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Annual Report 2016-17

At least half a million children in England don’t have a safe or stable home. These children and their families face some of the worst life chances, but we know that great social work has the power to change this. That’s why we recruit and develop outstanding individuals to be social workers and leaders to transform the lives of the most vulnerable children and families.


“I am delighted to present the Frontline Annual Report for 2016–17. It is a great opportunity to reflect on another year of progress as we have continued to expand our work, increasing our impact and ability to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable children and families.”

Camilla Cavendish
Baroness Cavendish of Little Venice
Trustee and Chair, Frontline

Developing leaders in social work and broader society

In summer 2016, we welcomed 157 starters into the Frontline programme, including our first-ever participants in the North East.  

Last autumn, thanks to a dedicated marketing effort, we received over 3,000 applications for the Frontline programme’s fourth cohort. This is the largest number of applications we have ever had. And this summer, over 280 participants joined the 2017 Cohort.

We expanded the Frontline programme into the Midlands for the first time. And we are thrilled to have climbed further up the prestigious The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers list, from 42nd to 28th.

 The Firstline programme has also gone from strength to strength, with 23 Firstline leaders completing the programme as part of our Autumn 2016 Cohort and a further 64 starting the programme in spring 2017. We have recently completed recruitment for 70 social work managers to join the Autumn 2017 Cohort.

Evaluation of Firstline

In January 2017, the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University published an independent evaluation of the Firstline programme. The report found that the Firstline programme has a significant impact on social work leadership. Those on the programme gave “overwhelmingly positive” feedback and their teams reported improvements in their leadership capabilities. Such a positive evaluation is hugely encouraging and provides a great foundation from which to improve the programme further.

Building the Fellowship

At the end of the year our alumni movement, the Frontline Fellowship, had over 150 fellows. Over the past year, fellows have engaged in a range of activities across policy, practice and innovation. Our fellows are already making a big difference within social work and broader society, and we look forward to helping them build on these achievements as we expand to what we hope will be around 1,500 fellows by 2020.

Becoming an education provider

One of Frontline’s largest undertakings in 2016–17 was the transition to become an education provider, bringing academic delivery of the Frontline programme in-house. We successfully developed our postgraduate diploma and master’s degree, approved by the Health and Care Professions Council and accredited by the University of Bedfordshire. We envisage that this will enable us to continue to innovate, improve academic teaching and generate practice-based research and learning that we can share with the wider social work system.

Looking ahead

We have developed an ambitious plan for 2020 that will see us working further across England, improving our programmes and supporting our expanding movement of fellows. As always, we are driven by determination to bring about meaningful change for the most vulnerable children and families.

In the coming year we will be well on our way to having developed over 400 social work managers through the Firstline programme. We will have a thriving movement of up to 350 fellows. And we will have brought more than 1,000 bright, committed graduates into the social work profession. Many of these individuals will have foregone more lucrative jobs to help transform lives. We salute their dedication and thank them for their efforts.

Such growth will bring challenges. However, I am confident that with the support of our funders including the Department for Education, our marvellous local authority partners, our accrediting partner and our fantastic staff team, we can continue to have an impact.

It is a privilege to have been appointed as Chair of Trustees
 earlier this year. I would like to recognise the contribution of my predecessor, Baroness Morgan, who did an excellent job of steering the organisation in the direction set by Lord Adonis, and who remains on the board as Deputy Chair. I am also delighted to be able to welcome our new trustee, Charley Lintern. Having completed the Frontline programme as part of our inaugural cohort, Charley is the first Frontline fellow to become a trustee and we look forward to her bringing her valuable experience and insight to the role. We must also take a moment to thank Lord Adonis, Sir Harvey McGrath and Craig Baker who have stepped down from the board this year and who have all played vital roles in supporting our work.


Frontline 2016 Cohort











Total Participants






Career Changers


Ryan Wise


I knew I wanted to work with children and families, and Frontline appealed to me as an exciting way to get into social work. I was drawn to the idea of working at the same time as studying, the opportunities to progress and the leadership element. The masters was also a huge appeal, as well as the focus on practice skill and how we do social work, as opposed to bureaucracy.

