Frontline can help rebrand social work
A proposed scheme called Frontline aims to improve social work's image and attract the best recruits to the profession.
One of the most difficult things to learn as a teacher is the limits of your own influence. Nothing made this clearer to me than working with pupils who were looked after or in need of protection. Life outside school for these children made learning inside school impossible.
The social worker who was working with one pupil was an agency member of staff and was the child's sixth social worker in 12 months. Social work appeared to be a profession overstretched and demoralised. Yet I've met many inspirational social workers who are true leaders – able to bring different agencies together and solve problems in the child's best interests. I am proposing a graduate fast-track programme that draws on the Teach First scheme and is about getting more of these leaders into children's social work.
When the team at the IPPR thinktank investigated the problem, it quickly became clear there were three points most people agree on: the status of the social work profession is low, the work requires a demanding mix of skills and attributes, and protecting vulnerable children is one of the most vital and rewarding professions. So my work was to develop something radical that could raise the prestige of the profession and prepare the most sought-after graduates and career switchers to be excellent social workers.
Like Teach First, our Frontline proposal, which was launched last month, aims to attract the most academically able, highly skilled and motivated people into the profession with a simple message: make a difference and learn to be a leader. And, like Teach First, the majority would stay in the profession for the long term while those who leave would be connected to the mission of challenging social disadvantage.
We would also aim to give Frontline participants the best training and preparation so that they are able to practise as a social worker after a year. I have been speaking with social workers over the last year to design the outline of best-in-class training. It would include theory and the essentials of social work degree courses, but would focus on skills such as risk assessments, intervention methods, care planning and court work.
To succeed, Frontline also needs to include opportunities for experienced practitioners to spread their wisdom, so that local authorities become better at training and supporting new social workers. We would also prepare Frontline participants by giving them leadership development.
Many professional bodies have said that at a time of cuts and record demand, social work is under even greater pressure and more resources are needed. However, money alone will not transform social work. Reform is also required to rebrand the profession and make it more attractive to top graduates. Frontline could play a valuable part in this, as Teach First has done for teaching.