This week the Summer Institute for the Frontline programme began. I am proud to be part of the academic teaching team delivering the programme and proud to be a social worker. I was drawn to Frontline for one simple reason – its focus on practice.
In 2011, I read an article which called for ‘a reimagining of the traditional boundaries’ shaping how academic tutors and practice educators work together to create learning opportunities for social work students. Working more closely it was suggested might involve academic tutors spending more time in practice settings rather than the university. The argument was compelling and echoed my own experiences within higher education. I wanted to spend more time with students in the practice learning environment making links between this and their academic studies. With Frontline I can do just that and also be involved in shaping the development of a brand new programme.
So what is it like to be at the Summer Institute? What stands out from the first few days? We began as we mean to carry on – by hearing from those who have had social workers themselves. On day one, Jenny Malloy (Hackney Child) talked about her own journey sharing with us what stands out from her own childhood in care and experiences of neglect. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. We laughed and we cried with her as she spoke. It was an honour to listen to her. That evening we saw Lemn Sissay perform at the official Opening Ceremony. A bittersweet monologue; comic and disturbing in equal measure as he offered an assortment of thoughts, advice and comedy from his own experiences as a care leaver too.
We have turned now to the more routine activities at the start of all social work qualifying programmes. I have started to teach and to interact in more depth with those studying on the programme. It is strange to finally see them before me, moving from being a hypothetical concept we were planning for, to a real group of people. What are they like? The answer: a genuinely lovely group of people. Focused, hard-working, responsive, cheerful, positive, and, yes, clever and confident too. Like everyone else who studies social work they are grappling with understanding what it means to work alongside people in adversity; to be wield statutory power and yet build effective, supportive relationships.
Like other social work students at this stage in their studies, they have had a lot to take in. Yet they seem intent on making the most out of the learning opportunities we offer at the Summer Institute before they continue their taught studies during their practice learning experience. I am humbled by their positive attitudes and commitment to embrace their chosen profession. The teachings days are long and the issues covered can be intense. Yet one participant said today that she had “never clock-watched once.” Neither have I.
Alison Domakin is a Principal Lecturer at the Frontline Academy