On the programme, I developed my understanding of leadership. When I came into the programme I had a very linear, authoritarian view of leadership and I didn’t really understand the complexity of the word and what it means in practice. I’ve become more adaptable and more reflective in terms of how I work – not just with families but with colleagues. A lot of leadership isn’t about making tough decisions, it’s about learning from and utilising others and working in partnership with people to get the best out of them.

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I have also improved my emotional resilience and ability to manage the difficulties of being a social worker. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about myself, not to sound too cheesy!

The Fellowship has played a big part in my continued development as a practitioner and leader. There have been many different opportunities and you get lots of support – I have taught on the Frontline programme, run a workshop, met with journalists, spoken with a CEO over coffee and begun to develop two innovative ideas. It helps me consider how I can contribute outside of my day-to-day job.

Having completed the Frontline programme I have remained in social work and the support through the Fellowship has helped me progress professionally. As a social worker, you try and help make changes to the lives of families and children so they can reach their potential, so they can succeed regardless of what’s happened to them in the past. I think every child has the talent to do well and succeed. If I can change their lives in any way so they can do that, then that’s what I want to do, and I think social work is the best way to achieve that.

The Fellowship has played a big part in my continued development as a practitioner and leader.


Patrick Flaherty
Chairman, Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation

The work of the Credit Suisse EMEA Foundation centres on improving the educational attainment, aspirations and employability of young disadvantaged people. In Frontline, we have found a partner who shares this mission.

Recognising the importance of a strong support network in a young person’s life, Credit Suisse became a founding partner of Frontline, helping to turn idea into reality. Since inception, we’ve witnessed the impact of their approach as their programmes have helped to recruit and develop leaders in social work and society, placing them in highneed regions across the country. In doing so, they are helping to transform the lives of vulnerable young people and making a meaningful contribution to the increased visibility and awareness of this important profession.

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Over the years we’ve been impressed by the organisation’s ability and willingness to rise to challenges in the interest of their mission. Just this year, they assumed responsibility for all academic teaching on the Frontline programme – accepting the challenges this would entail in exchange for the tremendous in-house knowledge, as well as the improved agility and innovation, that this would bring to their training model.

As the organisation has evolved, expanding into new regions and growing their programmes, we have sought ways to build on the success of our partnership. Complementing the foundation’s support, our employees have contributed their expertise. Through our Global Citizens Programme, qualified employees have the opportunity to go on assignment in-country and apply their professional skills to build the capacity of our partner organisations. We are proud to say that participants of this programme have supported some of Frontline’s priority initiatives, including graduate recruitment and project management efforts, as well as the development of its agile working and people strategy.

It is a privilege to partner with pioneering organisations, like Frontline, that are prepared to do the hard work of developing and testing innovative solutions to some of society’s toughest issues. Their goals are ambitious, but so is their passion and drive. We are confident in Frontline’s work and look forward to seeing where it takes us in the years to come.

It is a privilege to partner with pioneering organisations, like Frontline, that are prepared to do the hard work of developing and testing innovative solutions to some of society’s toughest issues.


Our vision

Frontline’s vision is of a country where children’s life chances are not determined by social or family circumstance. Social workers play a pivotal role in the lives of the children and families they support. With almost 500,000 children in England receiving support from social workers, there is an urgent need for the very best life-changing professionals.

The practice of leadership in social work can bring about positive change for families, influence other professionals, improve organisations and tackle deep social problems. That’s why we develop the leadership of newly qualified social workers and first line managers and support fellows who have completed our programmes to have long-term impact.

The trustees have had due regard to the Charity Commission’s published guidance on the Public Benefit requirement under the Charities Act 2011 and in the following report explain how the charity has worked towards its purposes for the public benefit.



Key achievements and performance in 2016–17

This annual report reflects activity and achievements from September 2016 to August 2017. Our main activity in the year involved developing leaders through three strands: the Frontline programme, which recruits and trains graduates and career changers to be children’s social workers; the Firstline programme, which develops the leadership capabilities of children’s social work managers; and the Fellowship, our movement of alumni working to create change for vulnerable children and their families.


We set out to:

Ensure consistent and high quality delivery of our programmes in all regions
Ensure Firstline leaders on the programme have a measurable positive impact on their social workers and local authority culture

How did we do?

