Minister warned over ‘deep instability’ in social work education following £50 million fast-track contract

Between 700 and 900 social workers will be trained through a fast-track route, the contract says

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A group of academics, campaigners and the British Association of Social Workers has called on the government to halt the procurement process for a £50 million contract that would train up to 900 social workers through fast-track routes.

The group raised the concerns following the prior information notice for the contract published in March and warned the continued extension of fast-track routes without a long-term evaluation would create instability in mainstream social work education.

The letter said that, while a study has been commissioned to understand the impact of Frontline alongside university routes, it has not concluded. However the government was “committing large amounts of money to extend a programme that is unproven in resolving the challenge for employers of retaining and developing experienced social workers”.

The Department for Education said there would be a response to the letter in due course. It has previously told Community Care that the investment would represent a continuation of current fast-track provision, rather than an expansion.

The successful bidder would be tasked with training between 700 and 900 new social workers over two cohorts between 2020 and 2022, the last Frontline cohort advertised in 2017 for over 350 places.

‘Significant challenge’

The letter said the prior information notice, which outlined that the formal contract would be published April 30, should be suspended while there is a stakeholder consultation, impact assessment, and time for a “proper evaluation” of Frontline.

It said the numbers trained under the contract would pose a “significant challenge to the viability of current postgraduate programmes in universities across England”.

“We are concerned that this expansion will reduce applications to – and thereby threaten – courses in some of the most prestigious, research-oriented universities where such post-graduate provision tends to be clustered,” the letter said.

There were also concerns that the Frontline programme had so far “reproduced” structural inequalities through its recruitment.

“We think it is essential that government engage with the implications of an extension of Frontline, which is not university-based, for a profession which is currently built on independent and academically robust social work research and education at Masters and doctorate levels,” it said.

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7 Responses to Minister warned over ‘deep instability’ in social work education following £50 million fast-track contract

  1. Pauline May 16, 2018 at 7:39 pm #

    In my opinion the postgraduate route I took was a waste of money. I got into debt. I did not have a statutory placement in social services so knew little about the realities of practice when I started. I contacted BASW about this while on my course and they did nothing telling me instead that my ASYE would cover for where I lacked in training. I am all for the fast track options for training. Why get into debt over sub standard university courses.

    • Helen Blackman May 20, 2018 at 2:51 pm #

      Hope you found a good place for your ASYE Paulette

  2. Carol Fellowes May 17, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    Not having a statutory placement does not mean that your university course was sub-standard. A high standard of education and training with an onus on developing skills in independent thinking and analysis is what gives a university course the edge, above fast track training options.
    The development of robust teaching partnerships with local statutory agencies has increased the opportunity for social work students to have statutory placements, if this is what they want, and not all social work students do want this.
    The increase in places on fast track courses will limit the availability of statutory placements for university students and potentially undermine university courses. The overall impact of course, will be towards a de-professionalization of social work.

    • Jim May 18, 2018 at 9:16 am #

      I can recognise your point Carol with the course undermining university courses. However there is still a disconnect between what is taught in lessons to that of practice. The big issue being what is the professional role of a Social Worker? In adults for example there is no professional role. If one then looks at theory of Social Work my argument would be anyone in the care sector is completing Social Work.

    • David May 19, 2018 at 12:14 pm #

      I am a mature student doing my MA and a University in a teaching partnership. I think the partnership model is a good one and having both children and adult statutory experience prepares us well. I worked for a local authority for a long time before deciding to qualify so knew I definitely wanted to work in statutory services but not everyone on my course wants this (quite a few don’t even want to work in the UK – No surprise!)

      I looked at the fast track courses but couldn’t commit to the residential requirements as I am a carer, but I don’t think I have missed out on anything now. The quality of social work education I get at University is excellent and I don’t see the gap between the academic and practical when I am on placement and feedback from experienced social workers has been good too. I have met some of the students who did fast track qualifications and there was certainly an element of being looked down upon for not ‘being able’ to do them, as if I am ‘settling’ for University instead.

      I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without a bursary, though. If the bursary goes then I can’t see the University lead qualifications lasting.

      • Jim May 21, 2018 at 10:06 am #

        I am glad to hear the gap between education and practice is narrowing, can only be a positive thing. I suppose my point being there is no statutory role of a Social Worker within Adult Social Care which I feel undermines all the training you are doing. The Care Act does not require any task to be undertaken by a Social Worker, it does give guidance in ‘should’ but that is how far legislation goes. Until this changes there will be a two tier system with Children’s and Adults. Thus my previous question of understanding what is the role of a Social Worker. There are many articles eluding to this but none highlighting it, such as how many senior managers in ASC are not qualified workers which community care have highlighted a few months ago.

  3. Dave June 12, 2018 at 9:59 am #

    There is much that is great about Frontline. The support that students get in placement is excellent. Frontline work hard on developing relationships and support with dedicated staff whose sole purpose is this. The teaching of practice skills through evidence based models is again a great idea. Universities would do well to replicate some of these ideas to respond to the critique from employers about students not being fit or prepared for practice. Again learning is small teams with dedicated support replicating the Hackney model is a great context for learning and developing peer support.

    However, I’m gravely concerned about Frontline’s expansion at the cost of other routes and the profession/ academic community as a whole. The teaching is at best variable, there is a complete lack of academic rigour and academic knowledge around the models taught by many of the staff. The satisfaction rates are at an all time low from students. The masters element is incredibly chaotic with the quality of teaching and academic knowledge lacking as you would expect from a masters programme. The levels of stress amongst both staff and students in order to get through the programme is phenomenal.
    There is a whole host of staff working on rigorous recruitment and they work hard to get students through the doors who may not otherwise have considered the profession. However, their expectations and ideas around the profession are often skewed and the recruitment process is like a factory conveyor belt. They do excellently in marketing the programme and the profession. However, many of those doing this have no social work background and haven’t even set foot inside a local authority office. Therefore, Frontline trying to influence the social work system and seeing itself as a movement to change the face of social work is pretty hallow. I’m concerned that the dfe is supporting expansion when there is so much not right with the programme. Again, there is some good elements and I think there is a place for it. But if the dfe know all thus and still find it’s expansion is alarming. Likewise, if the dfe do not know all this it is again alarming.