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How does Frontline differ from other routes into social work?

Frontline is a graduate programme based around social work. Find out about its aims and recruitment process, check out the financial support available and get tips on your application from Frontline's CEO and recruitment director.

Frontline’s graduate programme is focused on child protection social work. It also addresses the disadvantages that the programme's clients face, such as a lack of educational opportunities. Josh MacAlister, CEO at Frontline, explains: ‘We looked at where social workers were most needed and the response that we got time and time again was that we needed more highly-skilled social workers in frontline child protection work.’

Frontline was designed to appeal to graduates who have the qualities to make good social workers, but who may currently be unfamiliar with opportunities in the sector. You don't need a degree in a particular subject to apply to the programme (although you need a 2.1 or 2.2 plus a masters), and if you're recruited, you'll qualify as a social worker via a fast-track programme.

Originally based in London and Manchester, Frontline now runs across all regions of England.

The structure of the Frontline programme

The Frontline programme breaks down into two segments:

  1. A five-week summer institute, which includes teaching from social work academics.
  2. Two years spent in a local authority. In the first year, graduates are placed with three other Frontline participants, all under the supervision of one fully qualified social worker (trained by Frontline and jointly appointed with the local authority). Participants will work towards a postgraduate diploma in social work. In the second year participants in the programme are qualified social workers, responsible for their own caseloads. They also study towards a masters in social work.

This may seem a short time in which to qualify. After all, outside this programme, most people take two or three years to complete the qualifications needed to be a qualified social worker.

However, Josh explains that the way in which the Frontline programme is structured ensures that participants are well supported and gain plenty of practical experience.

‘If you’re participating in the Frontline programme, by the time you qualify you’ll actually have spent more time in practice than students on any other current route into social work,’ says Josh. ‘You’ll spend over 200 days in practice whereas many social work courses only have 170 days. There are a lot of questions about how long it takes to be trained for the realities of social work, but we’re very clear that you’ll spend a larger amount of time in practice through Frontline’s programme. We also believe that, within the participant unit, you’ll also have a lot more support in that time than many other routes currently offer.’

What you’ll learn at Frontline’s summer institute

The five-week summer institute is an event that is inspired by a similar training period on Teach First’s graduate programme. It's designed to give participants a thorough understanding of just what they’re letting themselves in for.

‘The summer institute will give participants very well thought-out, evidence-based methods for working with families,’ says Josh. ‘The training is practical, and they’ll learn three specific methods for learning to work with families: motivational interviewing, systemic family therapy and a parenting programme.'

The summer institute helps to build a cohort of Frontline participants with a common goal: to address issues that affect children in need in the long term. Josh explains: ‘I’m really keen that we start the summer institute by making it clear that, if you’re a child who needs a social worker then you’re 10 times more likely to be excluded from school; 25 per cent of the prison population were in care; and only 6 per cent of those children who were in care go to university, compared to 38 per cent of the rest of the population. These are some of the challenges we face as a country when it comes to giving children who have faced abuse or neglect a new start.’

Get to know Frontline

Katie Purser, recruitment director at Frontline, informs us that candidates need to do plenty of research before applying, as some candidates are falling down by not delving deeply enough into the information available on Frontline: 'We're finding, as is often the case with individuals looking to join a new profession, that some applicants lack knowledge of what the job entails and the details of our training scheme. Prior research is usually paramount to completing a strong application.'

'In contrast, it's encouraging to see that we are receiving applications from individuals who are passionate, committed and have clearly read into the Frontline programme and the social work sector more widely.'

Think very carefully about the statements in the self-selection tool.

The Frontline application process: steps and top tips

The first stage of the application process is an online self-assessment to help you explore whether social work is a good fit for you, followed by an online application. Make sure you demonstrate that you understand how the scheme works and how you could contribute to it.

The next stage is an online test in which you'll explore realistic social work scenarios and make decisions and solve problems. After this, you'll have a video interview – another chance to show how your skills, experience and values match what Frontline is looking for.

Then there's a half-day assessment centre, during which you'll work through some real-life social work situations. You'll also meet care leavers, who will have experienced what it's like to be on the other side of social work.

Applicants need to be clear about Frontline’s key competencies, and Josh stresses the importance of showing the right temperament and skills in the tasks at assessment day. These include a role play and working with a group to come up with a solution to a problem of the kind you might come across in social work.

Katie adds that authenticity is another key component of the assessment. 'The activities are structured so that candidates have an opportunity to prepare and assimilate information quickly before going into the activity. During the activity we expect the candidates to be themselves. This is because these activities aren’t an opportunity to "act" but more to show us how they'd handle certain scenarios and conversations.'

It's crucial that you can demonstrate these skills and qualities, as they will be fundamental in your day-to-day work as a social worker. Josh sees relationship-building skills and resilience as key components of the role: ‘The skills you need to develop as a social worker are incredibly varied – you could end up in court being cross-examined by barristers, for example. In addition, you’ll need to build relationships with health visitors, teachers, other agencies and social workers and families.’

Funding and pay for Frontline graduates and postgraduate social work study

In your first year, Frontline covers your tuition fees and you'll receive a tax-exempt bursary of up to £20,000 dependent on location. In your second year, as a newly qualified social worker, you'll earn a salary of £25,000 to £34,000 depending on your location.

By way of contrast, if you apply for a two-year postgraduate social work course based at a university, you may qualify for financial support as long as you meet the eligibility criteria and your university decides to allocate you a funded place (sometimes referred to as a 'capped place').

The different funding elements available if you take this route include a social work bursary intended to help with general living expenses. For 2019/20, this is worth around £3,400 a year if you attend a university outside London, or around £3,800 if you attend a university in London. You may also be eligible for a means-tested maintenance grant, currently worth up to £4,201 in London and £2,721 outside London.

The NHS Business Services Authority manages these bursaries. It may also make a contribution of around £4,000 towards your tuition fees if you're studying full-time, though if the university charges more you will be liable for the difference. You may also be eligible for help with travel costs, childcare and care for adult dependents and support if you have a disability. On starting work for a local authority as a newly-qualified social worker, you'll be paid around £24,000.

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