An evaluation of the Frontline social work training programme commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) has been announced today.
The fast track graduate scheme, which promises to produce ‘outstanding individuals to be leaders in social work’, is in its infancy with the first cohort due to begin an intensive summer school on Monday 28 July.
The research, commissioned by the government to establish the quality of practice produced by this non-traditional social work training programme, will be carried out by CASCADE: the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre.
Lead researcher Professor Jonathan Scourfield of Cardiff University explains that the research will compare three groups: Frontline students; a representative sample of the general student population; and finally a more specific group of high achieving students, for example those undertaking masters programmes that require a 2:1 class degree or above.
This group may be more like the Frontline group in academic achievement and so the researchers hope any differences will be revealing as to the quality of the training programme.
The researchers will take four local authorities’ frontline units as case studies to carry out qualitative research. The team hope to interview all the stakeholders, from the local authorities’ staff to the Frontline students themselves and the families they are working with, to “try and find out on the ground what the quality of the training experience is,” Scourfield said.
The team will then compare the practice quality of Frontline students to that of regular and high achieving students, in traditional social work education programmes, who are just about to finish their training.
Scourfield said: “We’re going to do simulated client tests, so we’re going to get a bunch of actors to act out hypothetical scenarios of child protection client problems and we’re going to score their practice quality.”
“We’re going to develop this assessment tool by consensus with the advice of social work educators, practice educators, current or former service users and practitioners.”
The scenarios will be videoed and judged by practice educators, who do not know which group they’re marking, on the quality of their practice. The students will also be asked to undertake a simple written task outlining their emerging assessment and the type of help they might offer.
The research is intended to find out about the quality of practice produced by the Frontline training scheme, which is based on “the assumption that they will be producing highly qualified practitioners because of the rigorous testing and recruitment criteria, and because of the emphasis put on training in practice,” Scourfield said.
“We have completely open minds about what we’re going to find out. I think Frontline is really interesting and would like to see whether it works.”
The publication date for the research is yet to be announced.