normanlambA fast-track graduate recruitment scheme to attract high quality candidates into mental health social work could help to improve services, according to a report from a think-tank.

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), commissioned by the Department for Health, says that a recruitment programme like Teach First could attract high-calibre individuals into employment as mental health social workers, something the sector has struggled to do.

The IPPR’s report cites that only 10 Oxbridge graduates went on to study on a social work MA course in 2011/12, compared to 10% of the entire Oxbridge graduating class who applied to Teach First in 2010.

The fast-track programme proposed in the report, provisionally called ‘Think Ahead’, would look to shift the balance of social work education further towards practical experience of working with service users and give special focus on how to work effectively within integrated teams, the report says.

It adds that recent graduate fast-track programmes such as Teach First and Frontline – which is designed to produce child protection social workers – provide models for how this could be done.

By the end of the proposed fast-track programme, participants will have completed a postgraduate diploma and a master’s degree in social work, along with the assisted and supported year in employment. They will be fully-qualified social workers, with a sound theoretical knowledge base, significant levels of high-quality, practical experience in mental health and a range of other settings, and an understanding of the nature of mental health social work within integrated teams, the report says. 

It adds that such graduates will be well-placed to lead the integration agenda in mental health going forward.

Attracting talented people

Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb (pictured), has backed the proposal: “We want to make the health and care system more supportive for people with mental health problems. We know that social work can struggle to attract talented groups of people, particularly in mental health and we want to change this. That’s why I requested this report to take forward a recruitment programme that will transform perceptions of social work, attract talented people to the profession and improve mental health care for everyone.”

Jonathan Clifton, senior research fellow at IPPR and author of the report, said: “When working effectively, mental health services can support people to live meaningful and independent lives. However, when these services are under strain this can result in considerable human and financial costs.

“Too many people can be let down when things go wrong, causing distress and putting vulnerable people at risk. A fast-track programme like Think Ahead could be one step on the journey towards changing this.

“At the heart of effective services are the professionals who deliver them. A fast-track programme has the potential to provide community mental health teams – the ‘hub’ from which most mental health services are organised within the community – with a cadre of highly trained mental health professionals who are able to lead the integration agenda and help attract the best and brightest into mental health social work.”


But this proposal has met with criticism from a leading mental health social work blogger. The blogger, known on Twitter as @Ermintrude2, wrote to defend the “fantastic” current mental health social workers and those in training, pointing out that there is already a post-graduate route into social work training through the Masters qualification. “This is a kick in the teeth of the highest degree. If we didn’t go to Oxbridge, clearly we aren’t good enough.”

Ermintrude added that the report focuses on the wrong issue: “… the issue is not about new entrants into mental health social work but the pulling apart of mental health social work so that there aren’t any jobs anymore. 

“There is no shortage of newly qualified social workers who are very skilled who want to work in mental health. Maybe pushing some of the money and support into building strong post qualification frameworks to support them might be a better idea than pulling in people who don’t really have a clue what social work actually is.

“This scheme is ill-thought out, ignorant and insulting. It shows no understanding or insight into mental health services or social work services.”

Ermintrude put forward her own proposals, including consulting social workers and service users on what should change and how, and retaining the generic social work qualifying routes.

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