Top graduates could be fast-tracked into frontline children’s social work through an intensive summer school programme, under proposals drawn up by an ambassador of the Teach First scheme and published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
Those taking part in the Frontline programme would have to complete a summer of initial social work training, before being placed with a local authority team and receiving on-the-job training supplemented with academic study in partnership with a local university.
At the end of the first year they would be awarded a postgraduate diploma, which would allow them to register with the Health and Care Professions Council and practise as a fully qualified social worker. In their second year, the graduates would towards a master’s in social work leadership, which could form part of the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE).
The proposal was developed by Josh MacAlister, a teacher and head of department in Greater Manchester and ambassador for Teach First, which was set up in 2002 to increase the number of top graduates working in challenging schools and raise the status of the teaching profession.
MacAlister found many parallels between the state of teacher recruitment in 2002 and children’s social work today, including high vacancy rates and concerns about the quality of students and newly qualified staff.
Frontline would use learning from Teach First to address some of those problems, he said. Applicants could be graduates or career changers and would have to complete a rigorous recruitment process, which would demand high academic entry requirements and test for a wide range of competencies, such as confidence, empathy, communication skills, resilience and motivation.
It would also build on the existing Step Up to Social Work programme, which allows graduates to complete their master’s degree in the workplace. “While Step Up to Social Work has been successful at attracting high-quality new recruits into the profession, it has struggled to change the perception of social work itself,” said MacAlister. “Many of the applicants to Step Up were planning careers in social work already.”
MacAlister admitted there was some disagreement among the people he interviewed over how long a fast-track programme into social work should take.
“Some lecturers and employers argued that a shorter training scheme might compromise quality,” said MacAlister. Others thought initial training could be tailored to a year-long programme, provided that participants committed to long hours, including evening and weekend sessions.
The British Association of Social Workers welcomed the scheme’s aims, but warned against viewing it as a panacea. Acting chief executive Bridget Robb, who was a member of the Frontline working party and contributed to the IPPR report, said: “We already know that graduates with firsts are struggling to find jobs in local authorities, so to a large extent attracting bright graduates into the profession is not the issue.
“We know that some employers are unwilling to recruit newly qualified staff, so a key priority is to ensure we provide our future workforce with opportunities to be employed and to actually complete their ASYE, which otherwise becomes meaningless.”
Lisa Nandy, shadow children’s minister, said: “As well as attracting high quality entrants, we need to ensure social workers stay in the profession by enabling a supportive workplace culture. The Government’s cuts are putting this at risk. We will be considering a number of innovative ideas to raise the status and quality of the social work profession as part of Labour’s policy review.”
The working party will now produce more detailed plans for the content and composition of the training programme and look at how much the scheme would cost.