Powys is the largest county borough in Wales, representing just over a quarter of the country’s entire land mass. However, without a traditional bricks and mortar university in the region, Powys County Council relies on a close working relationship with The Open University to provide their 132,000 constituents with access to top-level social care and support.
Looking after the needs of a large rural community isn’t easy for any local authority. However, Claire Williams, Practice Learning and Development Officer, Powys County Council, is more than aware of the unique pressures she and her team are under.
“We don’t have a local university, and unfortunately there’s very limited representation for social work careers in our schools at present… what this means is that there are no immediately obvious ways for people to enter the profession and chart a clear path for their career development.”
That’s where The Open University comes in. The OU provides students from all over Wales with access to higher and further education qualifications, without restricting them to one central campus. Students who are working towards their degrees in Social Work are able to study flexibly online, around their work and personal commitments. With both independent and sponsored routes available for social work qualifications at the OU, more students than ever can apply to join a growing cohort.
Rachel Vale, who recently completed her social work degree, is one of them:
It would have been impossible to work with anyone else other than the OU on this qualification. Juggling work, being a parent, and my own personal life with my placement and study would have made attending a physical university a nightmare. Instead, I’ve been able to work around my existing commitments, meaning I’ve now completed my degree without having to sacrifice my job.Rachel Vale
Continuing Health and Complex Care Practitioner
The flexibility the OU affords students came to the fore this year as the pandemic brought educational institutions of all ilks to a standstill. However, in Wales, The Open University was able to keep its students in placements throughout the pandemic, where it was safe to do so, something that another student, Ann Barrington, says was crucial to her completing the degree.
I have no doubt that if my placement was put on hold, I wouldn’t have gone on to complete the qualification… that loss of momentum would have been a huge blow. Thanks to the endless support of the OU tutors, we were encouraged to keep working throughout the Covid-19 crisis. They managed to keep us motivated in a way that didn’t burden us with pressure but was crucial to us qualifying as social workers.Ann Barrington
Adult Disability Social Worker
The Powys team are aware of just how important providing development opportunities to employees in social care and social work is. Ann, for example, completed the Certificate of Higher Education in Social Care Practice (recommended by Social Care Wales for Social Services Practitioners) prior to applying to join the second year of the degree, sponsored by Powys County Council. What is more, retention is typically a lot higher amongst staff who have studied with the OU. Managing to safeguard the development of their employees throughout the pandemic has been crucial to ensuring that the council’s teams haven’t been undermined by staff shortages in a year like no other.
“During such testing times, it’s been so important to keep our staff engaged and inspired. Through the OU’s qualifications, we’ve been able to do just that, meaning that the quality of care available to our local community has not suffered. Whilst we owe a lot to the university, overcoming such challenges simply wouldn’t be possible without the remarkable strength and tenacity of our students, all of whom have been inspiringly resilient.”