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We speak to Frontline’s Leadership Development Director Mary Jackson about the success of the fast-track Frontline social work training programme.

Established five years ago as a graduate training programme to fast track social work recruitment, Frontline is proving a highly-successful pathway into a career in the profession. The two-year training course for graduates and career changers into the challenging career of children’s social work has already had a significant impact in terms of recruitment, retaining recruits and dovetailing them into local authority social work teams, and helping raise the profile and engender a more positive image of social work as a profession.

The Frontline innovation has also evolved with the establishment of Firstline – an intensive leadership development programme for social work managers - and now the Fellowship, where Frontline graduates can continue to grow, develop and contribute to the profession. Frontline’s Leadership Development Director Mary Jackson suggested that one of the biggest achievements of Frontline – a charity which recruits and trains social workers in the UK – is how it has created a “shift in perception of social work.”

“We work closely with local authorities, media and our partner organisations to try to generate positive news and champion social workers and the profession more generally,” she added. “By raising the profile and awareness of social work, we are getting into market (of candidates) that we think would not previously have considered social work as a career.”

Additionally, Frontline is helping bring more men into social care – 24% compared to the national average of 14% - and aims to push the boundaries further in terms of diversity and attract people from all walks of life to programme.

Significant resource is dedicated to attracting the right people. A rigorous selection process sees only one in 10 applicants selected and as a result, retention is high, with 94% of the 2016 cohort having completed their training and gone into practice, for example.

“That is about making it an exciting and appealing career and ensuring those coming in have the right moral purpose and motivation for doing the work. That is at the very core of everything we do, organisationally, internally and on the programme.

“I think the other key difference is in giving these participants a programme that really gives them an insight into what the profession looks like.”

While acknowledging Frontline is never going to be the only route into social work, she believes the programme’s strength is in the way it trains people and is tailored to ensure they have the best possible opportunities to make it, and are equipped with the tools and skills and the right attitude to do a great job.

Quite early in the Frontline journey – within the first year - it was recognised as a result of research that a further tier of support was needed within the profession.

That led to the 10-month Firstline leadership development programme, which enables social work managers to develop their leadership through a combination of residential leadership modules, one-to-one coaching, workshops and sessions, so that they can empower social workers to transform the lives of vulnerable children and families. Tailored specifically for the group that it is designed for, Firstline is open to professionals who may not have been Frontline participants and sees the organisation working with about 25 local authorities.

A further evolution is the Fellowship, a movement of Frontline graduates launched in 2016 and currently 150-strong but expected to number 1500 by 2020.

“The idea is that they work in areas of policy and innovation, not just strictly in social work practice, but more broadly to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families,” explained Ms Jackson.

Fellows run events, set up social enterprises, work in the Cabinet Office and Children’s Commission and there is a Fellow on the Frontline board.

“The progress we have seen the Fellows make is astonishing – we think it is probably the most exciting area of work and it has the potential to be absolutely huge in terms of impact.”

Frontline has been growing with recruits rising steadily from 104 in 2014 to 280 in 2017 and currently recruiting 350 for the 2018 cohort, while Firstline runs two cohorts a year with 80 people in each.

The Frontline course begins with an intensive five-week summer institute, learning the theory behind the practice, before participants spend the rest of the first year in a local authority setting, managed by a consultant social worker with a specific caseload to deliver a grounding on how to work in social work practice in a systemic way. This covers three key methodologies of systemic practice, social learning theory, and motivational interviewing. Moving into a wider local authority role within a team in the second year, participants do their Masters and receive five sessions of coaching to support the transition into the wider local authority workforce.

More recently, the academic training of Frontline has moved in-house, with accreditation from University of Bedfordshire, and sees each participant have access to an academic who works with them on their practice. Frontline has also commissioned research to ensure all that is being learned from the broader initiative is fed back into the system.

“We have access to more data and observations and information about social work than many organisations, so we want to make sure we feed that back in to the system,” explained Ms Jackson. “This research partnership gives us the opportunity to do that.”

With the growing cohorts, and the extension into Firstline and the Fellowship, Frontline continues to thrive as it trains a new generation of social workers.

Read similar articles in Social Work News magazine

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