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How does Frontline differ from other routes into social work?

Find out about Frontline with the help of insights from CEO Josh MacAlister, get to grips with its aims, structure and recruitment process and check out the financial support available.
The Summer Institute is considered an essential tool for building a cohort with a common goal

Frontline’s graduate programme is focused on child protection social work, and more broadly on disadvantages that this causes, 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 has been 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. Frontline’s social work programme does not stipulate any particular subjects that students need to have studied before applying, and seeks to appeal to students by speeding up the process in which they qualify as social workers. You need at least a 2.1 in your undergraduate degree (predicted or obtained) to be eligible to apply. Originally based in greater London and greater Manchester, Frontline is now also being rolled out across the north-east.

The structure of the Frontline programme

The Frontline programme breaks down into the following segments:

  1. A five-week Summer Institute, including teaching from social work academics from around the world.
  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). In the second year participants in the programme are qualified social workers, responsible for their own caseloads.

There has been criticism from some quarters regarding the speed with which participants become qualified social workers. Whereas the majority taking social work postgraduate courses will take two or even three years to qualify, Frontline’s programme sees graduates qualify after just one year, before practising as a newly-qualified social worker in their second year. 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. In the first instance, the Summer Institute is 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% of the prison population were in care; and only 6% of those children who were in care go to university, compared to 38% 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.’

Deferred entries and other networks for Frontline participants

A number of partners have worked with Frontline in various different ways, assisting with its set-up and funding, and these relationships could affect Frontline participants' future career planning and options.

For example, a deferred entry scheme has been set up for the Civil Service Fast Stream, so that successful Fast Stream applicants can defer entry if they are also successful in applying to Frontline. Josh explains, ‘The more people that we can get into the Civil Service policy making who understand the reality of social work and specifically child protection work, the better. We need people with an understanding of these issues to be the ones making the decisions and policies relating to social work.’

There are also relationships with Teach First and the Boston Consulting Group, though it’s important to note that there are no formal deferred entry arrangements in place. Josh was a former participant on the Teach First graduate programme, and Frontline and Teach First share similar views on tackling educational disadvantage. Josh says, ‘If someone from Teach First wishes to join Frontline, then that’s great because these are people who have already worked directly with children for two years in challenging schools. That experience and commitment would be very valuable in social work.’

The Boston Consulting Group assisted Frontline in its start-up through providing a significant amount of pro bono work. While BCG do not have deferred entry schemes as a matter of policy, Josh emphasises that, ‘They do value the leadership qualities that a graduate would develop through Frontline.’

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

Tips for getting a place on the Frontline programme

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 is 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.'

You'll need to complete an onIine application form, then take online tests in verbal reasoning and situational judgement. The next stage is a video interview, after which successful candidates are invited to an assessment centre. 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.'

These skills are crucial 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

Frontline offers a bursary of around £19,000 (plus London weighting) in the first year, and a newly-qualified social worker’s salary (around £24,000) in the second year.

By way of contrast, you may also qualify for financial support if you apply for a two-year postgraduate social work course based at a university, as long as if you meet the eligibility criteria and your university decides to allocate you a funded place (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 2015/16, 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. In addition, a contribution of around £4,000 may be available towards your tuition fees if you are studying full-time, though if the university charges more you will be liable for the difference. On starting work for a local authority as a newly-qualified social worker, you will be paid around £24,000.