Frontline social work training costs ‘excellent value for money’, minister told

Directors of children's services have defended the fast-track social work training scheme after it was challenged earlier this week

Photo: ibravery/Fotolia

A group of directors of children’s services has told the children’s minister that the “quality of practice skill exhibited by Frontline participants” represents “excellent value for money” after the model was challenged by groups earlier this week.

response addressed to the minister, signed by the chief executive of Frontline and the leaders of eight children’s services, challenged many of the assertions made in a letter penned by the British Association of Social Workers, academics and campaigners.

The dispute began over a new £50 million contract to train up to 900 social work students on a fast-track course over two cohorts from 2020 – 2022.

Critics contested this represented an expansion of fast-track training, that the contract was tailor-made for Frontline, and said all of this was going ahead before a proper evaluation of the impact of fast-track training on the sector had been done.

It warned there could be “deep instability” in the social work education market if the contract was allowed to go ahead and called for it to be halted.

In its response, Frontline has challenged many of the assurances made in the original letter and said any delay would “set back our efforts to improve the social work system”.

It described itself as the “most heavily evaluated social work programme in the country”, which had, in five years, been subject to three large evaluations.

Reduce the cost

An independent study by Cardiff University in 2016 had compared practice skills for Frontline students with social worker entrants from other routes and found “significantly higher” practice skills in interviewing quality and written reflection among Frontline students and those from other routes, and the scheme said 92% of local authority partners reported satisfaction with the new graduates.

Frontline’s letter added it was subject to a longitudinal study comparing retention rates among all training providers and said currently 94% of Frontline graduates go from training into practice, compared to 67% of all social workers who qualify, and 84% of Frontline participants who had completed the programme remain in local authority social work.

It also clarified whether the new contract would represent an expansion of its scheme. The letter said Frontline expects to train 450 social workers in 2019 under its current funding, and said it has “continued to reduce the per participant cost every year since launching”.

This would represent 10% of all social workers qualifying, and the Department for Education’s contract would be a similar proportion, the letter said.

It added Frontline staff directly supports social work research, and that members of staff have published research and contribute to research conferences.

Applicants to study other courses were encouraged to apply because of Frontline’s attraction campaigns, the letter said, citing the 2016 Cardiff University study. The cohort starting this year will also be the “most diverse” one yet, the letter contested, with nearly a quarter BME, a similar amount male and more than half a part of the first generation in their family to go to university.

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12 Responses to Frontline social work training costs ‘excellent value for money’, minister told

  1. Tom May 17, 2018 at 12:38 pm #

    However it’s true that there is no systemic in the year 2 anymore as FL fell out with AFT. That it’s hard to find good academics to teach on year two as it’s now become a toxic brand and no one wants it on their CV. It’s true that students protested and are not happy with the programme. It’s true that the conditioning for students is not to stay for a long career in social work – but move on. To work for one or two years in one team and then go on to be an expert for policy on social work is insulting and dangerous. The truth is FL is crumbling and they are trying hard to keep what is going on private – but you can’t it’s all going to come out soon. Best to call it a day now so DFE can re direct funds to those who have the breadth and depth in the sector.

    • June Thoburn May 23, 2018 at 6:16 pm #

      Thank you for these counter-balancing insights. It is very hard from website to even get information about exactly who is providing the academic and social practice educational sessions, what the balance in the curriculum looks like, and how the trainees are assessed. Doesn’t even say who the external examiner is. There is a lot of anecdotal and some research evidence that some good students are attracted to the programme and some who say they wuld have preferred to do a full and more balanced Master’s education and training at a research-active university, but the differencse in costs was too much of a temptation to resist. Some evidence that when they hit the real world of child and family social work these potentially good recruits to the profession relise that they are ill prepared and remember that they really only planned to do it for a couple of years so no problem about going elsewhere, especially if you can land a plumb policy job because you have got your ticket as a ‘qualified and experienced social worker’. No doubt some will be appearing (if they haven’t already) as members of the DfE civil service team telling social workers and managers ‘under improvement’ what they are getting wrong.

  2. Ray Jones May 17, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

    The response by the chief executive of Frontline and a small number of children’s services directors to the concerns of the professional association for UK social workers and others who represent social workers and their education fails to address key concerns which have been raised.

    I am a former director of social services and during the past 8 years have worked alongside DCSs in many authorities across England. Without exception they have told me about the high quality of newly qualifying social workers. There has also been a benefit on recruitment for local agencies from having a local university providing social work education.

    What iis of concern, but unaddressed in the letter on behalf of Frontline to the minister is:

    1. What will be the impact on potential future social work students – and on local agencies – if university post-graduate programmes close because funding is primarily routed by the DfE to a small number of privileged Frontline students with universities deciding their social work education programmes are no longer viable?

