‘A kick in the teeth’: DfE axes social work leadership training scheme

Department's decision not to renew funding for 'highly-valued' Pathways programme was 'unexpected' and budget-related and has caused disappointment in sector, says Frontline, which delivers scheme

Group of colleagues talking together in an office
Photo: fizkes/Adobe Stock

The Department for Education has axed a social work leadership training programme in what has been described as a “kick in the teeth” for the profession.

The DfE will not renew funding for the Pathways programme when its initial two-year period comes to an end in July, revealed Frontline yesterday.

‘Budget-related’ decision

The charity, which delivers the training to practice supervisors, middle managers, heads of service and assistant directors in council children’s services, said the news was “unexpected” news and the DfE had explained it was budget-related, rather than to do with the programme’s quality.

Frontline said Pathways was “highly valued” and that local authority leaders had expressed their disappointment about the decision to scrap it. The charity, which delivers the programme in partnership with what works body Foundations and North Yorkshire council, with the support of Hertfordshire council, said it was informed about earlier this month.

Since they were awarded a £7m contract to deliver Pathways for an initial two years in 2022, 1,787 people have started courses, with a further 213 due to do so before the scheme finishes in July.

During that time, the programme had been used by all but 10 local authorities with children’s services responsibility in England, Frontline chief executive Mary Jackson told the House of Commons’ education select committee this week.

Mary Jackson, chief executive officer, Frontline

Mary Jackson, chief executive officer, Frontline (credit: Frontline)

The contract allowed for an extension of a further two years, and Jackson told MPs that Frontline “had been given all of the signals that the extension would come through”.

“We had been waiting for signing since December…[and then] found out a week and a half ago that funding was pulled.”

‘A kick in the teeth’ for profession 

Sitting alongside her, Matt Clayton, strategic lead for children in care and care leavers at Coventry council, said the programme had led to practice improvements for colleagues who had been through it and losing it was “a bit of a kick in the teeth” for the profession.

“I’ve had several managers and practitioners go on the course,” he said. “The sessions have been really helpful: they’ve had mentoring from senior leaders, they’ve gone to visit other local authorities. I’ve seen improvements in practice, people were really excited about doing the programme.”

He added: “It feels like nothing is really given time to happen. You have a two-year programme and it’s just starting to embed and then you try something else.”

About the Pathways programme

Launched in 2022, Pathways replaced three existing DfE-funded training programmes:

It also incorporated Frontline previous Headline programme, targeted at heads of service, which the charity had funded through its other income.

The programme operates at four levels:

  1. Pathway 1: practice supervisors – this is delivered over 30 hours, including two on-site days, and provides training in leading supervision sessions effectively, creating a safe and inclusive culture, supporting practitioner mental health and wellbeing, reducing bureaucracy and drawing on research.
  2. Pathway 2: middle managers (for team managers and practice supervisors aspiring to be team managers) – delivered over 56 hours, with four on-site days, this offers learning in setting and communicating an ambitious vision for your team, giving effective feedback, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of your team and putting in place anti-racist and inclusive strategies.
  3. Pathway 3: heads of service (also for service managers and team managers aspiring to be service managers/heads of service) – delivered over 88 hours, with four on-site days, this provides learning on setting and communicating an ambitious vision for your service, putting anti-racism and inclusion at the heart of your strategy, influencing political and corporate decisions, leading change and managing improvement and using adaptive leadership to manage uncertainty.
  4. Pathway 4: practice leaders (for assistant directors/directors of services or heads of services aspiring to these roles ) – delivered over 90 hours, including four on-site days, this includes training on leading innovation, influencing political and corporate systems, maintaining morale and resilience, making anti-racism central to your strategy and using data, research and best practice to measure success.

Programme’s impact

Frontline said that 98% of Pathway participants reported that their time on the programme had improved their ability to deliver service improvements while 99% said it had enhanced their ability to lead change.

It added that 14% of practice supervisors who undertook Pathway 1 had been promoted within 12 months of completing the programme, while 25% of aspiring leaders on Pathways 2 to 4 – those undertaking the programme with a view to moving up – had also advanced to a more senior role.

The DfE’s decision means that, for the first time since 2015, there will be no government-funded training scheme for children’s services managers and leaders who are not new or aspiring directors, programmes for which are run by the Staff College.

In a statement to Community Care, the DfE pointed to its plans for a five-year early career framework for new social workers and to impose rules to restrict agency work, as part of its children’s social care reforms.

No indication of replacement scheme

However, it did not mention any replacement scheme for managers.

“We are incredibly grateful to Frontline for their work delivering the social work leadership Pathways programme,” said a DfE spokesperson.

“We will continue to support the social work workforce, including through our fast-track initial education routes, and introducing new national rules on the use of agency social workers.”

However, in her evidence to the select committee’s children’s social care inquiry, Jackson said these DfE policies left a gap in support for more experienced practitioners whom the sector was struggling to hold on to.

Decision leaves a gap in development opportunities

This point was echoed by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, in its response to the news.

The chair of its workforce policy committee, Nicola Curley, said: “This short-notice ending of funding for the Frontline Pathways programme leaves a gap in the support and development opportunities available to future leaders, and so it will be important that the department works with the sector on what comes next to minimise any short term disruption to the workforce development offer.”

Frontline said it had an upcoming meeting with children’s minister David Johnston “to understand his plans for the gap this leaves for social workers and their leadership development, and to explore possible options going forward”.

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4 Responses to ‘A kick in the teeth’: DfE axes social work leadership training scheme

  1. Alec Fraher April 18, 2024 at 5:24 pm #

    the CCETSW arrangements of having primary and secondary partnerships between the LA SSD and the local education providers ie University, then Polytrchnics, and placement providers worked, no? ….
    … adding capacity for niche development at a regional level, for example, when I was a pt for Leeds Poly (yep some time ago) Wakefield, Leeds and Manchester coordinated the, then, ASW training for psw’s through a trusted practice placement provider in Leeds modelling alternatives to compulsory admissions ~ itself a spin-off from an approach developed by Dr Sashidharan in Birmingham ….
    … thoughts ….

  2. Tracey Radford April 19, 2024 at 10:34 am #

    This is a real disappointment for social workers as an Alumni of the programme back when it first started I found the whole course programme to be really inspiring, as a social worker I had never felt so valued as I did when I attended the programme. The opportunities to network with colleagues across the country was fantastic as we would all learn what each authority had in place and what worked and what didn’t. The topics covered were interesting, relevant and covered in detail as we were made to work hard.

  3. L Toy April 19, 2024 at 11:32 pm #

    I’m horrified, it’s evil. The lack of skilled services to protect children , to save them, from extreme violence physically, psychologically, emotionally, is so self evident, hugely escalated by lockdown, especially Arthur Libinjo Hughes and Star Hobson and All the others. Everything that can be done to prevent child cruelty should be done.
    People who have the will and the courage to enter into social work roles should be encouraged, emboldened and motivated by training and support from highly skilled leaders in childcare, and they should be rewarded for continuing the work. Our children are suffering as never before. Who will stand up and help them?

  4. Leanne Morgan April 25, 2024 at 4:01 pm #

    So typical. They did the same to NAAS and it leaves practitioners feeling de-valued and confused around the messaging from central government about how they will support the development of our profession ( and the protection of it in some respects) .
    All this when they are also implementing the new Framework for Children’s Social care- again telling us what we have to do but removing some pivotal support mechanisms to help us achieve it.
    What is Isabelle Trowler saying about this? Anything?