Health and Social Care Courses – The Complete Guide

Health and social care courses including Health and Social Care Level 3.

A career in health and social care can be a rewarding and lifelong occupation with a clear path for progression. Care providers are often provided with funding for health and social care courses and incentives to provide training to their staff, which means there are more opportunities in social care to gain qualifications than other career paths. A qualification in Health and Social care at Level 3 – like the Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care – can also lead to a career in nursing.

What’s more, healthcare staff are often in short supply which means there can be plentiful opportunities to progress in social care for the more ambitious.

So what are the available options for health and social care courses and qualifications, and what career paths might they lead to? 

We aim to give you the definitive guide to the available options and highlight where you might find yourself across your career.

Starting Out in Health and Social Care

When you are beginning in social care you might be a college or school leaver, but equally many people find their way into care work later in life – particularly if they have had direct experience of caring for a loved one. Schools now provide health and social qualifications in the form of GCSEs and A-Levels, and it is possible to enter Level 2 or 3 health and social care courses as a school leaver either with or without these.

Popular Level 2 and 3 qualifications include the Level 2 & Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care from CACHE or City & Guilds. You might also consider the BTEC Health and Social Care from Pearson.

These and other similar health and social care courses are designed to be adapted to either full or part time study or to be delivered as an apprenticeship. There are also some qualifications which require some hands on experience, i.e. a work placement, and others that are entirely theory based. Courses with a vocational focus can be ideal for those who learn best from practical experience, while others might find accessing a work placement challenging and prefer classroom based learning.

Of course it is possible to enter the health and social care industry without these qualifications, and employers often welcome people with a range of public facing work or even parenting experience. When you enter without experience, it’s likely that your induction training will involve taking the Care Certificate. This is a short course that can be completed in the first few weeks or months of your employment, and it relates closely to the longer qualifications mentioned above.

Learning Progression in Health and Social Care

Your learning progression in health and social care would typically begin with Health and Social Care Level 2 and move through to Level 3, which is where you might begin to take on more senior roles. 

Once you have completed a Level 3 health and social care course or similar, you may wish to progress further with a higher qualification. You might then consider either Level 4 or 5 qualifications, which prepare you for management roles.

If you’re continuing your career in the care sector, the Level 5 Diploma in Leadership for Health and Social Care and Children and Young People’s Services is a well-recognised qualification which enables you to work as a registered manager in a care home, for example. More on the qualification provided by City & Guilds can be found here. While they are not equivalent qualifications, the other route for this career path is becoming a registered nurse.

Conversely, it is also possible to enter the nursing field from a Level 3 qualification, and many degree level courses in nursing will accept a Level 3 qualification in Health and Social care as meeting their entry requirements. You can review the entry requirements for the BSc Hons Degree in Adult Nursing at the University of East Anglia here.

What to Look for in Health and Social Care Courses and Qualifications

When you’re looking to take health and social care courses at Level 2 or above, you’ll want to ensure that you are undertaking a recognised qualification. This is especially important with the rise of online learning, which has brought with it a much more confusing range of available courses. The good news with this is that taking a recognised qualification can be a much more flexible undertaking than it was in the past, but it means you’ll need to make checks to see whether the course you’re considering is suitable.

The organisation which ultimately regulates all of these qualifications is Ofqual, and the qualifications are delivered under awarding organisations such as City & Guilds and CACHE. If the qualification you’re looking at is from another organisation, you might check whether it is registered with Ofqual. Awarding bodies in turn licence their courses to learning providers by governing their delivery.

Courses such as the Care Certificate and other short training courses are not regulated by Ofqual, however the Care Certificate should be delivered according to the learning outcomes set by Skills for Care. If these outcomes are met, the Care Certificate can be mapped to Level 2 or 3 qualifications and counted towards their learning. It’s therefore important that the course you choose meets these outcomes. More details on this can be found for City & Guilds here and CACHE here.

Health and Social Care Career Paths

Health and social care courses including Health and Social Care Level 3.

A typical career progression in health and social care might start with becoming a care assistant in a care home or home care setting. This would help you gain invaluable hands on experience and vital people skills.

