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FAQs

About the programme

What does the programme involve?

Think Ahead is a fast-track scheme for remarkable 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 2022 cohort of the Think Ahead programme begins in July 2022 and ends in September 2024, lasting 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 Social Work England 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, which will require you to undertake a dissertation in Year Two.

Both qualifications are awarded by Middlesex University.

How much free time and holiday will I have?

The Think Ahead programme is full-time, Monday to Friday, for its entire duration. You will not usually have to work during evenings or weekends, but there are occasional lectures and events that you may want to take part in.

This is an intensive programme, and you may find that you use some evening and weekend time for your academic studies.

In Year One, you will have 25 days annual leave. Some leave days must be taken on pre-determined dates (including the week after the Summer Institute before your placement for example). There are some periods, such as the Summer Institute, during which you cannot take any time off.

In Year Two your annual leave allowance will be set by your host organisation, as your employer.

How many places are available on the programme?

There are around 160 places across England for our programme in 2022.

Where will I work?

We work with NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across England, who act as host organisations for our participants. Your specific workplace is likely to change during the two-year programme, but it will always be within the geographical area covered by your host organisation.

When you apply, you can let us know where you would prefer to work. We do our very best to support these preferences but may need you to be flexible about where you live and work.

Social workers often support people over a large area and in more rural places you will need to travel by car. You are less likely to be given a place on the programme if you cannot drive because many of our host organisations cover rural locations.

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 has the coronavirus pandemic affected the way the programme works?

The pandemic has affected the way all of us live and work. The challenges, changes and impact of the pandemic continue to are still being fully understood.

Mental health social workers form a key part of the frontline health and care workforce. Some changes adopted by host organisations include greater use of digital communications, working remotely, needing to use PPE to visit service users. How much of these changes remain will depend on your host organisation and the changing situation, data and recommendations from central government.

We have also adapted the programme’s approach to teaching, working closely with Middlesex University and Social Work England (which regulates the profession) and taking account of all government guidance. The Summer Institute for the 2021 intake took place entirely online.

We intend for the 2022 Summer Institute to take place partially online and partially face-to-face, but we need to remain flexible, adaptable and ensure all participants and teachers are kept safe as our first priority.

How much will I be paid?

You will receive a tax-free training bursary for the Summer Institute and Year One. This will be £17,200 (£19,100 with London weighting) for our 2022 cohort, paid monthly. Year One is a 14-month period, so for each full month you will receive around £1,230 (£1,360 with London weighting).

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, typically ranging from around £21,000 – £33,000, location dependent.

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

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. The initial July payment is a pro rata amount, to cover the period you will have been on the programme by the end of July. Full monthly payments begin at the end of August.

Is it compulsory to attend the entire Summer Institute?

Yes, the Summer Institute is an essential part of the programme and attendance is compulsory. The only exception to this is if your university graduation falls during the Institute. We are usually able to grant one day off provided we are given sufficient notice.

Outside of the core teaching hours there are some informal social events and optional evening training sessions. You will also have reading and assignments to complete in your own time.

Watch this video from the 2018 Summer Institute to find out more.

Can my family stay with me at the Summer Institute?

We are unsure if there will be a residential stay this year given the everchanging coronavirus situation. If the residential goes ahead, you may be able to bring dependents with you, but this will be considered on a case-by-case basis. We want the programme to be as inclusive as possible, including for those who look after others.

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

Childcare facilities may also be a possibility onsite, but this will need to be paid for by participants.

If you are offered a place on the programme, you will be assigned a Recruitment Associate. Please raise this with them as early as you can if you would like to discuss this.

When and where is the Summer Institute?

This year’s summer institute will take place over four weeks, starting in July 2022.

For the 2022 cohort this will take place over three weeks of online distance learning and one week of face-to-face teaching, but this may be subject to change due to the ongoing coronavirus situation.

About eligibility

To get answers to some frequently asked questions about our eligibility criteria, read on or watch the video below.

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 the entire two years (for our fifth cohort, this is from July 2022 to September 2024).
  • Have the right to remain and work in the UK (including access to public funds) 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. To check if your qualifications are sufficient, please visit the NARIC website where you can order a statement of comparability for your qualifications. (You may apply if you do not hold these qualifications, but you must gain them before starting the programme. This requirement is common across social work courses.)
  • 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 require adjustments or additional learning support, or 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/EEA/Swiss national with settled/pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
  • Or, a non-EU national with leave to enter and remain in the UK for an indefinite period.

