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About the programme

What does the programme involve?

Think Ahead is a fast-track scheme for exceptional individuals to become mental health social workers. It blends world-class academic learning with extensive on-the-job experience, over the course of a two-year programme.

For more information about the programme, see About the programme.

When does the programme take place?

The third cohort of the Think Ahead programme begins in July 2018 and ends in September 2020, so in total it lasts for 26 months. You must be able to commit to the programme for its entire duration, on a full-time basis.

For more information on the structure of the programme, see How the programme works.

What qualifications will I receive?

At the end of Year One you will gain a postgraduate diploma in social work. This is the professional qualification that allows you to apply to the Health and Care Professions Council to become a registered social worker.

At the end of Year Two, you will gain a master’s degree in social work. This is an advanced qualification in social work, and for one of its modules you can choose whether to focus on learning advanced practice techniques or carrying out original research.

Both qualifications are awarded by the University of York.

How much free time will I have?

The Think Ahead programme is full-time, Mondays to Fridays, for its entire duration – including the Summer Institute, Year One, and Year Two. In Year One you will be able to take 25 days of leave from the programme, plus bank holidays. (Some leave days must be taken on pre-determined dates, and there are some periods, such as the Summer Institute, during which you cannot take any days off.) In Year Two you will have an annual leave allowance as determined by your employer.

You will not usually have to work during any evenings or weekends, but there are some optional activities that you are likely to want to take part in, such as lectures from leading figures. Think Ahead is an intensive programme, and you may find that you use some evening and weekend time for your academic studies.

How many places are available on the programme?

There are over 100 places available to start the programme in 2018, in multiple locations across England.

Where will I work?

We work with a number of NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across England, and you will be placed in one of these organisations. Your specific workplace is likely to change over the two years of the programme, but it will always be within the geographical area covered by your host organisation.

You will be able to let us know which regions you would prefer to be placed in when you apply. We will do our best to take account of your preferences, but we do expect you to be flexible about where you live and work.

Social workers often see people over a wide area, and many of our host organisations cover areas outside cities. For these roles, you will need to travel by car during the working day. This means that you are less likely to be given a place on the programme If you cannot drive (because there will be fewer host organisations which can accept you).

When you apply, you will be able to let us know whether you are able to drive, and if not whether you are willing to commit to learning before you start the programme.

How much will I be paid?

There are no programme fees, and all qualifications are fully funded.

During the Summer Institute, your accommodation and meals will be provided for you free of charge.

To cover the Summer Institute and Year One, you will receive a tax-free training bursary of £17,200 outside London or £19,100 inside London, paid monthly. This is a 14-month period, so for each full month you will receive around £1230 (outside London) or £1360 (inside London).

In Year Two, you will be employed as a newly qualified social worker and receive a taxable salary. Your exact salary will depend on the NHS Trust or Local Authority employing you, but will typically range from around £21,000-£26,000 outside London to around £30,000 within London.

When will I be paid?

You will be paid at the end of each month that you are on the Think Ahead programme, starting in July 2018. (The initial July payment is a two-week pro rata amount, to cover the two weeks you will have been on the programme by the end of the July. Full monthly payments begin at the end of August.)

Is it compulsory to attend the entire Summer Institute?

Yes, the six-week residential Summer Institute is an essential part of the programme and you must be present for the teaching throughout the entire Institute. The only exception to this is if your university graduation falls during the Institute, in which case we are usually able to grant one day off as long as we are given sufficient notice.

The compulsory teaching hours at the Institute are Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4.30pm. Outside of these hours there are some optional evening training sessions, and many informal social events. You will also have reading and assignments to complete in your own time.

The vast majority of participants choose to stay overnight at the Institute throughout the teaching week. Some participants choose to leave the Institute for some weekends.

Can my family stay with me at the Summer Institute?

If you have dependants, in some circumstances we may be able to offer alternative accommodation that would allow them to stay with you. If you are offered a place on the programme you need to let us know as soon as possible if you would like to discuss this possibility.

The Summer Institute is an intense six-week period, with lots of reading and assignments required outside teaching hours, so you may wish to consider the practicalities of having additional responsibilities during this time.

Where is the Summer Institute?

The 2018 Summer Institute will take place at the Sutton Bonnington Campus of Nottingham University. 

About eligibility

Am I eligible to apply?

You can quickly check whether you are eligible to apply using our eligibility checker.

The eligibility checker tests whether you:

  • Are available to participate in the programme full-time (for our third cohort, this is from July 2018 to September 2020).
  • Have the right to remain and work in the UK, or an appropriate Tier 4 study visa, for the entire duration of the programme.
  • Hold at least a grade C GCSE in Maths, and in English or English Language (not English Literature), or an equivalent level 2 qualification. (You may apply if you do not hold these qualifications, but you must gain them before starting the programme as they are a legal requirement for entry to any social work course.)
  • Hold, or are predicted to hold by the time the programme starts, at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree from a UK university in any subject except Social Work, or an equivalent degree awarded by an overseas university.

