18th November 2013

Interview: Lord Adonis

Labour Peer Lord Adonis tells The Mancunion about a new graduate scheme to recruit high achieving students into social work

“We are not recruiting enough of the brightest and best into the social work profession. That is the single biggest problem that we face in child protection and social work.”

Lord Adonis wants to change that.  He places the failure to attract the top talent into the social work profession as the key problem in a profession that has come under much criticism lately.

Frontline, is a new graduate scheme that uses the Teach First model to recruit the next generation of social workers. Adonis, who worked with and supported the development of Teach First, is confident that Frontline can help solve care work’s recruitment problems.

“Frontline is seeking to attract final year students and young graduates who are both, academically successful, who have got 2:1s or Firsts but also have the personal skills and enthusiasm to be able to be successful social workers.

”This is a new scheme with intensive training and support, the commitment is only to stay in the social work profession for two years. So it makes it possible for participants to move onto another career if participants wish to do so, but equally if people get hooked and there’s a good chance they will, then of course this is a great way into the profession for a longer period too.”

Frontline was founded when Josh MacAlister, who was a Teach First alumnus, contacted Lord Adonis with the idea. Together they developed the plan and pitched it to the Department for Education, who embraced it. This year they are offering 100 places and have already had over 500 applications and 3,400 expressions of interest.

Adonis, who served as a minister in the last Labour Government, has had a hand in everything from the academies programme to HS2. Serving as Chair of the Frontline board, Adonis knows more than anyone the importance of social work. Raised within the care system, Adonis understands the difference a care worker can make.

“Social workers are absolutely crucial to the life chances of children in care. There are the agents of the state and community. They take decisions everyday in respect to education, in respect to court proceedings, in respect to relations with guardians, parents or other adults who feature in the lives of children in care, which determine their whole future.

“It is very difficult to succeed as a child in care, unless you have the support of a good social worker. That’s where Frontline can make a big difference.”

Social care has come under a lot of criticism recently for failing to pick up cases of real abuse. Recent cases have shocked the public and no failure is greater than the death of four-year-old Hamzah Khan. Social workers failed to pick up on the shocking abuse as Hamzah was starved to death. It took 21 months for the authorities to discover Hamzah’s body; it was a damning indictment on the profession. Reforms are clearly needed, Adonis sees Frontline as a key part.

“The single biggest challenge is to recruit more and better social workers and that’s precisely what Frontline seeks to do. You can’t do it all alone but you can make a contribution.”

The recent social care scandals have threatened morale within the profession. Will Frontline improve morale?

“There’s a clear morale problem in the profession and raising the status is a big priority. Recruiting steadily more of the brightest and the best into the profession will make a big difference to the status of the profession and therefore improve its morale.”

One criticism of Teach First, was that it would lead to upper-middle class students going into areas of real deprivation without having first hand experience of poverty. Is this a danger with Frontline? Adonis casts doubt on these claims.

“Frontline has a rigorous selection process and is only going those who are going to be able to make a success of the role. Including dealing with challenging families and I’d expect Frontline entrants to come from all kinds of backgrounds, including some I’d expect to be graduates who are themselves in care when they were younger. ”

Social work is one of the most demanding jobs out there. According to a recent Randstad study, social workers are the mostly thinly spread of any profession with 54% saying, “They are working hard and cannot work any harder”.  It is clearly going to be a challenge to get affluent, sheltered graduates to opt for one of the most demanding jobs out there. Will they stick with scheme or will money be wasted as graduates drop out for less demanding work? Adonis sees Frontline as way of relieving pressures on currently overworked social workers.

”A big problem that social workers face is unfilled vacancies around them. Which adds enormously to workload and to pressure. If we can tackle this problem of recruitment and turnover, then that will significantly improve the working conditions for the profession at large and Frontline can play a role there.”

He also is confident, that while graduates are only committed for two years, many will stay on for much longer.

“It is a strong selling point of the programme that you are not locked in for the future. But, in practice I would suspect most Frontline participants would willingly stay for long than two years, because the programme is so good and the work is so rewarding.”

Whether Frontline will succeed is yet to be seen. The scheme was recently hit by a survey finding that 55% of social worked thought the scheme would have a negative impact on the quality of practice. But, with all three major parties backing the scheme and impressive recruitment, Frontline looks here to stay.


For information on how to apply to Frontline, visit their website:

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