Three thousand new children’s social workers will enter the profession by the ‘fast-track’ programmes Step Up to Social Work and Frontline by 2021.
Funding of £100 million to expand the two schemes was announced yesterday by education minister Nicky Morgan as part of a raft of reforms for children’s social work.
Both programmes take graduates with a 2:1 degree or higher and offer largely workplace-based training – Frontline trainees join a local authority unit after a five-week residential summer school and Step Up candidates are based in local authorities. Bursaries are currently £19-23K for Frontline participants and £19,833 on Step Up.
Frontline has trained 220 social workers since its first cohort started in 2014. 180 recruits will join the programme this summer and be based in the North East as well as Greater London and Greater Manchester where Frontline launched.
Neither the government nor the charity would confirm how much of the £100 million will go to Frontline. The funding comes from a government contract Frontline won which was tendered last year without an amount of money attached. Frontline will continue to receive support from trusts, philanthropists and foundations.
With its funding now confirmed to 2021, Frontline will offer 300 places for 2017 and says it expects 1000 social workers to complete the programme by 2020. The tender indicates that 450 participants will be recruited each year between 2019 and 2021.
The government refused to say how many other organisations had bid for the contract.
Regional partnerships of local authorities and universities receive government funding for Step Up to Social Work places and the scheme has expanded from 200 graduates per year in 2010 to the 550 places Morgan announced for the next Step Up cohort.
The Department for Education also stated that 3,000 would be trained on the two schemes over the next five years, indicating that a further 1450 graduates will be recruited into Step Up places between 2018 and 2021. The Department has so far not confirmed how the figure breaks down between the two schemes and over the five year period.
Government support for Step Up and Frontline has been reiterated in numerous child protection policy announcements. Academics have expressed concern that the expansion is happening before Frontline had been evaluated; its first cohort graduated in September 2015. The Department for Education has commissioned Cardiff University to deliver an evaluation which is expected in March.
Brigid Featherstone, a professor at the University of Huddersfield and co-chair of the Association of Professors of Social Work also questioned what the expansion of fast-track routes means for those on other programmes.
“This is entrenching the inequalities of the student experience between those on these schemes and other programmes, who receive very different financial settlements.”
Recruitment and retention
Morgan told the audience at Kensington and Chelsea council, one of the Department for Education’s partners in practice, that local authorities consistently tell the Department the quality of students from the fast-track schemes is very high.
Speaking for the Local Government Association, Hampshire councillor Roy Perry said Frontline graduates brought “fresh, new ideas” and said the scheme would be a step forward in helping to tackle the rising demand in children’s social care.
However, he highlighted that the initiative addresses recruitment only and not retention, which is a significant factor in poor Ofsted outcomes.
“We must never lose sight of the problem that councils are facing in ensuring our highly respected social workers remain in post.”
It is not yet clear which areas of the country Frontline will expand to. The tender document suggested five English regions by 2019 and seven by 2021. A spokesperson said:
“We are currently talking to new regions to form partnerships for future years, and we welcome approaches from groups of local authorities. …Future regions will be selected on the basis of where the demand for life changing professionals is greatest.”