More than 200 people applied to fill 15 spaces at Northamptonshire County Council’s new Social Work Academy, which promises to offer more support and a lighter workload to people training for a career in social care.
The first 15 pupils, who enrolled when it opened last October and are now halfway through the one-year intensive course, have said that new and improved levels of support from supervising staff has made them more confident about continuing with their career.
The pressures on trainee social workers were so stressful before that many people would drop out after a few weeks.
More than 200 applied for positions on the course, designed to equip social workers to provide a better quality of care, and more than 100 applied for the 20 places on the next course, which begins this spring. The council are now in the process of opening applications for the third generation, beginning in October.
One of the first newly-qualified social workers, Sarah Stratton, aged 25, attended a launch event at the academy headquarters in Riverside Way in Northampton town centre today.
She said: “There has been lots of support to get through all the elements of the course and now, where we were struggling with cases at the beginning, we are coping well.”
The county council has been criticised for it’s provision and quality of social care and was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2013 for its children’s services. It has rolled out various changes to the way it provides social support, including moving universal services provided by children’s centres into county libraries.
Miss Stratton said: “Nobody has tried to hide that fact, and that the pressures on trainee social workers were so stressful before that many people would drop out after a few weeks.
“But I feel like the academy has addressed that and its provision of support and workloads has taken a lot of that pressure off.”
Former youth worker, Michael Ogunjinmi, who moved from London to take up a place at the Northampton Social Work Academy, added: “I think joining the academy was the best thing I could have done because I had been applying for social worker jobs but my lack of experience was proving a barrier.
“This programme allows me to build on the experience I gained from my youth work and I believe there’s real scope for progression here.”
Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle), the council’s cabinet member for children and education, said: “The new model has worked very well and I don’t know why we weren’t doing this in the first place.
“I believe that the problems found by Ofsted were true and that their judgement was a good thing because it has enabled us to drive these changes forward very quickly. I feel we are now well on our way to improving that rating.
“We’ve introduced this model at a significant cost, including the recruitment of plenty of supervising staff, and I am confident that we will be selling it on to other authorities in the country.”
Graduates spend the first six months of the academy studying in a more traditional learning environment, with one day a week working with a social work team.
For the second half of the programme, they are based mostly in the field, with structured support from the academy, before they move onto a year working on probation.
Mrs Smith added: “In the last year I have accompanied some os these newly-qualified social workers on their visits and there have been some terrible situations in the last year, some that I struggled to switch off from.
“But these people deal with them day-in, day-out and often have to make very tough decisions which affect whole families.
“It’s one of the most rewarding but also one of the most difficult jobs, so we must make sure our social workers have the support, advice and theprotected environment they need.”