The next step in your career might be taking on the role of senior care assistant, which could involve leading a small team and being responsible for producing care plans and administering medication, for example. Since healthcare is often short staffed, it’s not unusual for people who show an eagerness to progress on to this role within a year of beginning their careers. Typically though, this might happen after completing a Level 2 or 3 Health and Social Care qualification, or while working towards one. The Level 3 Certificate in Health and Social Care can be completed in one year and extended to a Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care.

Within a typical care setting there are various other office based support roles such as care coordinator, which work beneath the registered manager. The registered manager is responsible for ensuring the service complies with regulation and meets all other standards required by law.

This is a stressful role and one that is not short of responsibility, but can also be a lucrative one. Nurses.co.uk says the average salary for a registered manager is £35-40,000 per year. In an organisation such as a large nursing home however, £60,000 is not unusual.

The typical qualification requirement for a registered manager is the Level 5 Diploma in Leadership for Health and Social Care and Children and Young People’s Services, or being a registered nurse. A Level 5 qualification usually takes around a year, but training providers can often accommodate fast-track completion.

It is possible to become a registered manager without having completed your Level 5, however. To work as a registered manager you must be registered with the CQC, whose requirement is currently that you should either hold the qualification or be working towards it.

The Level 2 Certificate in Health and Social Care

The Level 2 Certificate in Health and Social Care is a short entry-level course which is intended to be completed within one year. It covers three modules on equality and diversity, safeguarding and human growth.

It is designed for people seeking employment in a range of settings from residential care homes to community care. Although it can be delivered alongside practical experience, there are no skills-based learning outcomes which means it can be completed without any need for a work placement.

The Level 2 Certificate can be continued with a Level 2 Diploma and then further learning at Level 3. Learning completed as part of the Care Certificate – for example with equality & diversity and duty of care – can be counted towards the Level 2 Certificate.

The Level 2 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care

The Level 2 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care is an extension of the Level 2 Certificate, and it can also be enrolled onto in its own right.

The course content again builds on the learning completed in the Care Certificate, with modules covering equality and diversity, safeguarding, communication and working in care. Once again, the learning from the Care Certificate will map to the diploma and can be counted towards this qualification.

There are additional modules on topics such as dementia, learning disability, mental health, nutrition and end of life care.

There are no skills-based learning outcomes so no work placement is required to demonstrate learning. However, it is recommended that a work placement of 30 hours is completed to get the most from the course.

Again, this course can be completed within one year and can lead directly to a Level 3 qualification.

The Level 3 Award, Certificate & Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care

The Level 3 qualifications available upon completion of Level 2 study are again ‘nested’, meaning they can be taken in succession, with each being counted towards the next.

The subject matter has much in common with the Level 2 qualifications, which each topic being covered in greater depth. For example, whilst you might be required to provide a description at Level 2, at Level 3 you could be required to evaluate and compare a range of different points of view.

The Care Certificate can again be counted towards these qualifications.

At Level 3 you are required to complete a work placement of at least 75 hours, though it is completing the placement that confirms the learning rather than anything specific learned within it – you just need to demonstrate some practical experience to go alongside your learning. The learning outcomes are again all ‘knowledge’ based, which means the qualifications are assessed using classroom learning only.

Depending on the entry requirements of the institution, the Level 3 Certificate and Diploma will allow you to progress onto degree level study in a related subject such as Nursing.

The Level 3 Award in Health and Social Care heatures the same module content as the Level 2 Certificate – Equality, Diversity and Rights in Health and Social Care, Human Growth & Development and Safeguarding in Health and Social Care.

The Level 3 Certificate builds upon these with 6 additional modules and an extended assessment, while the Level 3 Diploma features an additional 8 modules and a further extended assignment.

While it is possible to count the certificate towards a degree-level course, it will need to be combined with other learning such as A-Levels. The Certificate and Diploma qualifications can be used without additional learning to meet the entry requirements of many degree courses in related subjects.

Entry requirements for degree courses are generally measured using UCAS points, with different points being awarded for various types of previous study. To study Adult Nursing at University College Birmingham for example, 112 UCAS points are required. 

It is possible to attain these points with a grade ‘B’ or above from the Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care, thought it is important to remember that this does not guarantee entry.

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