Skip to content
September 2020

Applications are open to join the Think Ahead programme in 2021

Update: Applications to join the Think Ahead programme in 2021 are now closed.

If you are a talented graduate or career-changer, remarkable enough to make a real difference in tackling the UK’s mental health challenge, the Think Ahead programme could be for you.

On our paid, two-year programme, you’ll work to build relationships with adults living with mental health problems, empowering them to lead more fulfilling lives. You’ll study for a master’s degree in mental health social work, undertake leadership training, and work alongside clinical professionals.

We were recently awarded up to £27m in new government funding to expand the programme. In this year’s intake we have 160 places available (up from 100 places in previous intakes), to transform the lives of people in communities right across England.

Responding to coronavirus

Mental health social workers form a key part of the frontline health and care workforce, and they are playing a vital role in supporting vulnerable people through the pandemic. If you become part of our 2021 intake you will join this effort, making your contribution to the response to Covid-19.

Mental health services have developed innovative approaches to carry out their work in the safest possible way. This includes increased use of digital communications and remote working – although some vulnerable people will always need to be seen in person.

When you are working and learning on the job, in an NHS Trust or Local Authority, you will learn the most up-to-date approaches and receive the training and equipment (including PPE) that you need.

We have also adapted our approach to teaching. Our current plan is for the teaching in 2021 to be delivered through a mixture of online and in-person (covid secure) methods. We will keep this plan under review as the coronavirus situation, and official guidance, evolves.

We are also running our assessment centres for applicants online, until at least March 2021.

About the role

Mental health social workers support people who are living with serious mental health problems, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

It’s a highly varied role, drawing on a wide range of techniques to help people move towards leading fulfilling, independent lives. Social workers often focus on the social factors in people’s lives – such as relationships, housing, and employment – that can have a profound impact on mental wellbeing.

They work using a mixture of approaches, spanning talking therapy, advocacy, and practical support. For example, this might include standing up for someone’s legal rights in the workplace, helping them to reconnect with friends and family, or working with local authorities to make sure they are living in accommodation that is suitable for their needs.

For more examples of what mental health social work looks like in practice, visit our About mental health social work page and read first-hand accounts from social workers. You can also watch Maisie, a 2016 Think Ahead participant, describe her work, or read about our 2018 participant Zoe, who has been working to help Rafsa*, who has lived with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
(*Rafsa’s name has been changed to protect her identity.)

About the programme

The Think Ahead programme begins with a four-week Summer Institute, where you will join the rest of the 2021 intake to learn the skills you will need to start frontline work in mental health social work. (Our current plan is for the Summer Institute to be delivered using a mixture of online and in-person, covid-secure teaching.)

You will then spend two years working in an NHS Trust or Local Authority, qualifying as a social worker after your first year. You gain your master’s degree after successfully completing the second year.

Talking about his decision to join the programme, Jan said: “After studying Ancient History at university, I worked in the City as a head hunter for banks but I didn’t find this fulfilling.

“I applied for the Think Ahead programme because it offered the perfect opportunity to study for an MA while also being paid to work in mental health social work.

“Being on the programme has given me the opportunity to work with people who have a wide range of mental health problems.

“The Think Ahead programme has given me a deeper understanding of the impact that mental health can have on both the individual and the people who care for them.”

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. 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 to £33,000 depending on where you are located.

You can find out more on our How the programme works page.

Who we’re looking for

We welcome applications from people of any background, and we aim for diversity amongst our participants. We believe that it’s important that the workforce represents the people it serves, and that diversity strengthens the profession as a whole.

In particular we encourage applications from people who identify as male or BAME – as these groups are known to be under-represented in mental health social work.

You don’t need to have worked in the mental health sector or studied a related subject at university – we’re looking for people who have the potential to become great mental health social workers.

Previous participants have held undergraduate degrees ranging from film studies, English literature, law, sports science and archaeology, through to politics, business studies, sociology and psychology.

One common strand among all of our participants is a shared passion and commitment to making a tangible difference to the lives of people with mental health problems.

To learn more about our previous participants’ stories, visit our Who we’re looking for page.

How to make your application stand out

You can find full guidance on our eligibility criteria and the selection process on our How to apply page.

Throughout the process, we will be assessing you against seven attributes that are crucial to becoming an excellent mental health social worker. Make sure to focus on these attributes, and aim to demonstrate them at every stage.

To help us in spot these qualities in your written application, it’s helpful to give specific examples – which can be taken from any area of your life – of a time you have demonstrated them.

We also advise you to get your application in early, as we run assessment centres and offer places on a rolling basis during the application period. Our application deadline will be announced with at least one week’s notice.

When you’re ready to apply, please visit our Opportunities page.