As part of the selection process, we will ask to see documents proving your right to work in the UK, and your qualification certificates. If your certificates are not in English, we will ask you to provide a full translation.

Can I apply if I already hold an approved social work qualification?

No. The Think Ahead programme is intended to enable people who are not already qualified social workers to enter the profession. If you already hold an approved degree in social work, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, you are not eligible to apply.

Are there any other eligibility requirements?

To join the programme, you will require an Enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) Certificate. If you are successful in our selection process and we make you a conditional offer to join the programme, we will apply for this certificate on your behalf (unless you already have a valid one). We will ask you to provide the necessary documents earlier in the selection process, to prove to us that you have them and to enable us to apply promptly if you are made an offer.

If you are made a conditional offer we will also ask you to undergo an occupational health assessment. This will consider any disabilities, impairments, or physical or mental health issues which may affect your ability to undertake the programme.

I applied for a previous cohort. Can I apply again?

You are welcome to apply again if you have applied for a previous cohort.

We will consider your new application without any reference to your previous one, but we would encourage you to include any new evidence you can showing how you meet the Think Ahead attributes. 

Do I need to have British citizenship?

You are eligible to apply if you are:

  • Either, a British citizen,
  • Or, an EU national with the right to remain and work in the UK – meaning that you have been resident in the EU for at least three years, or you have the appropriate Tier 4 (General) study visa,
  • Or, a non-EU national with leave to enter and remain in the UK for an indefinite period.

We will work with any successful applicants whose unconditional right to work in the UK may be affected by the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Can I apply if I have not yet graduated?

Yes , you can apply if you expect to achieve a 2:1 degree by the time the programme starts in July 2018 (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas university).

Can I apply if I have a 2:2 degree (or lower)?

The Think Ahead programme is academically demanding, and we do not normally consider applications from people who do not have or achieve a 2:1 undergraduate degree.

In exceptional mitigating circumstances, such as severe illness having coincided with your final examinations, we may consider applicants without a 2:1 degree who can demonstrate an equivalent academic ability through other qualifications or experiences. If you believe you may fall into this category, please explain why as part of your application.

I have a lot of relevant experience, but I don’t have an undergraduate degree. Can I apply?

No. Social work is a graduate profession and it is not legally possible to qualify as a social worker, through any training route, without gaining an undergraduate degree.

For postgraduate routes into the profession, such as the Think Ahead programme, that means you must already have an undergraduate degree before you can begin training.

It is also possible to do an undergraduate degree in social work itself, which – provided the course is approved by the HCPC – will qualify you to apply for registration as a social worker without the need for postgraduate training.

If you are interested in this field but are not able to train in social work, you may wish to consider other career options in mental health and/or social care.

Do I need prior experience in mental health or social work?

No, our selection process is based on the attributes you demonstrate, not prior experience. You may want to take part in voluntary activities in mental health and/or social work settings to get an idea of what the role would involve.

Is there an age limit?

No, as long as you meet the eligibility requirements you may apply.

(Because you need to have completed an undergraduate degree, we expect applicants to be at least twenty years of age.)

Can I apply if I have a mental health problem?

Yes. We encourage applications from people from a diverse range of backgrounds, including those with lived experience of mental health problems. Please let us know when you apply about any additional support you may need.

Can I apply if I have a disability?

Yes. We welcome applications from people with disabilities, and we are committed to making reasonable adjustments and addressing any individual support requirements to ensure all of our participants can take part fully in the programme.

Can I apply if I have an unspent criminal conviction, or a pending prosecution?

Yes, but you must declare any unspent criminal convictions or pending prosecutions. (If we later discover that you have not declared an unspent conviction or pending prosecution, your application will be terminated.)

You are expected to answer truthfully any questions regarding unspent convictions or pending prosecutions, and we will require your consent to a criminal record check as part of the assessment process. We will make a decision regarding your suitability for the programme based on a number of factors, including the nature of the offences and when they took place.

All programme participants must have an Enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) Certificate.

Can I apply if I don’t have a driving licence?

Yes, but you are less likely to be given a place on the programme if you cannot drive. This is because there will be fewer host organisations which can accept you.

When you apply, you will be able to let us know whether you are able to drive, and if not whether you are willing to commit to learning before you start the programme.

(You will have to use your own vehicle; one will not be provided for you. You may be able to claim expenses from your host NHS Trust or Local Authority for travel undertaken as part of your work.)

About the online application

How do I apply?