Frontline became an approved ‘education provider’ for the 2017 Cohort. In doing so, we invested in the programme curriculum, including the development of a new master’s degree in social work. The master’s extends and expands the Frontline model, includes independent research and focusses squarely on child and family social work. We also refreshed our postgraduate diploma, with a renewed focus on leadership in social work to help participants influence their local teams and multi-agency partners for the benefit of the children and families they work with.

This year saw 25 Frontline participants and 12 Firstline leaders starting the programmes in the North East for the first time, across 17 local authorities. Our North East team collaborated with mission-aligned organisations, including Teach First – to learn from their experience of developing a regional model.

We continued to develop and refine the Firstline programme based on learning from the prototype cohort and ongoing feedback from Firstline leaders. A team of researchers from the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University published our first Department for Education-commissioned evaluation in January 2017. The key findings are listed below.

We started our own internal evaluation of the Autumn 2016 Cohort. We have found that Firstline leaders are able to identify the ways that their leadership has improved across the programme. Their peers, line managers and direct reports also recognised these shifts. Key themes that emerged are as follows:

Increased confidence in their ability and their capacity to inspire confidence in others
Improvements in how they manage and develop their teams
Improvements in their approach to difficult conversations and their ability to challenge others where appropriate
An increase in the extent to which they feel they can influence others and advocate for their teams or for children and families

“Firstline leaders were overwhelmingly positive about participating in the programme, and experienced it as thought-provoking, challenging and rewarding. [..] Social workers in the Firstline leaders’ teams and their senior managers also reported that they had perceived changes in the Firstline leaders’ leadership capabilities. The evaluation found particular evidence of improved professional practice being applied to the Firstline leaders’ methods for supervision, team meetings and influencing change in policies and systems within their authorities.”

Firstline Evaluation Report, p.18



We set out to:

Recruit 300 outstanding individuals to join the Frontline programme in 2017 to train as social workers
Meet the requirements for growth of Frontline programme placements into local authorities in a new region as well as filling additional placements in three established regions
Have developed 80 social work managers through the Firstline programme
Grow the Fellowship to 132 fellows by the end of 2016–17
Engage with Frontline fellows to work actively and collaboratively through the Fellowship and enable them to improve life outcomes for vulnerable children and families

How did we do?

In 2016–17, Frontline received over 3,000 applications for the Frontline programme, maintaining the 10:1 offer ratio of previous years. We recruited over 280 new candidates who started the programme as our 2017 Cohort, slightly short of our target but an increase of 82% on the year before. In total, we attended 206 events on 39 campuses across the country and saw 833 candidates through our assessment centre.

We recruited the largest number of male and BAME participants into the cohort to date, at 54 and 42 respectively. At Frontline we believe that social workers should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. While we are pleased that the numbers of male and BAME applicants continue to grow, we are working to improve diversity in future cohorts.

The team held five diversity insight days and three undergraduate taster days throughout the year. These days offer individuals from under represented groups the opportunity to learn more about social work and Frontline, and to engage with the skills required for the role.

Over the year, we recruited nine local authorities in the Midlands to partner with us. As well as local authorities in the West Midlands, we gained the interest of several East Midlands councils. Following the decision to partner with Leicester City, this has become the Midlands region, allowing ample scope for expansion in the future.

We now partner with 46 local authorities for the Frontline programme. Due to the 35% growth in partners in the south, we have split the London and South East region into two: the London region and the South Central region.

Frontline climbed to a position of 28 in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers (although The Times announces the list in October 2017, it is compiled in January). This puts us ahead of popular public sector organisations such as the Army and the Police, in addition to competitive graduate employers such as Apple and Sky. In doing so, we continue to build prestige for the profession and for children’s social work as a career of choice for graduates. In the context of an increasingly competitive graduate market, this is an important factor in helping us to meet future recruitment targets.

Building on the success of the prototype, the Firstline programme has also scaled up significantly over the past year with two new cohorts starting in 2016–17.

This year saw us move to bi-annual intakes of leaders for the Firstline programme for the first time. 22 Firstline leaders from four local authorities joined and completed our Autumn 2016 Cohort. A further 64 Firstline leaders from 12 local authorities then joined the current Spring 2017 Cohort, amounting to 86 leaders being developed over the course of the year. We recruited the Firstline leaders across the North East, North West and Greater London.