    2. What will be the impact on adult social work if university programmes close as the government distorts its funding for social work education into the non-university fast-track, too early specialisation Frontline programme for chikdren’s Social workers?

    3. Will an expanded Frontline programme stabilise the children’s services front line? The best comparator available is the experience of Teach First – through which Frontline’s chief executive trained before moving away from being a teacher. The evidence is that teachers trained through Teach First move away from teaching more than teachers educated and trained through any other teacher qualifying route.

    4. Does the chief executive of Frontline and the chikdren’s services directions who signed the letter to the minister not see it of any significance that there is a major and increasing inequity between the money paid to Frontline students and the big financial costs to other students who are committing to joining the social work profession? Injustice, discrimination and inequality is now being embedded in the education of a profession which has a strong value base of challenging such inequity.

    As argued by BASW and others across the social work profession it would indeed be timely to reflect on and review the repositioning of social work education being led by the government rather than the potentially reckless push to destabilise and potentially destroy what has been built,developed and improved over many years.

  3. Borstal Boy May 17, 2018 at 2:36 pm #

    Well they would say that wouldn’t they? They forgot to say they are the most heavily marketed scheme, the scheme with the patronage of senior political figures, the blessing of the Chief SW for England and most importantly of all for me a “veteran” Social Worker, that they were founded on a lie. There was no hard evidence of the need for so called “high flyers” or the “brightest and the best” to come riding over the hill to rescue Social Work led by Josh McAllister . He himself flatly refused to engage with those of us who raised concerns and carried on insulting Social Workers who were already in practice. He is directly responsible for the ill feeling there is towards Frontline.

    The studies they quote are hardly a ringing endorsement and typically focus on narrow areas of practice. Perhaps it’s a matter of style over content but Frontline goes nowhere near answering the burning issues in Social Work.

    What about those already in practice? What about those who have left or thinking of doing so because of high caseloads, poor supervision, worse management, lack of training and because no matter what they do people like McAllister slag them off in order to gain traction for their own purposes?

    Any division in Social Work education and training is not the fault of old Social Workers it’s directly the fault of arrogance and hubris from Frontline and their flat refusal to engage with us.

    I’m no dinosaur, I don’t hark back to a golden age but I love my job and seeing it denigrated in this way really is too much.

  4. LAC Social Worker May 17, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    I am a Looked After Children’s Social worker who completed a Social Work degree. The reality is that there is a gulf between traditional social work education and the day to day job of statutory children’s social work. My job entails establishing if a child who has suffered significant harm can stay with their parents and if not, with who they should live. There are other aspects to it but essentially, this is what I do and it is what much of Children’s Services is about. I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that social workers should highlight and seek to tackle structural inequalities in society. However, teaching that type of material doesn’t actually prepare social workers for jobs in Children’s Services. Its therefore really easy to see how Frontline came about and why the Directors of Children’s Services see the value in it. I am a Labour Party member and didn’t do Frontline but the Conservative Government has it right on this policy. They simply do.

  5. Diane Galpjn May 17, 2018 at 7:04 pm #

    Why can Frontline not at least acknowledge the disparity that currently exists which impacts on those students not so privileged as Frontliners? Is it a case of not wanting to bite the hand that feeds them? Students in HEI’s increasingly Struggle to manage academic work and placements whilst working to pay their way through University. The position for mature students is increasingly difficult as they also struggle to manage childcare commitments as well. The use of food banks, and even homelessness, is not incommon amongst those on HEI programmes. The seemingly constant discourse that Frontline students are the elite is insulting to those I work with everyday. Can you Josh at least acknowledge the privileges your students enjoy and the difference that must make to them? This is basic social work knowledge. If you truly believe in social work, please speak out, your silence undermines all that you say to hope to achieve.

  6. Diane Galpjn May 17, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    P.s can those local authority leaders who happily employ and value the non elite graduates that come through their local university please speak up and support your local provder before you lose them!

