‘Doing Frontline was great but being labelled a ‘high flyer’ isn’t helpful’

A child protection social worker talks about practice, training and how you make a transition from the fast-track training programme to a social work team

Photo: Olegkruglyak3/Fotolia

Ryan Wise, like so many in the profession, found his way to social work via a circuitous route. Admitting he didn’t know what he wanted to do when he first went to university, the route that took Ryan to a child protection team in Manchester included a religious studies and history degree, work in charity fundraising, account management, sales and then Frontline.

The 27-year-old was in the first cohort of the often controversial fast-track social work training scheme and, a year after becoming qualified, he has now completed his masters and his time with the course is coming to an end.

The government has vaunted Frontline as one of its key planks of social work reform. It has attracted large amounts of government funding and only those with a 2:1 degree or higher are eligible, leading them to be branded as ‘high flyers’.

Unhelpful rhetoric

Ryan says the political rhetoric and argument that surround the course has made it difficult for Frontline graduates who then have to sit side-by side other graduates in the workplace.

“It doesn’t help. It doesn’t set the tone very well,” he says frankly.

“Initially it was difficult because I think a lot of people just didn’t know what it [Frontline] was…they saw media reports about it and went off that.

“We had to engage people to try and explain what it was. I think I was a bit naïve about that, because I thought people might just know.

“But once we started to explain how we do it and the premise behind it and how it’s practice based and learning on the job, a lot of people were more receptive to how Frontline trains social workers,” Ryan explains.

New cohorts of Frontline graduates are being welcomed into the authority where he works in, and others which host the new fast-tracked social workers, but Ryan says this acceptance is still not necessarily the case with the wider profession – pointing particularly towards criticism on social media from academics.

“I feel that in the profession we have not felt welcome at times.”

Uncertainty

Ryan Wise EditedHe says the uncertainty about social work bursaries, both this summer and going forward, also meant more people were casting nervous glances towards Frontline graduates.

“I think because there’s so much uncertainty about social work education and future social work people are still a bit cagey about it, which I kind of understand.

“I think often maybe people think Frontline is going to be the be-all and end-all of social work education, which I don’t think is true…my perspective from working within Frontline is there are loads of routes into social work, and we’re just one of them.

“Me and my colleagues who do Frontline: we do it because we want to be social workers and we want to help children and families, we don’t do it because we want to represent government or anything like that,” he adds.

“When I was done [with training] I knew it was for me because I was excited each day, [it’s] a bit of a cliché, but it was what I thought. I got to work with people and try and make changes. The changes were small, but when they did come up I knew I had helped a small bit in that change.”

Ryan admits he is ‘very biased’ towards the benefits of Frontline and the preparedness it gave him for frontline work.

“In the first year I was in the authority for 200 days, more or less the whole year, [and] you pick up so much about what it’s actually like. Obviously you’re not holding cases because your consultant does, but you live and breathe it because you’re there.

“I knew about the systems, the structures, the processes, which I think often people can be overwhelmed by. I knew what resources were around, I had connections within the authority in terms of friendships and knowing colleagues. I knew how stuff worked so it wasn’t like going in blind,” Ryan says.

“A lot of [Newly Qualified Social Workers] I have met, who have not come through Frontline, often have not had a long statutory experience. The positive for me was I knew what was needed in an assessment, what was needed when a child became looked after, what needed to be done by when.

“There is so much process in social work, as we know, [and] every authority does it differently. There are different people to contact and I felt I had a good grasp of this. NQSWs who did not have my experience often told me a lot of their ASYE was about developing this work nous and knowledge. For me, as I had already been in the authority for 200 days, I was at an advantage.”

Practice skills

Frontline graduates are supported by a £19,000 bursary in their first year, and then move straight into paid employment in the local authority, but he says it wasn’t so much the funding that appealed to him, as the practical nature of the course.

The focus on practice skills and how social work is done, he says, spoke to him because that’s how he learns.

“Frontline is so focused on ways of working with people; and that is how I test myself as a social worker; I consistently reflect and consider what questions I asked, how I was helpful in that visit…”

On whether he would have made the step in to social work without Frontline, Ryan is unsure.

Ryan’s mum is a social worker with adults, so he says social work was something that was always around him.

But the final decision followed a variety of jobs in Cardiff that just weren’t right and forced him to ask himself “what am I doing?”.

“So I moved back home to Manchester, re-evaluated my options and realised I wanted to do something direct with children and then found Frontline.”

Frontline is not the saviour

Ryan’s first year included six months on the duty team, before moving into the longer term team and he acknowledges there have definitely been moments of doubt.

