Frontline Academy briefing – December 2013

17th December 2013

As Frontline’s Programme Director I am delighted to introduce this briefing from The Frontline Academy. We appreciate there is a high level of interest in our programme from within the academic community and social work profession. As we continue to develop our programme, we anticipate that this appetite for information will continue. It is for this reason that Professor Donald Forrester and I took the decision to circulate this briefing.

Social work is all about meeting the continually changing needs of individuals and societies. Frontline aims to be both responsive and innovative when engaging with those delivering training and with practitioners themselves, particularly those who undertake the difficult work that is child protection. We welcome your reflections, and we are committed to ensuring Frontline participants benefit from the best possible social work education.

I have great pleasure in introducing Professor Donald Forrester, Lead Professor at The Frontline Academy, who will outline below how we plan to take academic study into the work place.

Best wishes,
Yvalia Febrer
Programme Director


Frontline: Taking the University into Practice 
I’m delighted to have taken up my position as Lead Professor at The Frontline Academy. As we look forward to the first year of the programme, I’d like to outline how we are developing an exciting new social work curriculum which blends academic and practice education in new ways.

Much of the academic teaching for Frontline takes place in an intensive five-week Summer Institute and 20 recall days over the course of the year. The intensity of this experience means that the amount of teaching received by Frontline participants is similar to that on many Masters programmes, and the amount of direct contact with lecturers is greater for most participants: they will talk to their tutors most days. However, on its own this is not enough. Participants need time to reflect on what they have learnt, to think about its application in practice, to try things out, to learn from success and failure and to be helped in integrating theories, values, skills and knowledge into the messy realities of practice.

The core idea of the Frontline academic programme is to build this learning into practice. Participants leave the Summer Institute to work in a unit comprised of four trainees with a Consultant Social Worker (CSW). CSWs are paid at Team Manager level. Their remit is solely to work with the participants, developing their skills and knowledge over the course of the year and jointly working the cases in the unit. The ability to focus solely on participants means CSWs can provide more support for learning than is possible in a conventional placement. The fact that these are dedicated posts at an attractive salary means we are confident we can recruit and train the very best practitioners through a competitive process.

The units will have a half-day reflective discussion of cases each week. These will include reflections on good practice, the emotional demands of the work and integrating learning into practice. Participants will also receive individual supervision and cases will be jointly worked. Participants will have a very protected workload initially, allowing them to apply principles and skills they have learnt, providing the space for reading, reflecting and integrating learning. They will gradually be exposed to more complex work and be expected to do more work on their own as the year progresses. As a result, where conventional placements require four observed interactions over the course of a placement, meetings with children and families will be observed almost every week – and often several times a week. This means participants will benefit from feedback on directly observed practice, the use of video and audio as well as feedback from parents and children on the quality of the work.

Learning will also be supported by the university in a way that is, we believe, unique; we will be bringing the learning to the placement. Each lecturer will work closely with five or six CSWs to support the application of theory and research to practice. The lecturer will solely focus on student learning while the CSW retains responsibility for case management and all practice decisions.

In the first term the lecturer will visit each unit for about a day a fortnight. They will attend and take part in unit meetings, providing input around theory and the application of learning to real cases. They will meet participants individually to help them with practice-based assignments, providing support and challenge for high level learning. We believe Frontline academics will have an unrivalled opportunity to get to know their trainees, to support their learning and to evaluate their practice. 

As the first year progresses, the input of lecturers will move to a greater focus on direct observation and assessment of practice. The assessment processes we propose involves a heavy emphasis on putting theories into practice: participants will need to demonstrate their skills, as well as write about them. For instance, there are therefore several assignments in which, in addition to written pieces, participants need to be formally observed and marked on their work in practice. This includes presenting theory and research informed family assessments, taking part in multi-disciplinary meetings and work with children and with families. Some of these formal observations will be by the CSWs. Several will be direct observations of practice by the university lecturer. Our lecturers will be going out with participants on visits to see the practice that participants then write about. Only those who can demonstrate high level of skills in working with people and the ability to write reflectively on it will pass the course.

We believe this is a new approach to social work education. It is based on a belief that social workers learn how to be a social worker in practice. As a result if we want theory-informed, highly skilled, ethical practitioners our focus needs to be on supporting the application of learning in practice. This has meant rethinking many of our taken-for-granted assumptions. More than anything it means taking the university into practice. We believe that doing so will produce not only excellent social workers, but that it may help to bridge the gap between academic and practice communities.

Best wishes,

Professor Donald Forrester
Lead Professor at The Frontline Academy