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.
A 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.