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 (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.

We may consider applicants with a 2:2 degree where a) there are exceptional mitigating circumstances, such as severe illness having coincided with your final examinations, or b) you can demonstrate an equivalent academic ability through other qualifications (such as a master’s degree) or experiences. If you believe you may fall into this category, please explain why as part of your application.

If you hold a Third Class Honours degree, you will not be eligible to apply.

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 Social Work England – 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, or to spend time working or volunteering with vulnerable people, 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 20 years of age.)

Can I apply if I have a mental health problem?

We want to see a society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish, and this extends to our own colleagues, and the participants of the Think Ahead programme.

The fast-track programme is intensive. We are committed to the wellbeing and success of every participant and therefore urge every applicant to consider whether this is the right time for them to apply. Both the content and the workload can be challenging and we do not want anyone’s health to be negatively affected whilst on this programme.

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.

Do I need to have been vaccinated against covid?

Participants are required to follow the health and safety requirements of their host organisation. Mental health social workers are frontline practitioners, often working with vulnerable people, therefore in most cases the requirements will be that participants are double vaccinated.

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.

Social workers often support people over a large area and in more rural places you will need to travel by car. You are less likely to be given a place on the programme if you cannot drive because many of our host organisations cover rural locations.

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?

Applications for our 2022 intake are now open. To begin the application process you will need to complete a registration form, providing us with your contact details and qualifications.

Our how to apply page shares full details and guidance for the entire process. Our application process is online only and we are unable to accept any applications sent by email or by post.

When can I apply?

Applications for our 2022 intake are now open. We advise you apply as early as possible, as we run assessment centres and offer places on a rolling basis.

Applications will be open for the next few months. Once places for each region are filled, we will close applications, so please sign up to our newsletter for deadline announcements.

What are you looking for in applicants?

We are looking for exceptional individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds who have the potential to become excellent mental health social workers, and go on to lead change 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.

Find out more about 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 three weeks 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 two videos of yourself, each lasting two minutes.

In the first video, you should explain and give evidence of your motivation to join the Think Ahead programme. Please talk about a specific experience with vulnerable people that has motivated you to apply.

For the other video, we will provide a scenario you might encounter as a mental health social worker. You should explain how you would act in the scenario and why.

Is it a requirement to upload a video?

Yes, uploading a video is a mandatory part of the application process. If there are exceptional circumstances affecting your ability to create or upload a video, please contact our recruitment team on recruitment@thinkahead.org.

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 by following the steps below. (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 youtube.com/?app=desktop (it’s important to use this specific web address rather than just www.youtube.com). 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 https://youtu.be… 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 youtube.com. 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 https://youtu.be… 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 youtube.com. 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 https://youtu.be… will appear in the centre of the screen. Copy this whole web address into your Think Ahead application form.

Can I apply for deferred entry?

No, all the applicants we accept must be prepared to start the programme in July 2022.

In the case of severe and unforeseen circumstances, such as acute illness or the death of an immediate family member or close friend, we will consider making deferral arrangements for applicants who have already been offered a place on the programme. Requests for deferral must be made in writing, and must be supported by evidence (e.g. medical documents).

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

You will not be able to reapply for the programme in the same year, but you may apply for future cohorts.

We will post information about the programme in future years, and other job openings on our opportunities page. You can also sign up for updates here.

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, and interviews.

For the 2022 intake we will be running assessment centres remotely.

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.

What should I bring with me to the assessment?

You should be prepared to present a valid form of photo ID, such as your passport or driver’s license. Our recruitment team will be in touch with more information about this requirement ahead of your assessment date.

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 reimburse travel expenses (for in-person assessments only) 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 applicants that are invited to assessment.

(Unfortunately, we cannot offer feedback to applicants 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.

Can I apply with character referees rather than employment referees?

No, character referees alone are not sufficient.

We would like 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.

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 when you start the programme.

When will I be given my location?

For the 2022 cohort, we will start to allocate locations in spring 2022.

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 make it difficult for them to move.

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

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.
  • Membership of the Think Ahead alumni network, providing you with access to continuing professional development opportunities and a network of your peers and other experts.

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 fixed-term contract that lasts for at least 12 months. Your NHS Trust or Local Authority is not guaranteed to offer you further employment beyond this period.

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