EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Lord Adonis: ‘Durham students should choose social work’

Lord Adonis, Chairman of the Frontline Board

When you think of a tough, prestigious graduate job, ‘children’s social work’ may not be the first career to spring to mind. Banking is a common one; legal work maybe; teaching is now becoming increasingly popular. But let’s be honest – social work hasn’t usually been on the radar of many final year students.

At least until now. This September Frontline, the new graduate programme for child protection social work, rocketed into the Times Top 100 list of graduate employers after a large number of final year students voted for the charity as the organisation offering them the best opportunities. It made history by entering the prestigious list in its very first year and propelling social work into the list for the very first time. This came after 2,684 students and graduates applied to join Frontline’s first cohort of 100 trainees.

One of 50 applicants from Durham was Joe Stone, who graduated in Criminology at Durham last year. Joe joined the Frontline programme this July and is now training ‘on-the-job’ in a local authority child protection team in London.

“At Durham we are fortunate enough to get an incredible education and meet some amazing people,” says Joe. “Social work, and child protection in particular, allows you to continue this experience. The job of a social work is a complex one that will allow you to push yourself to your limits.”

Joe is also keen for other Durham students and graduates to consider a social impact career. “With Frontline, you not only start work straight away but you also further your studies and gain masters. For any Durham student, Frontline could offer you a new and exciting opportunity completely different from the generic graduate schemes.”

So why are so many students choosing social work? And why now? To answer this question, we spoke to Lord Adonis, the Labour Peer and former education minister who now chairs the Frontline Board. Adonis gave vital political backing to Josh MacAlister, Frontline’s founder and Chief Executive, and has continued to play a key role in the organisation.

Frontline’s origins

“Josh McAlister, who was a highly successful Teach First participant, came to me with the idea of extending the Teach First concept into children’s social work,” explains Adoinis. “I thought this was an immensely exciting proposition. The time was ripe both because of the crisis in social work recruitment, but also because the Teach First concept was by then 10 years old, and this was a good time to set up a similar ogranisation in a related field.”

“I got some research funding to enable Josh to work up the proposition. The Department for Education then decided to back it, Josh became the first Chief Executive and we launched the scheme,” he said.

The need for outstanding graduates

So why does children’s social work need more high-achieving graduates?

“Social work needs to attract a good share of the most able graduates,” says Adonis. “In the past the profession has failed to do so. This is partly because there were no equivalent graduate schemes in comparison to those offered by the leading private sector employers. Frontline puts this right; it introduces a graduate training scheme that is hugely attractive to new graduates with intensive training, a salary almost immediately after starting on the programme and effective supervision by experienced professionals from the earliest days.”

Adonis also points out that more that 60,000 children at any one time are in care, and this just represents “the tip of the iceberg with troubled families who depend on the state and social workers to help them through difficult and traumatic experiences.”

Why Durham students should apply

When asked why Durham students should apply to Frontline, Adonis pointed to the “huge sense of social purpose” in social work. “I hope that Durham students and post graduates will seriously consider applying to Frontline as it offers an excellent contribution of intellectual and social challenge,” he said. “For young graduates, it is one of the most rewarding things that they could do.”

Explaining the programme’s structure, Adonis said: “Participants are placed in groups with proper supervision with a local authority within two months of starting on the programme and are being paid a salary from that point. Furthermore, the initial commitment is only for two years. We expect that most will stay for longer, although it is in no way a mark of failure if you leave after two years. On the contrary, those who do chose to leave after two years and enter a new career will have made a huge contribution to social work. It really is a very strong proposition for graduates.”

Author: Brand Manager of Frontline at Durham

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