We launched the Frontline Fellowship at an event in October 2016 and throughout the year we have seen an increasing number of fellows come forward to suggest and lead activity within the Fellowship. As the Fellowship approaches its first anniversary, we already have a vibrant and active community of fellows, attending events and contributing to the Fellowship streams of practice, policy and innovation. As of August 2017, we have over 150 fellows in the movement.

One of our fellows has taken on a two-year position on the Frontline Board of Trustees. She will have a real impact on the running of the charity and use her frontline experience to ensure we remain resolutely focussed on our mission of helping children and families.

“The insight day showed me that social work is an exciting, meaningful and worthwhile career, and a profession filled with real prospects for those who want to have a real impact.”

Anick Soni, insight day attendee


People and sustainability

We set out to:

 Drive the delivery of the mission through organisational efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability
 Ensure the charity’s financial stability by significantly growing voluntary income
Protect the public and professional reputation of the organisation and raise awareness of our cause

How did we do?

As our programmes increase in scale, along with our reach and impact, we are working hard to improve quality across everything we deliver and to build a lean, sustainable and efficient organisation. Given our ambitious and successful growth this year, our employee team nearly doubled in size.

In February, we relocated the London office to Clerkenwell, to a space better suited to the size and needs of the charity. We also opened new offices in the North West and the Midlands, to support the delivery of our programmes as a truly national charity.

Finally, throughout the year we worked hard to improve our systems, policies and processes, supporting both the growth and overall operational foundations of the organisation; areas of focus included information security, data protection, monitoring and evaluation, and contract management.

Frontline’s fundraising strategy involves working with trusts, companies and major givers to meet our growing fundraising needs. Our fundraising team are responsible for writing grant applications, attending meetings and hold engagement events to inform potential supporters of the work Frontline is undertaking and the need for voluntary funding. Fundraising employees regularly attend information and networking events, training courses and conferences within the charity sector to stay up-to-date with sector news and ensure best practice. All staff are DBS checked to ensure the safety of any of the vulnerable people that we support who speak at fundraising events or meetings.

We do not partner with any professional fundraisers or commercial participators. Frontline is registered with the Fundraising Regulator and is committed to the Fundraising Promise and Code of Fundraising Practice. We have not received any complaints in regards to our fundraising practices.

We secured three grants from charitable organisations in support of the Firstline programme in the crucial first year of its national roll-out, including support from a new trust and further grants from existing supporters who recognised the potential for impact of the programme.

Excluding government grants, we recognised £1.7m in voluntary income during the period, including donations in kind with a market value of £0.6m. These donations in kind came from a number of partner organisations providing generous pro bono support including consulting, legal services and venue space.

The External Relations team completed a project to completely redesign and rebuild Frontline’s website, taking it from a graduate recruitment focus to a ‘social work charity’ website that truly showcases the full breadth of our work. This work also included developing brand identities for Firstline and the Fellowship.

In support of World Social Work Day we ran a series of articles that have received over 1,252 views on our own website, as well as a feature on Community Care which received 4,000 views within its first week. We also arranged for members of the shadow cabinet to visit some of our local authority partners, including the shadow secretary of state for education and the shadow children’s minister.

“Having joined Frontline at a time of unprecedented growth, it’s been really inspiring to see the efforts taken to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the mission and remain a close, tightly-knit organisation. Every day I am surrounded by motivated and committed individuals from all walks of life, engaged in work which we know makes a real difference.”

Pash Selopal, Recruitment Officer


Jess Markwart

North Yorkshire

I joined the Firstline programme because I was looking for something that would challenge me both professionally and personally. I was also interested in the idea of learning across several different formats, over a long period, to enable me to really embed the learning into my practice.

As a result of the programme I now have a greater understanding of the power of language and how to harness it to my advantage. It’s helped me learn to take credit where credit is due, to think about my actions and to recognise that positive outcomes don’t happen through luck or without good planning. I’ve also developed the confidence and skills to have difficult conversations.

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The programme involved residentials, group work and one-to-one sessions with a leadership development advisor. You also identify a development focus early on, and work on this throughout the course. The thing I most enjoyed was the one-to-one sessions. They allowed me to discuss and reflect on my practice, develop practical ways of addressing any issues or conflict, and practise conversations.