  7. Gary Holden May 17, 2018 at 8:27 pm #


    Evaluation of Step Up to Social Work, Cohorts 1 and 2: 3-years and 5-years on

    Aside from possible selection biases, novelty effects and high levels of positive PR re: the experimental group, note the intervention cost differences:

    “We draw attention here to several other considerations which offer further context to the
    evaluation. Undoubtedly, SUSW is a success in its own terms, and there is a strong case
    for maintaining this model of social work education. This comes at a price of course.
    Research by York Consulting for the Department for Education (2016) found that the
    costs to government per student were significantly lower for the traditional routes
    compared to fast-track routes, SUSW and Frontline. The cost for the undergraduate and
    postgraduate routes were £14,675 and £23,225 respectively, compared to £40,413 for
    Step Up and £45,323 for Frontline (Cutmore and Rodger, 2016); albeit this is offset by the
    higher conversion rate of Step Up to Social Work (entry into social work practice on


  8. Penny May 17, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

    The ethos behind Frontline (and Step up to Social Work) is simple, namely that your “average” children’s social worker isn’t of a sufficiently high calibre in terms of educational achievement and “leadership” qualities. It’s an ethos rooted in inaccuracy, inequality and snobbery and yet this government is determined to plough ever more millions into it. No surprise there then…

  9. sw111 May 18, 2018 at 9:25 am #

    Its really difficult to understand all the ramifications happening due to shortage of social workers and governement spending extra money to address these issues when the matter could be tackled more effectively if the issues relating to the workers condition is looked into – why is no one at least attempting to gauge why the social workers are leaving this profession in huge numbers.
    The profession is overstretched, over burdened, workers are burnout and morale is low in such a punitive work environment and the deficits within the management continues to perpetuate. How are these issues being addressed.

  10. Dianne Kirkham May 18, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    I am a local authority fostr carer
    I have undertook this role for 6 years now
    I and the children that i have had in my care have experiences many many turn over of social exmple being the child i have had un care for 5 yrs having 5 social workers
    One of the many reasons we went for special guardianship for him amongst various disagreements about his care plan parental contacts etc etc
    I have had the pleasure of seeing amazing social workers and a few poor social workers
    I have every sympathy with the reasons why social services can not retain staff.the turn over particulary with childrens social workers are high
    They have far too high amounts of case loads, of paperwork .boxes to tick..not much of are what i consider good working documents and repetition of information.all of which takes time away from actually building good relationships with young people and children
    I can not tell you how many times i hear the new s.w. meet a child for the first time and ask them the same scripted questions and one of my cic rolling their eyes and disengaging immediately
    I am not denegrating the social worker.what does upset me is that i can see the enthusiasm of the new worker then over time i hear apologies for jobs not done .quick meetings how many more they need to get to see
    I hear how out of hours time is spent on paperwork thats outstanding
    This surely impacts not just on the quality of care for the childd but the disproportiobate work life balance for the s.w.
    All in all with all the mainly good sws i have met and who truly enter the profession with the best intentions to improve a childs life
    These working conditions are the reasons for man/ woman staff turn over
    Now we have early intervention.that was supposd to reduce the numbers of cic but what do i read…numbers of chic increasing
    Not to wish to be political but feel many of the problems that arise that children need to enter care are due to “times of austerity”.poverty and lack of real interventions

  11. June Thoburn May 19, 2018 at 9:57 am #

    The Comm Care article provided a link to the Cardiff U research (which the FL letter cited very partially and which concluded its comparison by saying ‘early days’) but not to the other evaluations referred to. The comparison % entering a social work post on qualifying is misleading because fast-track trainees are recruited on assumption they have an ASYE-linked post on qualifyiing. In FL and Step Up areas, good students qualifying from mainstream courses can be squeezed out of joining local social work teams because ASYE places are limited and the fast-trackers have priority. What we need to know before this large sum of money is awarded by DfE is how many FL trainees are still working in direct practice as child and family social workers 3 years after qualifying. 2 years of service after ASYE after benefiting from such DfE largesse does not seem much to ask for from 100% of them. Independently undertake comparisons need to be available with post-graduate students qualifying from courses in parts of the country where there is no FL programme. I understand new research has been commissioned to look into this. Since retention is as much a problem as recruitment, this large sum of DfE money (taking the middle number as 700 trained- it is around £62,000 per qualified social worker) should not be ear-marked for a FL-type programme until we have evidence on comparative retention rates for entrants from mainstream PG courses and Frontline entrants (and will there be any realistic competitors to ensure competitive tendering when the tender clearly requires a model which only FL subscribes to). Maybe following BASW/APSW/SWAN letter to Minister DfE could consult all providers of PG education and training to see if what goverment is looking for to provide the 700 – 800 graduate entry students can be more cost-effectively provided with same or better retention rates than by a FL-style delivery mechanism. Finally it is a pity that the Comm Care article didn’t have a link to the FL and DCS letter so we could all read the arguments. Also see who the signatories are. Do they include any DCs who have NOT benefited from the genrerous DfE subsidies provided by DfE via Frontline for additional staff (eg Consultant social workers). Very much more generously funded than the much smaller sums provided in non FL areas for practice educators.