesex University. All of our boroughs are currently rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted. We are at the forefront of improving outcomes for children and families with a number of innovative practice models including systemic practice, signs of safety and motivational interviewing. We also offer fantastic opportunities for training and development and support candidates to consolidate academic learning with real-life placement experiences.

Benefits of Step Up

  • It’s funded: Step Up students receive a bursary of £19,833 to train and there are no tuition fees to pay meaning it’s a unique opportunity to earn while you learn
  • It’s fast-track: after 14 months students qualify as a social worker, can register with Social Work England and are able to seek employment
  • It’s employer-led: students are hosted by one of the Local Authorities in the partnership, undertaking 170 days on placement and gaining real social work experience, knowledge and skills in combination with academic study
  • It’s a path to employment: upon successful completion of the programme, we aim to support graduates to apply for social work positions within the boroughs of the partnership

Qualifications needed to apply

Social work is both a challenging and rewarding career through which you can make a real difference for vulnerable children and families. Candidates will need to build relationships with families facing difficult times, show a lot of patience and be a good listener. Candidates will also need good observational skills, analytical thinking and sound judgement to make the right decisions and protect children.
We are looking for strong graduates who have experience of working with children, young people and families and who can demonstrate their maturity and emotional resilience.

Candidates must have:

  • A minimum 2:2 Level 6 degree qualification (in any subject other than Social Work)
  • GCSE English or English Language and Mathematics at Grade C or above, or the new grade 4 and above (or approved equivalent)
  • Demonstrate significant experience of either working or substantial volunteering with vulnerable children, young people and/or families/carers or adults

We particularly welcome applications from men and from BAME candidates, as these groups are under-represented in this area of social work.

How to apply

Online applications for Cohort 8 are now closed. If the DfE decide to fund a future Cohort it is likely the application window will open in February 2025 with the programme starting in January 2026.  Applications are managed centrally by the Department for Education, so please refer to their website for any future updates.

What our students say

The North, Central, East London Regional Partnership has supported three cohorts of Step Up students through their programme. Many of our graduates have successfully found employment in our Local Authorities and are now supporting current Step Up students on placement.

Some of our students have said the following about their experience on the programme:

“I enjoyed my placements most, being able to work in an adult and child setting and still having the time at university to reflect on what I had learnt whilst on placement… The practice educators were so supportive and I made good use of the regular supervision.” – Paris, Step Up student in Islington Cohort 5

“I have loved being on this course! I have learned more than I thought possible…The support and care from everyone has been unbelievable, everybody wants you to achieve and do well and it really shows.” – Faye, Step Up student in Enfield Cohort 6

“The course offers the perfect blend between academic and practical learning…I’ve been made to feel that the staff are on my side, and really want for me to pass and become a good social worker.” - Michael, Step Up student in Haringey Cohort 6

“The social workers that I have worked with during my placements have been passionate and I have found it inspiring to work alongside them - it has really made me feel that my decision to train as a social worker was the right one.” – Liz, Step Up student in Hackney Cohort 6

“I would advise anybody that was considering applying for Step Up to Social Work to go ahead and apply... Do not doubt yourself, there is no time like the present, if you want to be a social worker it is a great opportunity to learn, gain work experience and qualify at the same time alongside a bursary.” – Shelbie, Step Up student in Barnet Cohort 6

For me, the biggest supporting factor was the promotion of taking care of yourself and prioritising your emotional wellbeing that all facilitators, academics and sponsoring boroughs within the programme have made paramount…We really are a family in this Step Up cohort…It is so great to learn from other students cross-borough and in supervision, and to exchange experiences and ideas. My peers have played an invaluable part in my learning journey.” – Maggie, Step UP student in Haringey Cohort 7

“For me, Step Up has felt like a logical next step and I’ve learnt a lot about the work and myself in the process. There have been points where it has been very intensive but overall I have enjoyed the chance to learn and study again, while also working and applying that learning. It is great to have a group of students in the same position as you and that has been one of the best sources of support.” – Alastair, Step Up student in Islington Cohort 6

“I enjoyed the environment and being able to experience what it is like to work for a local authority and to have the experience of how the life of an honest social worker can be. They don't hold back and give you the whole experience of what being a social worker is like.” – Leticia, Step Up student Barnet Cohort 7

Two of our students from Cohort 6, Amos and Zeeshaan were both interviewed by the DfE about their experiences on Step Up. Find out what they had to say. 

