Social workers trained by the Frontline fast-track programme will face restrictions on practising outside of England.
The social work regulators in Scotland and Northern Ireland have concluded Frontline’s course is not generic enough to arm social workers with the skills to work with all age groups. As a default, the regulators will only register Frontline graduates on the condition they work in children’s services or take on extra training.
The move is unprecedented and means changes are likely to be made to a longstanding agreement designed to help social workers move between UK countries.
The memorandum of understanding between the HCPC, which regulates social workers in England, and their equivalent organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland states that social workers trained on an approved course in one part of the UK can register in another UK country without extra requirements.
The HCPC has approved Frontline as meeting its professional and education standards. Graduates from the programme qualify with a social work degree and can practise in any setting in England.
Frontline is focused on social work with children and families. However, its trainees also learn about work with adults and take on a 30-day placement in adult settings.
The course is one of three specialist social work training routes backed by the Westminster government. The others are Step up to Social Work, a children’s social work focused course, and Think Ahead, which aims to attract graduates into mental health social work.
A Frontline spokesman said the decision of the regulators “casts doubt” on the position of all English specialist routes in respect to their graduates seeking registration in other UK countries.
“Despite repeated requests the regulators have not yet revealed what evidence was taken into account in reaching this decision,” he said.
“We have received no requests for our course material and they have not taken evidence from anyone who has undertaken the qualifying programme. Our understanding is that HCPC are also in contact and are trying to bring to light what evidence was used to reach their decision.”
Marc Seale, chief executive of the HCPC, told Community Care he had contacted the other regulators about their decision.
“Essentially they feel that the standards of knowledge, skills and proficiency of The Frontline programme doesn’t meet their standards for being able to work outside of children and families settings,” he said.
Seale said he was confident Frontline, and the other HCPC approved courses, were producing social workers “ready for safe and effective practise” in line with the HCPC’s standards. He said it was up for the other regulators to make their own decisions about their own standards but he hoped a solution could be found to the Frontline issue.
“It is really advantageous for professionals, employers and the regulators if we have movement within the UK.”
In statements, the Scottish Social Services Council and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council said they had reached the view that Frontline “does not meet the full range of initial social work training” required in their countries.
“The councils are mindful of the need to support workforce mobility throughout the UK and have therefore, within their respective legislative requirements, arrived at positions which should support mobility and preserve the requirements for registration as a social worker,” the statements said.
The organisations said they would assess a Frontline graduate’s qualification and subsequent experience to see if registration criteria are met.
“Where this is not the case the social worker will be registered with a requirement to undertake additional specified training and may have their practice restricted to work with children and families, until the additional training has been completed.”
The Care Council for Wales said anyone qualifying through Frontline would have to undertake “a consolidation programme”, which it requires of any other newly qualified social worker from any other parts of the UK. “If they have post-qualifying experience, their case would be considered on its merits,” a spokesperson added.