Frontline Project and Social Work: An opinion piece by Josh MacAlister for @SWSCmedia Debate

JoshMacAlisterIt’s been an exciting and busy time for Frontline over the last few weeks and we have high hopes for the future. I am now working full time to make Frontline, a programme to boost the number of high potential graduates and career switchers in children’s social work, a reality.

Never far from my thoughts is the question of how Frontline will contribute to addressing the three points most people agree on, as outlined in the IPPR report published in October 2012. Firstly, the status of the social work profession is low. Secondly, the work requires a demanding mix of skills and attributes, and thirdly, protecting vulnerable children is one of the most vital and rewarding professions. How then can we develop, promote and implement Frontline in a way which acts as a catalyst for wider change – attracting more people with the right skills and attributes to be outstanding social workers, and recognising the essential and rewarding role played by the profession?

One of the most exciting pieces of work we are undertaking is the development of a curriculum for Frontline participants. We have been fortunate enough to have the input of leading academics such as Professors Eileen Munro, David Shemmings, Stephen Scott and Donald Forrester into how we can develop a comprehensive and intensive curriculum, which offers an innovative approach and ensures participants feel ready and prepared for frontline social work from the moment they qualify. We are still in the development stages and would welcome input in the Twitter debate about how we might do this.

Another key feature which differentiates this programme is that it seeks to provide a continuous two year placement within a single Local Authority. This will give participants the opportunity to build up a full picture of the day-to-day reality of being a social worker whilst enabling the Local Authority to build a strong on-going relationship with each participant well before they start full time work. We are giving careful thought to how the placements will be structured to offer maximum benefit on both sides, and are now beginning our engagement process in earnest with Local Authorities, which we hope will be the start of a long and fruitful discussion. One option is to use a version of student units during the first year.

Many people are under the impression that Frontline will be selecting participants solely based on academic ability. This is not true. To select the applicants who will make truly outstanding social workers, we will be assessing against a vast range of personal qualities skills such as resilience, respect and leadership, to name just a few. Ensuring we only recruit graduates who fully demonstrate these vital qualities will be a key part of the Frontline assessment process. However, it is important to recognise that by setting a high academic threshold for applications we will be reflecting the demanding academic nature of the job – for example, the need to make complex assessments. Secondly, it will send a message that social work is a demanding and prestigious job.

I can understand why many people in the profession have anxieties about Frontline. We are committed to continuing our engagement as the programme develops, and will be meeting with a huge number of organisations and groups over the coming weeks including social work educators, professional bodies, and employers. This is meaningful consultation that will allow the profession to shape the design of Frontline.

When speaking to a group of looked after children recently, it was very clear that an excellent social worker can make a huge impact on the lives of children and families. At the heart of Frontline is our desire to establish a scheme that attracts and develops outstanding social workers who can change lives.

Josh MacAlister (@JoshMacAlister) is the project leader for Frontline, an associate fellow at the IPPR and a teacher in Greater Manchester.

We look forward to your views on this important topic on 15 January at 8:00 PM GMT / 3:00 PM EST  @SWSCmedia Twitter debate.

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