Nice idea, but will it work? Frontline announces an evaluation of its fast track training scheme

Professor Jonathan Scourfield of Cardiff University explains how the programme will be quality tested using actors, videos and four local authorities

Frontline's film
Credit: Frontline/Ewan Shears

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.

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2 Responses to Nice idea, but will it work? Frontline announces an evaluation of its fast track training scheme

  1. Aidan Worsley July 27, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    This looks like a well thought our approach and its good to see the ‘pepsi challenge’ element in there. But I do have a couple of questions. First is whether the research will be published and made public? What are the arrangements for that?
    But the second and more fundamental question is about money. Frontline has not hitherto been transparent about its funding and yet we know that students are being paid large sums of money to do this course, we also know that Local Authoritys are being paid money to provide the best placements, Bedfordshire are also being paid more than is usual and finally, the Frontline version of practice educators are also being paid more than their ‘traditional’ counterparts. So – how will this considerable gulf be represented in a compare and contrast? Will there be a ‘unit cost’ analysis? If Frontline produces (if there is such a thing as…) a 10% better social worker on average but at a cost of 5x that of a ‘traditional’ social worker – is it worth it? Especially if, like Teachfirst, they are only fleetingly in the profession

  2. Tony Dougan July 30, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    When does anyone learn anything from Social Work professionals? What we know is that such elite training simply doesn’t suit social work in the same way as, for example, fighter pilots, for some very simple and obvious reasons.
    Firstly it is a uneven, often spontaneous, and unique job calling on many skills, which are mainly interpersonal mediated by a often intuitive flexibility to create effective relationships with a wide range of people whose main commonality is vulnerability, distress, and emotional fragility. There is absolutely zero evidence that I have seen in 30 years of social work that eggheads have any advantages in this area.
    Secondly the quality of supervision is crucial to excellence. A good social worker can be held back-an ‘average’ social worker inspired.
    Thirdly social work is teamwork not individual work.
    Fourthly elitism fosters division in team endeavours.
    Fifthly, like all magic dust solutions, it is, I am afraid, bollocks!
    Societies get the social workers, politicians, entrepeneurs, visionaries, doctors, and teachers they deserve!
    We have the kind of social services one would expect from a society that pillories them for mistakes, ignores their successes, and crushes them with mind numbing bureaucratic procedures.
    Rant ends! Harrumph!