More information

If you are interested in finding out more about Step Up or whether you are eligible to apply, please read our FAQ’s below. If you have any further questions please contact Claire Bendjillali, Step Up to Social Work Programme Manager at

More information about the role of a children’s Social Worker can be found by reading the Knowledge and Skills Statement and the Professional Capabilities Framework.

Frequently Asked Questions about Step Up to Social Work

How is Step Up to Social Work different from other social work programmes?

Step Up to Social Work is an employer led, fast-track programme. Students are paid a bursary for the 14 month duration of the programme and undertake placements in host Local Authorities with the final placement being in a statutory children and families setting. Step Up leads to a Post Graduate Diploma in Social Work which allows you to apply to register with Social Work England. The fast-track nature of Step Up means it is an intensive and emotionally demanding learning experience.

What are Step Up to Social Work applicants expected to know?

In addition to academic qualifications and experience, you should also make sure that you are able to demonstrate skills and knowledge relating to the Social Work role. The Knowledge and Skills Statement for child and family Social Workers is the standard of good practice. You should also show understanding of the entry-level Professional Capabilities Framework for Social Workers and the Social Work England Professional standards.

How do I apply for Step Up to Social Work?

Applications are made centrally via the Department for Education. Please keep checking the DfE webpage for further details.

What funding is available and do I have to pay course fees?

Students receive a tax free bursary of £19,833 in total, paid over 15 months.  The bursary is paid directly into your bank account.  Your tuition fees are paid by the DfE if you live in England at the time of your studies.  Tuition fees are paid directly to the University.

What qualifications do I need for Step Up to Social Work?

To apply, you need to have a 2:2 degree in any subject other than Social Work.

Applicants must also:

  • have GCSE in English and Maths at a grade C or above, or equivalent
  • have significant relevant experience (voluntary or paid) working with vulnerable children, young people or families for at least 6 months full time, or longer part time

Applicants must be able to provide copies of all qualification certificates. You will be advised nearer the time how and when to provide them. You will not be able to proceed with the assessment centre if you are unable to provide your certificates.

The eligibility criteria for Step Up to Social Work is set by the Department for Education. If you do not have the correct qualifications or do not have sufficient relevant work or voluntary experience, then your application will be rejected.

I can’t find my qualification certificates, what should I do?

You must be able to provide copies of all of your qualification certificates otherwise we will be unable to proceed with your application.

If you cannot find your certificates, there are a number of internet sites to help you and we also suggest contacting the exam board who awarded your qualification. Please bear in mind it can take 4-6 weeks to order new copies of certificates. You will require these well in advance of the closing date for applications.

As outlined already, if you are unable to provide copies of your certificates, your application will be rejected.

I have a temporary student visa, can I still apply?

Non-British EU nationals would only be eligible to apply if they have been resident in the EU for 3 or more years unless they have the appropriate study visa. All other non-British applications must have been granted the right to remain/work in the UK (and provide passport details for checks) or otherwise have the appropriate study visa.

Necessary checks will be completed at the application stage as new settlement rules may apply.

Can I have a career break from my current employment or can I be seconded to the Step Up programme from the Local Authority I can currently employed by?

If you are employed in any authority within the NCEL RP you will need to discuss with your Line Manager and HR as to whether a career break can be agreed. Usually we do not accept those on a career break as we wish to fund candidates who want to change their career to become a Social Worker, rather than return to their previous role.

You are unable to be seconded onto the Step Up programme and would be required to resign from your current role by the time the programme starts. You must be sure you are willing to do this as it will mean you may lose your continuous service if you are employed by a public sector organisation. We would advise you to seek advice from your Local Authority if you have any concerns about losing your employment rights as many Authorities are now running Social Work Apprenticeship programmes for existing staff.

What Local Authorities in the NCEL RP are offering places? Will I get my first choice Local Authority?

The NCEL RP is made up of the London Boroughs of Islington, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Barnet and Camden. London Borough of Islington acts as the lead partner. The NCEL RP has secured funding for a total of 30 students for Cohort 8. These 30 places are split across the six boroughs depending on the number of students each borough is able to take.

