“This has caught the imagination of a generation of young graduates,” said Lord Adonis yesterday as it was revealed that 2,684 graduates applied to join Frontline’s controversial new training programme for children’s social workers – around 25 per available place. And while only 270 of the students who completed a social work master’s in 2011-12 were from Russell Group universities, 1,272 such graduates applied to Frontline.
Adonis, who chairs Frontline, was speaking at the screening of Frontline’s new film featuring care leavers and children’s social workers telling their stories.
Also attending the screening was education secretary Michael Gove, who has been a strong supporter of the Frontline scheme. Of the application figures he said: “It’s been amazing, it has exceeded all of my expectations to have so many people applying for the course. More people have applied for Frontline before it even exists than have applied for Rolls Royce apprenticeships or who apply for places at Oxford colleges. In fact, proportionately more people applied for Frontline than applied for a seat for the 100m final at the Olympic Games.
“I want to see Frontline grow and have a profound influence on how social work is seen, on the range of people that believe they should commit themselves to what’s an incredibly noble vocation, and, above all, on the lives of children.”
In a Q&A session following the film screening, chaired by chief social worker for children and families in England, Isabelle Trowler, the panel was asked what makes a good social worker.
Efrem Semereab, who has spent some of his life in care, features in Frontline’s film and took part in the assessment of some of the scheme’s candidates, said: “I think for me it’s important for social workers to believe young people have potential. So they don’t look at the negative stories, but focus on the positives, on their strengths and talents – as any parent would their child.”
Johnny Webb, managing director of the film company, Sundog Pictures, took the mic and added: “One of the things that stood out from me in the film was when Efrem said: ‘At the end of all my races, you were there with a towel.’ It’s such a simple thing to say, but I think we came into this with preconceptions of what social work is like, that a lot of it was about troubleshooting – but actually what I took from the film was that it’s about motivating, being consistent and compassionate and just being there, building that trust.”
This was echoed by Joe Rogers, one of Frontline’s consultant social workers, who also features in the film: “I think that’s the balance you have to strike as a social worker: you’ve got to be compassionate, but you’ve also got to be professional.”