Funding for a pilot for 100 trainees in September next year was announced by the Education Secretary Michael Gove. But the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) had doubts that five weeks of intensive training would prepare staff properly.
At the same time, Gove has announced the appointment of the first chief social worker for children and families in England – Isabelle Trowler will start this September. The new post was recommended by the Munro report into child protection which followed the much publicised death by abuse of Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’). The man jailed for causing or allowing the child’s death was also given life for the rape of a two-year-old girl but social services and doctors failed to recognise that Connelly was at serious risk.
Under the fast-track plan, social work students will attend a residential summer school at university then work at the sharp end in a local authority for two years, while still studying. They would be fully qualified social workers within the first year and be able to do a Masters degree in the second year.
Gove said Frontline was “an exciting proposal and a real challenge for the brightest applicants who will have the privilege and satisfaction of helping improve the lives of the most vulnerable children in the country”.
The scheme was also welcomed by Labour’s shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg who called it “an exciting opportunity that could play a major role in reforming children’s social work”.
Josh MacAlister, chief executive of Frontline, said the scheme would focus on recruiting and developing “outstanding social workers to lead change for disadvantaged children”.
But the BASW’s Bridget Robb said: “There continue to be enormous challenges in the proposed timescale to prepare people with sufficient academic and practical experience for safe practice. 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.”
Trowler said of her new appointment: “I know the best social work can transform lives but too often we only hear about the things that go wrong. I want to raise standards throughout the profession.”
Gove commented: “Good social workers literally save lives; the bad can leave them in ruins. 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.”