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How the programme works

Update on the coronavirus situation: We are doing everything we can to ensure we can run the programme as planned for the 2020 intake, starting in July. We are working closely with Middlesex University (our academic partner) and our host organisations, and will keep all successful applicants informed throughout the process. You can find the latest updates on our coronavirus information page.

Programme structure

Summer Institute

Prepare for frontline work with the whole Think Ahead cohort in a four-week residential.

Exchange ideas with your peers, and leaders in mental health and social work.

Year One

Learn on the job in a unit of four to six Think Ahead participants, led by a Consultant Social Worker.

Gain a postgraduate diploma in social work.

Year Two

Work as a qualified social worker.

Gain master’s degree in social work.

Potential future directions after completing the programme:

  1. Become a leading frontline practitioner
  2. Move into service leadership and management
  3. Use leadership experience in an alternative career

Programme overview

Summer Institute

The whole Think Ahead intake together undergoes an intensive residential learning experience for four weeks over the summer.

The Summer Institute prepares you for frontline work by giving you a grounding in approaches to mental health social work.

You also begin your leadership development process. Realising your leadership potential is central to Think Ahead’s mission: you need leadership skills to be an excellent social worker now, and to lead change in the future.

The Institute is also a chance to start building your network, exchanging ideas with your peers and with leading experts in mental health and social work.

To learn more about the Summer Institute, and find out how previous participants found the experience, you can watch this video, which was filmed at our Summer Institute in 2018.

After the Summer Institute, you will undergo several additional days of learning (both via distance learning and regional teaching days) and work shadowing.

Year One

In your first year you will work in a dedicated unit of four to six Think Ahead participants, led by a highly experienced Consultant Social Worker. You will also work alongside a variety of other professionals including psychologists and psychiatrists.

Over the course of the year, you will spend some time working in a social work team in children and family services, to give you a rounded experience. You are also likely to be exposed to other types of mental health teams, such as in child and adolescent services or forensic services.

Time is allocated during the year for academic study, and to continue your leadership sessions. At the end of the year you will gain a postgraduate diploma in social work, allowing you to apply to register as a social worker earlier than on conventional postgraduate routes into the profession.

Year Two

In your second year you will work more independently, taking up a role as a qualified social worker on a minimum 12-month contract with your NHS Trust or Local Authority. Your role will involve working with adults with mental health problems, and could be in a range of different teams. You will hold your own cases and lead on the support and care of those individuals.

This year will be your Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE), which is recommended for all newly qualified social workers. This means that the number of people whose care you are responsible for will be capped, and you will put together a portfolio of evidence demonstrating the set of capabilities all social workers are required to possess.

You will also continue your academic study, culminating in a master’s degree in social work. By finishing your MA in parallel with your ASYE, you will complete your ASYE one year earlier than in conventional master’s-based routes (in which the ASYE would follow a two-year master’s course).

Your leadership development will continue, with an increasing focus on planning your career after Think Ahead.

Your career after Think Ahead

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.
  • Access to a network of your peers and the experts you have worked with.

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.

Where you will work

We work with a number of NHS Trusts and Local Authorities in 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.

In the past we have worked with host organisations in every region of England, with most based outside London, and in a mixture of urban and rural locations. 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 as some areas are likely to experience high demand, 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.

When you will work

Aside from leave days, the programme is full-time, Mondays to Fridays, for its entire duration – including the Summer Institute, Year One, and Year Two.

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. The Think Ahead programme is intensive, and you may find that you use some evening and weekend time for your academic studies.

How you will be paid

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

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-£30,000 depending on where you are located.

How you will be supported

The Think Ahead programme is designed to provide accelerated learning and experience in an intensive environment, so we provide thorough support for participants.

In Year One, your Consultant Social Worker will be your full-time manager, responsible for your personal and professional development.

In Year Two, you will be supported by the line manager for your NHS Trust or Local Authority role.

Throughout the two years, you will get tuition and support from an academic tutor.

You will also be able to exchange advice and support with colleagues in your NHS Trust or Local Authority, and with your Think Ahead peers, including within your organisation, across the whole group of people within your cohort, and within other cohorts.

What you will study

The Think Ahead programme has an innovative curriculum, which brings together international best practice with a focus on theories and interventions that can be put into use straight away. For the 2020 Cohort, both the postgraduate diploma and the master’s degree are awarded by Middlesex University.

The Think Ahead curriculum allows you to develop expertise at delivering evidence-based social interventions – for example, through talking therapies, practical support, and community action.

You will also study topics to help you judge when and how to use the social interventions you learn, such as:

  • The legal and policy framework relevant to mental health and human rights.
  • The different mental health problems you may encounter.
  • The range of issues which influence people’s mental health.

How you will study

Your studies will begin at the Summer Institute, and carry on throughout the programme, and there is a strong emphasis on integrating theory and practice.

In addition to on-the-job learning, there are a number of teaching days. You will also complete assignments in your own time.