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Frontline had been waiting since December for the Department for Education to confirm the extension of the Pathways programme contract for years three and four, to provide leadership development for 2,000 more social work leaders. The week before last we heard that the Department for Education will not be extending the contract beyond the first two years. This means that while those already on the programme will be able to complete it as planned, delivery of the Pathways programme will cease at the end of July.

This was entirely unexpected news, especially given that the programme has been running extremely successfully with very positive feedback, and is highly-valued by the sector. The Department for Education has been absolutely clear that this was not based on the quality or impact of the programme, but was rather due to hard budget decisions and departmental priorities.

We only shared the decision with local authorities this morning and have already heard from a number of directors of children’s services and others expressing their disappointment at this announcement – we expect this response will grow as more hear the news. This will be the first time since 2015 that there is no Government investment in social work leadership below director level. While we appreciate the Government is facing a difficult financial situation, the same is true of local authorities, and we believe that investing in leadership development for children’s social workers is crucial. It helps to ensure effective social work support for the hundreds of thousands of children and families that need it and creates an environment where social workers feel valued and empowered, which is vitally important given the current recruitment and retention crisis.

We are continuing discussions with the Department for Education and have an upcoming meeting with children’s minister David Johnston to understand his plans for the gap this leaves for social workers and their leadership development, and to explore possible options going forward.

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