The Firstline programme has helped me as a social work leader in a number of ways and taught me that language and communication can be a powerful tool to motivate and influence others. Using my learning from Firstline, I held a development day with the multi-agency team that I lead. As part of this I wrote a public narrative, something I hadn’t heard of before Firstline, and read this during the day. It was key in inspiring and calling the team members into action. I believe it played a huge part in the day and team’s success, and really brought us all together.

As a group, I believe myself and fellow Firstline leaders at my local authority are creating a culture of taking on feedback without being defensive when receiving it, but learning and developing instead. We are learning to have difficult conversations when they arise and tackling issues head on. This is creating a culture of transparency and efficiency.

I joined Firstline because I was looking for something that would challenge me both professionally and personally.


Plans for the future

Over the coming years, Frontline is looking to make an even greater impact on the lives of vulnerable children and their families. We have an ambitious plan for 2020 that will see us working across England, improving our programmes and supporting over 1,500 fellows.

Our organisational strategy focusses on the following key areas:
Quality: To improve regional delivery, curriculum design and outcomes for children and families
Scale: To expand nationally and build a movement of fellows
People and sustainability: Focus and engage our people, remain efficient and grow our range of high quality supporters

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As we enter the new financial year, we will continue to build on the strength of our curriculum and programme design and delivery across all regions. We will be drawing on the extensive knowledge and experience of our Academic team to carry out and publish research as part of a new Practice Insights project. This research will help us maintain the high quality of our curriculum and programmes and contribute to the knowledge base of children’s social work practice. Having clarity in our national delivery is now extremely important as we are operating in five regions across the country. This coming year will provide an opportunity to develop the regional delivery of our work.

We will be supporting up to 280 participants through Year 1 of the Frontline programme and also aiming to recruit a further 352 participants to commence in the 2018 Cohort with increased diversity. Competition continues to increase in the graduate market and our work to boost the public perception of social work is therefore critical.

There will be another two cohorts of the Firstline programme commencing and we want to see 150 high potential social work managers developed into leaders and having a transformative impact in their local authority settings.

Our Fellowship movement will grow to up to 350 leaders in social work and broader society. We will continue to support them to work actively and collaboratively through the Frontline Fellowship to improve life outcomes for vulnerable children and families through practice, policy and innovation.

To enable all of this work we will need to drive towards maximising charity efficiency. We are incredibly grateful for the support we receive from a wide range of stakeholders and, as our programmes grow in scale, the level of support required will also increase. In 2017–18 we are aiming to see growth in voluntary income of 30% on the previous year’s target. We will achieve this by working with new funders and increasing resources and focus in the area.

We look forward to celebrating Frontline’s fifth anniversary in 2018 and we will be using the opportunity to further raise the profile of the profession and to boost our efforts to recruit and develop more outstanding individuals through our programmes and Fellowship.


Phil Spencer


Before Frontline, I worked in the charity sector in developing countries but found it frustrating. I realised the best way to help people is through meaningful personal relationships and social work would give me this opportunity to work directly with people.

Since joining Frontline, I have realised the work is very different to what I expected and social work is a very wide-ranging field. In Year 1, I worked with a handful of families in different circumstances. These included issues of neglect, adult and child mental health difficulties, young carers, and children who were being sexually exploited. In Year 2, I moved from a child protection team to a youth offending team. Now I work with children within the criminal justice system and their families to reduce reoffending and manage their risk to themselves and others.

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I find that being a social worker is an immense privilege, because it puts you directly in a relationship with some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It gives you an opportunity to help others, but it is a lot of responsibility.

In my first year I worked intensively with a family on a child protection plan. Throughout the year there were numerous crises between the mother and eldest daughter: physical and verbal abuse, running away, stealing from the mother, as well as two overdoses by the young person. When I left the team the case was about to close, but I was unsure the family were ready.

Six months later, the young person contacted me. She told me how much growing up she had done. She now had a part time job, was in college and her relationship with her mother was much improved. She thanked me for my help and asked for a reference to do some work experience with a charity helping women who suffered domestic abuse – she said she wanted to help others the way they had helped her mother.

It is hard, but it is a privilege doing this job. You will have challenging days, but you will also have those moments when all your work appears to have paid off. You realise it’s all worth it, because you can see things are better for a young person than when you first met them and you know you made a difference.

Being a social worker is an immense privilege