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Summer Institute Week 3: Cooking with gas

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In this week’s Frontline Academy blog Donald Forrester explains how it feels to be working in the fast-paced environment of our first Summer Institute

What is the Frontline Summer Institute like? The phrase that best captures it for me is that it is like a pressure cooker. This is a simile that may mean little to readers under 40, due to them new-fangled microwaves. But pressure cookers were a memorable part of my childhood. I remember my mum carefully screwing down the lid on a chunky pot, putting it on the gas and then a sense of excitement and not a little fear as the pot heated up, steam escaped through the safety valve in alarming bursts and my young self felt that there was a risk that the whole thing might blow up. Fortunately it never did, of course, and we benefitted from the speed and efficiency of pressure cooking – though more than anything the sense of excitement and fear has always remained with me.

So that’s what the Summer Institute is like: 1970s cooking. Well, at least insofar as it is exciting, fast and pressurised. The intensity is something unlike anything any of the academic team have experienced before. 12 hour day is followed by 14 hour day. Breaks become impromptu meetings dealing with a participant issue or addressing a practical problem. It is, quite frankly, exhausting. So is it worth it?

My biggest worries about Frontline were about the Cohort. I was genuinely anxious on the first day that I would turn up to a room full of young people in suits who looked like wannabe management consultants. Discovering a bunch of people who were committed to the values of great social work and who reminded me of students from every other social work course I have taught on was a huge relief. I could easily imagine them being social workers.

Yet over the course of the first week I realised there were two important differences between this group and any others I had worked with. The first was the extraordinary consistency in the quality. There are great students on every social work course. Yet all of us on the teaching side have been struck by the consistently high quality of the Frontline participants. One of the Consultant Social Workers met her unit yesterday and told me this morning: “I just could not believe the quality of the students. They were amazing.” Time will tell, but my first impressions are that this is a pretty promising bunch of people.

The second difference took me longer to realise but is just as important. As I talked to participant after participant it became apparent that few would have come into social work if it were not for Frontline. The publicity and presence at recruitment fairs seems to have paid off. Great people who had not thought of social work are being brought into our profession.

Now our job is to help them become great social workers. If we can do that, and they make a difference to the lives of vulnerable children and families, then five weeks in the pressure cooker of the Summer Institute (not to mention the high levels of support for practice learning after this) will have been worth it – for us, for them and for the families.

Donald Forrester is the Frontline Academy’s Lead Professor

For our Summer Institute Week 1 blog, click here
For our Summer Institute Week 2 blog, click here

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