A new review of Social Work Education and Frontline pilot: significant and worrying developments

There are growing concerns about this government’s plans for social work with adults. There is a sense that in its search for cuts and economies, it will see many of the tasks which qualified social workers do with service users as tasks that can be left to unqualified staff if addressed at all. While there may be political awareness of the need to avoid another scandal and crisis in relation to child protection, the same priority does not seem to be attached to work with adults and safeguarding them from violence and abuse.

Notice the comments made about generic training and the reference to funding. Please keep this review on your radar. It is important for service users and practitioners. Please take any chance you have to submit evidence highlighting the valuable role of social workers in relation to adult service users and the valued role that many service users see them as playing.

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb has asked Professor David Croisdale-Appleby OBE, independent Chair of Skills for Care, to undertake a review of social work education.

Norman Lamb said:

I want to be reassured that social work education produces high quality practitioners and that the government’s £100m investment is producing the high quality social workers that our society deserves and needs.

The government invests money in social work education via the bursary and practice placement funding.

The review will include looking at the case for a generic qualifying course and the scope for increased specialisation within the degree.

Also making the news this week was Government funding for a pilot of the new Frontline programme for 100 trainees announced by Education Secretary Michael Gove. Based on the ‘Teach First’ programme in the teaching profession, Frontline will operate by fast-tracking high quality graduates in social work practice after just 5 weeks intensive training. SWAN rejects the principles of Frontline which are implicitly elitist and denigrate the complexity of social work education, practice and the social work role.

SWAN’s Dr Terry Murphy, Teesside University, commented that an erroneous idea lay behind the programme that social work needs ‘an elite of Oxbridge type graduates in it doing an MA’, he further mentioned that ‘a) there are lots of MA programs already [and] b) more importantly Social Work services are being hit by massive government cuts leading to a reduction of service to vulnerable people in all sorts of situations, which is the real problem.’

Similarly Tom Henri of Goldsmiths, University of London, commented in a recent article that Frontline’s focus on child protection and short term risk ‘undermines all those struggling parents and families who do want the best for their children but need help and support.’

Other concerned practitioners and students on the SWAN Facebook page commented:

‘It’s shocking. I was a graduate who then became a social worker (I completed the DipSW) and I know that I would not have been ready for practice after 5 weeks. When you consider that most stat placements will now only take a student SW for 3rd year placements because of the complexity of the work – it demonstrates how ridiculous and dangerous this is.’

I am a second year social work student and have contacted Mr MacAlister outlining my grave concerns about Frontline. This idea is not only very dangerous, but undermines the intense three year training which social work students undertake and risks attracting graduates form unrelated disciplines for completely the wrong reasons. I am studying at a Russell group university and the standard of training I am receiving an exceptional level which I strongly believe can not be achieved in such a short amount of time as frontline are suggesting. For me social work is vocational and should not be an option if ‘all else fails’. I feel ready to undertake complex work in a statutory setting after two very intense years.’

‘I’m very concerned as well that this scheme gives the impression that social work is all about child protection and nothing else.’

SWAN encourages members and supporters to write directly to those involved in these developments and to do the same in the general media and social media. The future of social work and social justice could be at stake.

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