If you are successful we will aim to offer you a place in your preferred Local Authority. However if there are no places left, we may offer you a place in your second or third choice borough. All of our boroughs are within close proximity to each other and connected by excellent public transport routes. However, if you do need to relocate, any associated costs will need to be met by yourself.

What is the assessment process? What does the assessment centre consist of?

If you are successful at the application stage you will be invited to complete a one hour written exercise.  It is expected this will take place in June 2023.  The written exercise is accessed via an online platform.  Further details will be sent to you closer to the time.

You will then be invited to attend the assessment centre.  The assessment centre is expected to take place in June/July 2023.  At the assessment centre there will be a formal interview with a Senior Social Worker or Manager and a University academic, a Practice Scenario (role play) and a Group Exercise.  You will need to pass all 4 assessment elements in order to be offered a place on the programme.

The NCEL RP will be holding the assessment centre virtually.  If you anticipate any difficulties in accessing a virtual assessment centre, you must let the Programme Manager know as soon as possible so that reasonable adjustments can be made.

I will need special equipment and/or reasonable adjustments to access the assessment centre and to undertake the programme – how will I get this?

If you require special equipment and/or reasonable adjustments, we ask that you let the Step Up Programme Manager know at the earliest opportunity so that necessary arrangements can be made.  Once you have been offered a place on the programme, you will need to complete an Occupational Health form where you can declare any requirements.  The University will also be able to refer you to the Occupational Health service once you are a registered student.

Needing special equipment and/or a reasonable adjustment does not prevent you from applying to or gaining a place on the Step Up programme.  We have supported many students who have required reasonable adjustments due to dyslexia, ADHD and physical and mental health conditions for example.  We would always encourage you to be open and honest about any support you may require at the earliest opportunity so that we can ensure the support you need is put in place as soon as possible.

What will happen after I receive an offer?

All offers will be conditional subject to reference and DBS checks as well as a medical form which will be processed by the University occupational health service.

We will hold some Keeping Warm days in the Autumn. These will be opportunities to meet other students from across the partnership, the lead person from your Local Authority, University staff and Practice Educators who will assess you on placement. Information about the programme will be provided including the timetable, modules studied at University and the plans for placement. You may still be in employment when the Keeping Warm days take place. We would encourage you to consider taking annual leave in order to attend as they are very informative days.

If you accept the offer of a place on this programme, you will need to ensure you have resigned from your current employment ready to start the programme in January 2024. You are advised to find out how much notice you need to give your employer.

We will give you a suggested reading list and information to keep you informed until you start the programme in January.

The Programme Manager is also available to answer any questions you may have.

If I am offered a place but can’t start in January 2024, can I defer my place until the next cohort?

The DfE have agreed funding for Cohort 8 of Step Up to Social Work.  You are unable to defer your place as the DfE have not agreed funding for future cohorts as yet.

I have been placed on the reserve list. What is the likelihood I may be offered a place on the programme?

We hold a waiting list as successful candidates do sometimes change their minds about accepting the trainee contract. If this is the case, we will contact you to offer you a place on the programme, although this may not be with your top choice Local Authority. Reserve candidates have been offered places right up until the weeks before the programme is due to start so you may need to be prepared for this possibility.

The Department for Education also hold a national waiting list, which means you could potentially be offered a place on the programme with another partnership in another area of the country. If you accept this offer and need to relocate, any costs associated with relocation will need to met by yourself.

When will I receive the Student Bursary contract?

Student Bursary contracts are usually sent out in the Autumn. This gives you plenty of time to work out your finances and decide whether to accept the offer.

Where and when is the Step Up to Social Work programme taught?

The programme for the NCEL RP will be taught at Middlesex University. Students are usually taught in hybrid learning – that is some sessions are taught in person on campus and some sessions are taught online.

The programme starts in the first week of January 2024 with a 6 week block of teaching and study days before you start placement.

A full timetable will be given to you prior to the start of the course and will be explained in further detail at the Keeping Warm days in the Autumn.

Will I officially be a student?

You will be registered as a student at University and will receive a student card. We encourage you to explore what benefits you may be entitled to access as a student eg. Shopping discounts.

When will I be on placement? What are the hours I am on placement?

As part of the programme you will complete 170 days on placement. The first placement will be for 70 days and is expected to begin at the end of February 2024. The second and final placement will be for 100 days and is expected to begin in September 2024. The University calendar will show your placement days in more detail.

