A social worker who left school with no qualifications has been awarded the prestigious title of Scotland's Social Worker of the Year 2023.

Jean Ritchie, East Renfrewshire HSCP Adult Support and Protection Social Worker, has been recognised for her contributions to adult protection and advocacy for carers.

Ms Ritchie, 60, said she is committed to ensuring "their voices are heard within the organisation's strategy and operations".

She left school at 16 and pursued different career paths, as well as becoming a mum to her three children.

Her turning point came in 1997 when her mother passed away which triggered a new direction for her life.

Ms Ritchie enrolled in a healthcare course at Reid Kerr College, now West College Scotland, in 1998. Her interests in social policy, psychology, and law led her to social work and she did a HND course in social sciences.

She said: "Leaving school with no formal qualifications, I found support, guidance, and encouragement from my lecturers.

"Night classes in Higher English and math provided essential support, instilling in a lifelong love for learning.

“Do not let fears curb your ambition, if I can do it, you can too. Attending college can be life changing and so rewarding.”

She then completed a BA (Hons) in Social Work from the University of the West of Scotland.

Now, two decades into her career, Ms Ritchie emphasises the value of life experience in her work, something she says "cannot be taught in a traditional classroom".

To deepen her knowledge and skills, she pursued continuous learning, earning multiple postgraduate awards, including the MSc Advanced Professional Studies from the University of Stirling.

The Curriculum Quality leader for Social Science at West College Scotland said: "Jean's story is a testament to the transformative impact of education, resilience in the face of challenges, and the invaluable contributions of social workers to our communities.

"Her achievements stand as an inspiration to current and future students, highlighting the potential for personal and professional growth through education.”