This does not have to be one of Britain's least appealing careers

Josh Macalister
Saturday 27 October 2012 22:24
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The quality and quantity of people joining children's social work continues to be in a crisis state. Last year, there were more than 1,350 vacancies in the field; at the same time, only 6 per cent of people starting social work courses came from the elite Russell Group of universities. About a quarter of councils have vacancy rates over 15 per cent, and in these councils one in 10 staff is an agency worker.

Despite recent improvements, social work remains a run-down, overstretched and unappealing profession.

During my teaching career, I've seen the human cost of these problems. I worked with a child who had been taken into care, and wasn't behaving or achieving at school.

When we got in touch with his carers, it turned out he had seen six social workers in 12 months, his current social worker was an agency member of staff, and he was one of more than 30 cases being dealt with. That child deserved the best and the brightest working with him; instead, he fell victim to a system that was short-staffed and run down. This is a familiar story.

This is why I wanted to test the idea of applying a high profile, intensive, leadership-focused scheme, like Teach First, to children's social work. With the early support of Andrew Adonis, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) we were able to prove that the model could work.

The scheme would select exceptional candidates, offer them an exciting leadership opportunity, put them through excellent and intensive training and place them on the front-line of children's social work where they can have the biggest impact. This would be run by an independent social enterprise – Frontline – that could innovate and pull together support from government and the private sector.

It's not inevitable that social work remains one of Britain's least appealing careers, when it is, in fact, one of the most important. Frontline could transform perceptions of social work and contribute to the huge task of tackling social disadvantage.

The writer is a teacher and project leader for the Frontline programme

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