Government funds expansion of mental health social work fast-track scheme

The Department of Health will provide £10.6m to extend the Think Ahead programme for a further two years

Credit: David Oxberry/Mood Board/Rex Features (posed by models)
Credit: David Oxberry/Mood Board/Rex Features (posed by models)

The government is to pump an additional £10.6m into Think Ahead, the training scheme that fast-tracks graduates into mental health social work.

The money from the Department of Health will pay for the training of 200 students, who will join the programme in 2016/17 and 2017/18.

More than 2,300 graduates applied to join Think Ahead’s first intake of students, which will contain between 80 and 100 trainees.

This initial cohort of students will start the two-year programme in July.

‘Higher quality practice’

Care minister Alistair Burt said: “Mental health social work is highly skilled, complex work – and this is a great initiative to attract the brightest and best into the profession.

“Our £10m funding will spark rewarding careers and mean thousands of people are better supported to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.”

The announcement follows the long-awaited evaluation of Frontline, the equivalent fast-track training scheme for child and family social work.

The evaluation found the quality of practice among Frontline participants was ‘significantly higher’ than that of students from mainstream university courses.

A Department of Health spokesman said the decision to extend Think Ahead was made before the Frontline evaluation was published.

How does Think Ahead work?

Applicants for the programme must hold a 2:1 degree and undergo a rigorous assessment, which tests them on the personal qualities required for social work.

The assessment focuses on seven key attributes: leadership, motivation, adaptability, relationship building, communication, problem solving, and self-awareness.

Those selected for the scheme will then undergo an intensive two-year programme, which involves three stages:

The Summer Institute

A six-week residential course to prepare students for their on-the-job learning.

First year

Students will undertake on-the-job training in groups of four, led by an expert mental health social worker. At the end of the first year students gain a postgraduate diploma in social work, which allows them to apply for registration as a qualified social worker.

Second year

Students take on newly-qualified social worker (NQSW) roles in the service they are working for and gain a master’s degree in social work.

Leadership training also takes place throughout the two years.

Teaching and curriculum

The University of York leads Think Ahead’s curriculum and awards the degrees to participants. It also works with the University of Central Lancashire to deliver the teaching – the majority of which will be done in the workplace.

Financial support

Think Ahead students receive a tax-free training bursary of £16,000 (outside London) or £18,000 (inside London) in their first year of study. In the second year, they are employed as NQSWs and receive a taxable salary.

Ben Roderick, a sociology graduate from the University of Manchester and one of the students joining Think Ahead this July, said: “Supporting people with mental health problems is a really rewards area of work – and Think Ahead really stood out above all the business graduate schemes I considered applying for.

“I’m really excited about learning on-the-job, the leadership training will help me develop my personal skills, and, of course, it’s more affordable than other routes into the profession.”

One Response to Government funds expansion of mental health social work fast-track scheme

  1. Manzar Iqbal March 31, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

    This looks like a fantastic programme and one which I would love the opportunity to know more about. I have been working in this industry for years with some of the most vulnerable Children, Young People and Families for many years.

    I would like to look at see how one goes about applying for this programme.

    Any help on this would be appreciated, especially as after all we are interested in this because we care about the most vulnerable in our society and simply want to make their lives better.

    Manzar Iqbal BA(Hons), DMS, MBA
    Youth Officer Pendle CLP
    07906143509