A placement day is a minimum of 7 hours excluding breaks and is usually 9-5pm. However, the needs of service users can mean that it is sometimes necessary for social workers and social work students to work extended hours, sometimes at short notice. When this happens, student social workers will be able to ‘take back’ time in line with the Local Authorities policies and practice. Social Work students are also allocated reflective time whilst on placement.

Some students are placed in teams that may work shift patterns outside of the normal 9-5pm working day, for example in Mental Health teams. If this is the case, this will be discussed and agreed with you beforehand. We will also ask you to complete a personal profile to help us identify a suitable placement for you.

Can I choose where I have my placement?

Your host Local Authority will arrange your placements and they will be in contrasting settings to give you the broadest range of experience possible. We guarantee that the 100 day placement will be in a frontline statutory setting within Children’s Services.

How many days holiday will I have and can I take my holiday at anytime?

The programme is highly intensive and holidays cannot be arranged outside of set holiday periods within the programme. Usually students have holiday period over the Easter break, end of August and at Christmas. Odd days can be taken whilst on placement, as long as you have the permission of the Team Manager, Practice Educator and Programme Manager and can make the days up before the end of the placement.

Will I be paid travel expenses during the programme?

You are expected to fund your own travel to and from University and your placement setting. Whilst on placement, you may be able to use a team Travelcard, or claim reimbursement for travel expenses that occur as part of your placement duties.

What financial support am I eligible to apply for, particularly to assist with childcare costs?

To be eligible for Tax-Free Childcare, claimants need to expect to be in paid work. This is shown by earning at least the National Minimum Wage for 16 hours a week on average within three months from that work. As you will receive a bursary, which is a grant and not income from paid employment, the bursary does not qualify. However as a student you may qualify for a childcare grant or student funding through the traditional higher education route. It is your responsibility to assess your finances and explore what financial assistance you may be eligible for. We advise you to do this well in advance of accepting your place on the programme.

Further information is available through these links:

Can I have a part time job whilst I am on the Step Up programme?

Due to the demanding nature of the programme we advise students against taking a part time job. As adult learners, you will be required to undertake your own study and to complete assignments which may leave no spare time for part time employment. There can also be tax implications as the bursary is tax-free as you are classed as a ‘student’. We advise you to contact HMRC to find out any tax implications.

If you do gain employment towards the end of your programme then you must declare this, as we cannot pay you a salary and the bursary at the same time.

Am I guaranteed a job at the end of the programme?

It is not possible to guarantee you a job at the end of the programme. However, we will let you know when vacancies arise and will offer employability workshops to support you with completing application forms and interview tips.

We have an excellent retention rate of our Step Up students. Many successfully apply for positions in our Local Authorities and are still working in those teams now!

If you are offered a job during the course, you won’t be able to start working until you have completed the course and registered as a Social Worker with Social Work England.

What happens if I am ill or fall pregnant, and need to take a break from the programme?

The NCEL RP and University will work together to attempt to support you to remain on the programme, but there may be financial implications due to the programme being externally funded.
If placement days are lost due to illness, then it may be possible to extend your placement to allow you to complete all placement days. This may involve you finishing the programme later than March 2025. The bursary programme will not be extended past this date even if you are required to complete further placement days.

If you need to take a break from the programme, you cannot be paid a bursary whilst you are not actively engaged in the learning or on placement. We would endeavour to assess each student’s situation on a case by case basis and work with the Department for Education to explore how we may be able to support you to complete the programme at a later stage, but again there are no guarantees.

Should you become pregnant during the programme then we will meet with you and discuss any reasonable adjustments that need to be made. We are unable to extend the bursary payments for ay maternity leave due to the restrictions of the DfE funding.

As participants are registered students, the University has an ongoing responsibility to support any student who is unable to complete the Step Up programme due to ill health. This might include a transfer to another qualifying social work programme for example. You would have to pay course fees for transferring to another programme and would no longer receive the DfE bursary.

Do you have a suggested reading list?

Yes, we will provide you with suggestions for reading at the Keeping Warm days in the Autumn.

Where can I go if I have any further questions?

If your question has not already been answered, please contact Step Up to Social Work Programme Manager, Claire Bendjillali at
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