You must complete our online application process.

This is the only way to apply: we cannot consider any applications sent by email or by post.

When can I apply?

Applications will open in autumn 2018 to join Think Ahead’s 2019 intake.

What are you looking for in candidates?

We are looking for exceptional individuals who have the potential to become excellent mental health social workers, and go on to become leaders in their fields.

You don’t need any prior experience of social work, but you will need to demonstrate that you have the attributes necessary to excel on the Think Ahead programme and beyond.

You can read about the attributes we test for on Who we’re looking for.

Do I have to complete my application in one session?

No, you can save your application and log back in at another time.

You will need to complete your application within two months of starting it, and before the application period ends, or your application may be closed.

What is the video element of the application?

You are asked to upload a two-minute video of yourself, explaining why you want to join the Think Ahead programme. Please talk about a specific experience with vulnerable people that has motivated you to apply.

Is it a requirement to upload a video?

Yes, uploading a video is a mandatory part of the application process.

How do I upload a video?

You will need to upload your video to YouTube.

To upload to YouTube you need to log in using a Google account, so you may need to create one. (If you have a Gmail address, however, then you already have a Google account.)

There are three main ways you can film and upload your video:

  1. Using a smartphone.
  2. Using a handheld camera.
  3. Using a laptop with a webcam.

However you create and upload your video, make sure to set its privacy setting on YouTube to “unlisted”. This means that only people with a direct web link to the video will be able to view it.

If you use a YouTube account which already has other (public) videos uploaded to it, YouTube may automatically highlight them to us when we view the video you create for us. If you want to avoid this happening, you can either change your previous videos from “public” to “unlisted” or “private”, or set up a new YouTube (Google) account and use that instead.

1. Using a smartphone

Once you’ve recorded your video using the camera on your smartphone, you need to upload it to YouTube.

If you have the YouTube app on your phone, or are happy to install it, you can upload your video from the app using the “share” function.

Otherwise, you can upload the video using just your internet browser using the following steps. (If you are unable to access the internet from your phone, you will need to transfer the video file from your phone to a computer using a USB cable. Then you can follow these steps using the computer’s internet browser.)

  1. Open up your phone’s internet browser and type in (it’s important to use this specific web address rather than just Make sure you are logged in to your YouTube account.
  2. Tap the box labelled “Upload” in the top right corner.
  3. Tap the box in the centre of the screen labelled “Public”, and change to “Unlisted”.
  4. Tap the large arrow above “Select files to upload” and select the video from your library.
  5. Once the video has been uploaded, tap the box labelled “Publish” in the top right corner.
  6. A web address beginning… will appear in the centre of the screen. Copy this whole web address into your Think Ahead application form.

2. Using a handheld camera

  1. Transfer the video file from your camera to a computer using a connector cable, noting where the file is saved on the computer.
  2. Open up your internet browser and go to Make sure you are logged in to your YouTube account.
  3. Click on the box labelled “Upload” in the top right corner.
  4. Click on the box in the centre of the screen labelled “Public”, and change to “Unlisted”.
  5. Click on the large arrow above “Select files to upload” and select the video from the folder it was saved in.
  6. Once uploaded, click on the box labelled “Publish” in the top right corner.
  7. A web address beginning… will appear in the centre of the screen. Copy this whole web address into your Think Ahead application form.

3. Using a laptop with a webcam

  1. Once you have recorded the video, save the file in a folder on your computer.
  2. Open up your internet browser and go to Make sure you are logged in to your YouTube account.
  3. Click on the box labelled “Upload” in the top right corner.
  4. Click on the box in the centre of the screen labelled “Public”, and change to “Unlisted”.
  5. Click on the large arrow above “Select files to upload” and select the video from the folder it was saved in.
  6. Once uploaded, click on the box labelled “Publish” in the top right corner.
  7. A web address beginning… will appear in the centre of the screen. Copy this whole web address into your Think Ahead application form.

Can I apply with character referees rather than employment referees?

No, character referees alone are not sufficient.

The application asks you to provide details of two referees, and at least one of these must be from your current or most recent employer (or an academic referee if you have never been employed). The second can be a character referee, but you must declare your referees’ relationships to you, and friends or relatives should not be used.

Failure to follow this guidance may lead to the rejection of your application.

Can I apply for deferred entry?

No, all the candidates we accept must start the programme in July 2018.

If my application is unsuccessful, how soon can I reapply?

Unfortunately, you will not be able to reapply for the programme starting in 2018.

We will post information about the programme in future years, and other job opportunities, on Opportunities. To be alerted to opportunities as they arise, you can sign up for updates.

How are my details kept secure?

Our systems and processes are all compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation. Please see our privacy policy for more information.