“Sometimes I feel like I can’t do this. When it feels like everything is kicking off at the same time and you’re just overwhelmed. But if you’re in a really good team you have the support structures in place to help you get through it.”

Now that he’s finishing his Master’s he is contemplating what to do with all all the spare time that has opened up to him but says he has no plans to move out of child protection.

“I want to practice systemically, a lot of authorities are moving towards that. I want to stay in child protection…I am really interested in how we do social work. I think the key question in social work is what actually is good social work?

“I think the authorities that are doing well have a clear idea about what good social work looks like. Often because of the pressures – get your visits done, get this signed off –you lose sight of is that actually really good social work?”

He’s adamant however that this has nothing to do with Frontline becoming the profession’s saviour.

“I work with some amazing social workers who haven’t come through Frontline, absolutely brilliant, really experienced. I’m not arrogant to think I know it all – I’ve only been practicing a year, I’ve got to learn loads.

“Different routes into social work suit different people. Different routes have their own strengths and weaknesses which leads to a rich, varied workforce. Frontline suited me but I understand it’s not for everyone.”

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6 Responses to ‘Doing Frontline was great but being labelled a ‘high flyer’ isn’t helpful’

  1. Lucy Elston September 22, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

    Hi, my name is Lucy Elston and I recently graduated with a first class honours in Psychology and Sociology. I am looking to apply for a social work masters in 2017; however after reading community care on a daily basis and coming across this post I was extremely interested in frontline and was wondering how I can go about applying?

    I will look forward to your response

    Kind regards

    Lucy

    • Ryan September 25, 2016 at 8:25 pm #

      Hi Lucy,

      Here we go : http://www.thefrontline.org.uk/how-apply

      Applications open until 21 November.

      I would recommend contacting FL on Twitter with any questions they are really helpful 🙂

      Thanks

      Ryan

  2. Steve September 26, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    I’m sorry Ryan after reading your comments that ” In the first year I was in the authority for 200 days, more or less the whole year, [and] you pick up so much about what it’s actually like” only goes to show how little you have learned. I wish you well in the profession, but when you have worked frontline practice for a number of years and experienced the highs and lows you will have a more accurate knowledge of Social Work.

    • Luke Stevenson
      Luke Stevenson September 26, 2016 at 10:31 am #

      Hi Steve,

      You may have seen later on in the piece that Ryan says: “I’m not arrogant to think I know it all – I’ve only been practicing a year, I’ve got to learn loads.”

      I hope that helps address your concerns.

      Luke

    • Sarah September 26, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

      Hi Steve I think you have taken Ryan’s comment out of context. Ryan isn’t claiming to be more knowledgable than qualified practitioners with several years of experience – Ryan is comparing the Frontline Fast Track course with other training routes and simply pointing out that not all social work graduates get any statutory experience at all in their placements.

      Placement experience is indeed incredibly inconsistent in my experience and frontline experience is beneficial. 200 days of statutory experience is certainly far more beneficial than none at all. This is certainly how I read Ryan’s point.

  3. Sarah September 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

    I can relate to many of the comments made by Ryan within this. I undertook Step Up to Social Work and the level of hostility I received in social work placements was beyond the scope of anything I ever thought possible within a “caring profession”.

    I never went into the scheme seeing myself as a “high flyer” and was so eager to learn from my social work colleagues. Unfortunately it seems judgements were made and I was treated with contempt from day 1. I was constantly put down and subject to comments such as “you shouldn’t need an induction, you’re step up” etc. Other students I witnessed on placement were supported and treated with respect and this was all I ever wanted. Unfortunately any opportunity to put me down or humiliate me was treated as a sport.

    Several of my peers were driven out of the course for exactly the reasons I have outlined – often with their life in tatters having left employment to pursue dreams of becoming social workers. And more damningly, such individuals (and I have to confess, me too at times) were left with little confidence within the social work profession which they had once aspired to be part of.

    I was lucky I was given another placement opportunity and then experienced no issues at all.

    I can understand fast track schemes are new and people have every reason to be anxious and/or sceptical. All I would ask is to not channel your doubts through attacking or expressing resentment towards individual students. We are all people and make sacrifices to do the work.

    I will not deny that fast track students are lucky to have a good bursary. However, this is not reason to lose sight of the bigger picture that we are aspiring social workers together. The bursary was never my motivation to become a social worker. And who would not accept a bursary to enable themselves to achieve their dream and make a difference?? I know I would have not been able to afford to train in any other way.