Government set to fund 2,000 fast-track children’s social work training places

Withdrawal and re-posting of tender fuels universities’ concerns about an agenda to expand early specialisation

The government wants more than 2,000 children’s social workers to be trained on fast-track schemes by 2021.

The plans for a rapid expansion of fast-track children’s social work training were revealed in a contract put out to tender by the Department for Education on Monday. The winning bidder will be required to train at least 300 recruits in 2017, 350 in 2018, and 450 per year between 2018 and 2021. By 2021, the programme should run across seven English regions.

The tender stipulates that the successful bidder will need to provide practice-based learning leading to a postgraduate social work qualification after 14 months and then a newly qualified social worker post for a year, leading to an MA. This is the same as the Frontline fast-track programme, leading many to believe that it will be the successful bidder for the contract and that government is using its open tendering process to secure its funding and expand the programme.

Frontline is currently funded through a combination of government grant money, local authorities, who pay for participants’ salary in the second year, and support from private companies such as Credit Suisse.

It has 121 graduates in its 2015 cohort and is recruiting 180 to start in summer 2016. It operates in the South East, North West and North East. The programme has high profile political support, including from David Cameron.

However, an evaluation of the scheme is not expected till March, leading academics to question the apparent push towards more fast-track entry routes.

‘Mission creep’

Brigid Featherstone from the University of Huddersfield, said that while social work educators were concerned that all training routes should be high quality, there seemed to be “mission creep” of fast-track programmes. Funding for social work education was tilting towards something that “at this stage, is still an experiment” she said.

“It could have significant implications for the funding of other programmes, not least Step-up [the local authority-based route to a postgraduate diploma in 14 months]. It’s difficult for academic departments to plan how their programmes will develop as there’s no clarity over future funding. We seem to be bringing in specialist education without a proper acknowledgment that this is what is happening.”

Speaking as chair of the Joint University Council’s Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC), head of social work at Manchester Metropolitan University, Sam Baron said the committee had not received a response to its calls for government to do an impact assessment of the different training routes. The representative group was also concerned that the issuing of the tender represented a move towards more early specialisation:

“We query how such a model, with its substantive focus on social work with children, can enable students to experience social work with adults, which is a requirement from our regulator [the HCPC].”

It is not yet clear how much the successful bidder will receive to deliver the programme as no price has been put on the contract – the document states that funding is subject to the outcome of the government’s Spending Review, due to be published on 25 November. The application deadline for potential providers of the fast-track programme is 18th November.

Changes to the tender

Confusion has surrounded the bidding process after DfE withdrew an initial tender that was posted on 30th September. The DfE refused to answer questions about why the first version was taken down and the fact that it was tendering before funding was confirmed.

Some of the academics’ concerns that the original tender could only be met by Frontline related to the “need” for bidders to demonstrate their previous work in areas such as delivering an intensive work-based approach to learning and attracting those who otherwise would not come into social work. The updated document says they are “free” to do this, “should they wish to do so”.

In response to questions about the removed notice, a spokesperson stated: “We will shortly be inviting tenders for a fast-track social worker programme to follow the Frontline pilot, and will announce the successful bidder in due course.”

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said: “It seems strange [the Department for Education] committed energy to advertise the opportunity and then withdrew it. What I suspect is happening is that behind the scenes conversations are going on with potential preferred providers.”

‘Unknown developments’

Other changes to the new document cover how commercially sensitive information will be dealt with. Bidders are now asked to identify it in a separate schedule; a statement that such information may need to be disclosed on the contracts finder website has been removed.

A new clause also allows for the contract to deliver the programme to be extended following future “as yet unknown developments”. The initial document had set out a three year programme, with extension to 2021 possibility; it now sets out the programme should run for five years.

Ray Jones said the expansion of fast-track schemes would mean “disproportionate amounts of funding to this programme and to the students on it, with the larger body of trainees receiving much less advantage and support.”

Instead, he said, the government should be translating some of the positively regarded elements of the Frontline programme such as the close partnerships between employers and teaching agencies and the extended practice placements, into all social work training.

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2 Responses to Government set to fund 2,000 fast-track children’s social work training places

  1. Nora McClelland October 16, 2015 at 2:36 pm #

    It seems the DfE are governing the direction of the profession of SW – intent on splitting it…and why would they worry about any programme requirements that the HCPC might set…they can arrange to pay lipservice and fudge this – as government favoured programmes appear to have done – or can simply disband of remove the regulation of social work from the HCPC if they won’t co-operate..

    As a profession it strikes me we don’t seem to have any structure to organise any opposition to this – indeed it is probably likely we don’t have any agreement within our fragmented profession as to the wisdom or folly of the DfE initiative – there are so many differently invested (and not always visible) interests in the private/public and university sectors that might be served by the offer the DfE are making. It does seem to me as if social workers actually have no say in their own profession and the DfE will dictate what social work will become…

    .So anyone looking to a career in social work – be aware the General Kitchener in the DfE is seeking you as cannon-fodder for the “front-line” – they have no interest in identifying or addressing the very real issues and pressures affecting retention of qualified staff in child protection services – nor do they want to examine the effects of (their) wider policy on families and children. The Dfe has no interest in any of you who might be hoping to develop a career in social work with adults (the DH has it’s own plans although they seem often to be reacting to/subservient to the direction the DfE is taking our profession in) but the decisions the DfE make will have a profound impact on the education they traduce and seem intent on dismantling.

    As someone who is involved in what I believe to be an excellent post-graduate education programme for (qualifying) social work that I am proud to be associated with, I too have vested interest – I want knowledgeable, thoughtful, critically reflective, assertive social workers to come out of our programme so they can take on the demands of complex practice that is asked of them …and in my experience the generic focus of the qualifying programme is an essential component in this – developing professional practitioners who are then ready with core knowledge and skills as firm foundations, to begin to specialise in their professional careers and have expectations they should be supported in their continuing journey of knowledge/skill acquisition through CPD.
    But I have no doubt that in the formulation of their grand plan for my profession, my views have little relevance to the DfE.

  2. Manzar Iqbal MBA November 9, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    I have been working i the field of Children Young People and Families as a Professional Youth Worker for over 25 years and more recently a Volunteer Coordinator with Children and Young People who have been victims of grooming and Sexual Exploitation.
    A significant amount of this work is on partnership with my collegues in the Social Work Dept whom I believe are doing a fantastic job under the circumstances and challnges we face as a society.

    I would love to work as a qualifies social worker and would love the opportunity to see if I can get one of these places,
    Currently I have a BA Hons Degree, DMS and MBA.

    Manzar Iqbal MBA