Firstline programme

What is the Firstline programme? 

Firstline is our 10-month, national programme designed specifically for first line social work managers, with the aim of developing them into strong, influential leaders who can best support their teams to create social change for children and families. It develops and hones their leadership capabilities so they are better able to support, influence and inspire their teams to have the biggest impact on the children and families they support. 

Firstline leaders are equipped with the tools to manage uncertainty, respond with tenacity in the face of challenges, and be highly attuned to how they interact with others. Firstline leaders also develop strong peer-to-peer networks that enable them to address and overcome barriers, and bring about wider change across their local authority. 

The programme has been designed to cause minimal disruption to a manager’s day-to-day role. There are no academic assignments or exams and the majority of learning takes place within the local authority setting to encourage learning by doing and they receive feedback along the way.

Residentials

The core programme content is delivered across three, two-day residentials which are essential time away for the managers to reflect, share best practice and learn from and with their peers.

360 diagnostic

The programme begins, and ends, with a 360-degree leadership diagnostic to provide detailed insight and heightened self-awareness, as well as a clear indication of how they have and can continue to grow as a leader.

Leadership sessions

The programme includes six one-to-one coaching sessions which help them apply the programme content to their specific context and goals, and develop their personal leadership style.

Practice sessions

Leadership sessions are coupled with four group coaching sessions with other Firstline leaders within the local authority to foster strong peer working, embed and sustain their learning and leverage their combined skills to drive wider change.

Why does the Firstline programme exist?

Our experience has made it increasingly clear to us that high-quality supervision and first line management are the bedrock of quality social work practice. We also know that the role of a first line manager is the one of the most challenging positions for a social worker to hold. Despite this, the development of social work managers is often overlooked, and there is a distinct lack of development opportunities available. 

At Frontline, we are determined to be part of the solution and create transformational social change. The Firstline programme exists to equip first line social work managers with the skills and knowledge needed to tackle the unique set of challenges they face, and to best support their teams to create social change for children and families.

Upon completing the programme, Firstline leaders will become part of the Frontline Fellowship, a community of social workers who together are continuing to develop their skills, share excellent practice and scope ideas and initiatives that will bring about real and sustainable change for children and families.

93%

feel their practice as a line manager has improved as a result of the programme

94%

are extremely or very satisfied with the programme

74%

report that the programme has helped improve the service for children and families

96%

of our local authority partners return for more than one cohort

What makes the Firstline programme unique? 

The Firstline programme has been tailored for first line social work managers and their context, and is the only programme in England that carefully distinguishes between leadership and management. Seven core leadership capabilities (designed specifically for children’s social work) sit at the heart of the programme content, all of which are anchored around resilience and self-reflexivity.

Over the course of the 10-months, Firstline leaders develop these capabilities to improve the quality of: their supervision, oversight and observation of social work practice; their ability to provide feedback and manage performance; and their willingness to take responsibility to influence change within the organisations they work in. The programme also has a key focus on developing confidence, leadership skills and providing the space and coaching to hone their personal leadership style.

The most rewarding experience has been realising that being a leader can fit exactly with the values and reasons that made you want to be a social worker in the first place. Empowering people and listening to their views is just as relevant in leadership as it is in front line practice.”

Firstline leader

“Without the Firstline programme I would not be the leader I am today working with confidence to discuss progress and changes for the children and families who we work alongside.”

Firstline leader

Applying for the Firstline programme

Who can apply? To be eligible to join the Firstline programme, you must work as a first line manager within one of our current partner local authorities. If you aren’t sure whether this is the case please get in touch with us or speak to your service manager.

How can I apply? To apply for the Firstline programme or to find out more, please contact the Firstline programme team.

What makes great first line leadership?

Frontline conducted extensive research into what constitutes as excellent first line leadership in a children’s social work setting.

Read the report here.

Firstline programme evaluation (2017)

The Centre for Children and Family Research (CCFR) at Loughborough University conducted an independent evaluation of the Firstline programme.

Read the report here.

Firstline programme evaluation (2021)

A recent evaluation of the Firstline programme from the Department for Education shows that our Firstline leaders improve significantly in every one of the seven capabilities.

Read the report here.

Case studies

Want to find out more about the Firstline programme? Hear from some of our Firstline leaders and local authority partners.

  • Case study
    I got involved with the Fellowship because I got so much out of my experience with Firstline. I can confidently say I don’t think I would be a service manager today had it not been for the Firstline programme.
  • Case study
    Firstline has helped me look at how I manage my staff. It’s helped me identify that whilst I’m good at managing performance I’m not great at interacting with extreme levels of emotions.
  • Case study
    The Firstline programme has really improved the motivation of participants who now have the confidence to try different approaches to difficult situations.