Top graduates will be encouraged to train as social workers under new proposals to improve the profession and raise its status, Michael Gove has said.
The Education Secretary announced he is endorsing plans for a new charity which aims to offer talented university leavers the chance to make a "dramatic difference" to vulnerable people. The initiative will be based on TeachFirst, a charity set up several years ago which trains top young graduates to work as teachers in disadvantaged areas.
In a speech, Mr Gove said that previous governments had had a "fundamental lack of confidence in social workers themselves". He said that towards the end of the last Labour government there had been too much central prescription on social workers.
But it had also made attempts to help teachers improve how they worked by setting up academies, the National College for School Leadership, and encouraging teachers in poorer schools to learn from their peers in good schools.
"Crucially - the last government helped change perceptions of the profession - and enhance its prestige and self-confidence - by backing charities like TeachFirst which persuaded the best graduates from the best universities to enter the classroom," Mr Gove said.
It has been suggested that now the same needs to be done for social workers, he added.
"They too need support to improve their practice. That is why the College of Social Work has been set up and we are planning to establish the office of Chief Social Worker. More requires to be done - both in improving initial training and enhancing leadership - but the recognition is there - among ministers and social workers - that we need to work harder to improve how the profession operates."
One of the "most promising" ideas is one put forward by a former TeachFirst student, Josh McAllister, who has called for the Government to support a TeachFirst-style charity for social work, Mr Gove said.
"Frontline - the proposition Josh has advanced with such care, thought and passion - is a brilliant idea. It offers more talented graduates the chance to make a dramatic difference to the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. The same idealism which drew TeachFirst alumnae into the nation's most challenging classrooms can now be harnessed to get committed, intelligent, compassionate leaders into the homes where children need most help.
"By providing a shorter and more focused training programme - just as TeachFirst does with its recruits - one of the biggest barriers to entry for gifted graduates contemplating social work has been cleared. That is why I intend - on receipt of a proper business plan in the next few months - to support Frontline's establishment and get it up and running as soon as possible."