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Chief Social Workers and Frontline scheme offer "potential" but reforms must acknowledge realities facing social work on the ground

The newly appointed Chief Social Worker for Children and a fast-track training model for "high-flying" graduates each have the potential to improve social work in England but must not go the way of other recent reforms which have yet to make a notable impact on the profession, BASW said today.

In a double announcement the Department of Education revealed that Isabelle Trowler, former Assistant Director for Children’s Social Care in Hackney, would be the new Chief Social Worker for Children and that Frontline pilots will launch in September 2014 for the first 100 graduates. 

The scheme, based on the Teach First initiative, provides an intensive ‘conversion’ course for non-social work graduates to train to be children’s social workers, and includes university-based summer school training, as well as “intensive in-work leadership training”, with qualification as a social worker at the end of the first year and the opportunity to complete a Master’s degree in year two.

The developments follows news earlier this week that Lyn Romeo is to become the Chief Social Worker for Adults in England. Ms Romeo is currently Assistant Director of Adult Social Care and Joint Commissioning for the London Borough of Camden.

BASW Interim Chief Executive Bridget Robb congratulated Ms Trowler and said she looked forward to “discussing the most pressing issues facing the profession at the earliest opportunity”.

Ms Robb continued: “We are pleased to see that the government has appointed a Chief Social Worker who herself has first-hand experience of the job, while Frontline does offers the potential to attract new talent into the profession. However, after the tragedy of Baby Peter we saw a swathe of political initiatives – the Social Work Taskforce, the Social Work Reform Board, the Munro review and the College of Social Work among them – but social workers widely report a deterioration instead of improvement to their services, most notably in our State of Social Work survey and in evidence to MPs in recent months.

“BASW holds a unique place in the social work profession, offering an authentic frontline voice that I am sure from her previous interaction with our organisation Isabelle will recognise and draw on as part of ensuring the very best outcomes for social work.”

Ms Robb said the Frontline pilots offered “potential” but emphasised the need for lessons to be heeded from the pilot studies before implementing the initiative more widely. She expressed concern about whether the tight timescale for the on-the-job training course would be sufficient to prepare people for social work practice and also cautioned that Frontline trainees should not be prioritised for placements over undergraduates on conventional degree programmes.

In a message to the new Chief Social Worker for Children and her counterpart for adults, announced yesterday, Ms Robb said the Government’s reforms must recognise the extent of the challenges facing many practitioners in hard-pressed services. “Alongside new models of training, workplaces also have to change. We cannot go on ignoring social workers when they speak of excessive caseloads and paperwork, and no time to see the service users including children or resources to help families.”

Ms Trowler secured the Chief Social Worker for Children post on the back of her innovative work at Hackney where according to the Department for Education she “redesigned social work practice, reforming it from top to bottom and securing an ‘outstanding’ rating from Ofsted". Ms Trowler also advised the Munro review, which examined changes needed to improve child protection social work.

Announcing her appointment the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove said: “Good social workers literally save lives; the bad can leave them in ruin. I am delighted that Isabelle Trowler has agreed to lead our reform programme; to challenge as well as to champion the profession so that vulnerable children and families are better protected.”

In the DfE statement announcing her appointment Ms Trowler said: "I know the best social work can transform lives but too often we hear about the worst. I want to raise standards throughout the profession so that every social work team in the country is as good as the best.

"Children’s social work is one of the hardest challenges a person can accept, and offers a unique opportunity to work with the most vulnerable families in the country. I relish the challenge of putting it up there as a career choice alongside medicine or teaching."

The DfE has not made clear the role that the newly established College of Social Work, created following a recommendation from The Social Work Task Force, will play in the latest round of reforms.

The Frontline programme is based on the Teach First model used in schools, where candidates are paid the same rates as unqualified teachers for the first year of training. The Chair of Frontline, former Labour minister Andrew Adonis, said: “In ten short years Teach First has helped make teaching one of the top career choices in the country. Frontline can now do the same for social work.”

The Chief Executive of Frontline, Josh MacAllister, said it would be “totally focused on recruiting and developing outstanding social workers to lead change for disadvantaged children”.

The Frontline programme:
• Intensive summer school training at a leading university;
• Two years hands-on work in a local authority alongside further University-based study;
• Qualification as a social worker at the end of the first year and the opportunity to complete a Master’s degree in year two;
• Intensive leadership training; and
• A salary comparable with a competitive training bursary in year 1 and a fully salaried local authority social worker post in year 2

See BASW’s response in full to the launch of Frontline

See BASW’s response in full to the Chief Social Worker for Children’s appointment

See BASW’s response to the Chief Social Worker for Adult’s appointment