What is the equal opportunities section for?

Our policy, in line with the Equality Act 2010, is to treat all applicants in the same way regardless of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation.

So that we can monitor the effectiveness of our Equal Opportunities policy, the online application process asks you to provide some details about yourself. This information will only be used to monitor our recruitment procedures, will be held separately from your application, and will play no part in the selection process. Completion of this part of the application is not compulsory.

About the assessment process

What does the assessment involve?

The assessment consists of a series of tasks which test the attributes required to become an excellent mental health social worker. These include role plays, group scenarios, interviews, and written work.

What if I cannot make the assessment dates?

If your online application is successful, you will be offered at least two assessment dates to choose from.

If you are unable to attend the dates we offer, for a valid reason, then we may be able to offer you alternative dates.

I am unable to attend an assessment in person. Can I be interviewed remotely?

No, we do not offer remote assessments.

Our assessment centres are carefully designed to ensure that successful candidates demonstrate all the attributes required to become an excellent mental health social worker. As well as interviews, the assessment includes other activities which it would be impossible to carry out remotely.

What should I bring with me to the assessment?

If you are invited to the assessment, we will tell you in advance exactly what documents you need to bring.

We are likely to ask you to bring:

  • Documents proving your right to work in the UK. If you are a British citizen, this means either your passport or your National Insurance card and your birth certificate.
  • Documents proving your ability to apply for an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring (DBS) Certificate. This means either an existing, valid DBS certificate or the documents necessary to apply for a certificate. You can find the full list of acceptable documents on the DBS website.

Can any adjustments to the assessment be made if I have a disability?

You can declare disabilities at application stage. If you have a disability, we will contact you in advance of the assessment centre and do our best to make any adjustments to the assessment process.

Will my travel expenses for attending the assessment be reimbursed?

We will reimburse your travel expenses up to a maximum of £50, as long as you provide us with valid receipts.

When will I know the outcome of the assessment?

You can expect to be notified within one week of the assessment.

Will I receive feedback following the assessment?

We offer feedback, on request, to all candidates that are invited to assessment.

(Unfortunately, we cannot offer feedback to candidates that are not invited to assessment.)

About the onboarding process

If I am successful in the selection process, what happens next?

You will be made a conditional offer to join the Think Ahead programme.

The offer will be conditional upon us receiving:

  • A satisfactory enhanced DBS update check.
  • Two satisfactory references.
  • Evidence that you meet the programme’s eligibility criteria – including the necessary qualifications and the right to work in the UK.
  • Evidence of your proficiency in the English language.
  • A completed occupational health check.

The offer will also remain conditional until you have accepted the geographical location we allocate to you, and you have completed a day’s work shadowing.

Who should I talk to if I have any questions?

You will be assigned to a Recruitment Associate, who is a member of the Think Ahead team and who will be your single point of contact right up to the point you start the programme.

When will I be given my location?

For the 2018 cohort, we will start to allocate locations in March 2018.

How do you allocate locations to people?

We give initial priority to people who have special circumstances such as disability, caring responsibilities, or mortgages which would be difficult to move.

We then allocate locations according to the regional preferences given by candidates when they apply. However, we will not always be able to offer you a place in your first-choice region.

If I am given a location I do not wish to take up, do I have any choice?

We will make every effort to offer you a location that suits your needs.

Unfortunately, in some circumstances it will not be possible to offer you a place in your first-choice region, and you will need to accept a place in another region if you wish to join the programme.

Am I able to defer my place?

It is not possible to make an application for deferred entry.

If you have already been offered a place on the programme, then we will consider making deferral arrangements only in the case of severe and unforeseen circumstances, such as acute illness or the injury, death, or serious illness of an immediate family member or close friend.

Requests for deferral must be made in writing, and must be supported by evidence (e.g. medical documents).

About your career following Think Ahead

What options will I have at the end of the programme?

You will finish the programme with:

  • An advanced degree and a completed Assessed and Supported Year in Employment, qualifying you to work in any area of social work.
  • Extensive experience in social work and mental health settings.
  • Highly transferable leadership skills, gained through your experience and your leadership training.
  • Access to a network of your peers, the experts you have worked with, and Think Ahead alumni.

You can then follow any career direction you choose. In broad terms, your options will be to:

  • Become a leading frontline practitioner.
  • Move into service leadership.
  • Use your leadership experience in an alternative career.

You can read more about these options on About mental health social work.

Will I be guaranteed a job when I finish the Think Ahead programme?

No, in Year Two you will be employed on a 12-month fixed-term contract, and your NHS Trust or Local Authority is not guaranteed to offer you further employment beyond this 12-month period.

However, with your qualifications and experience you will be well-placed to secure employment, wherever you choose to take your career.