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Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Think Ahead Social Work Qualifying Programme Evaluation

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


A team from the Universities of Durham and Bristol has been commissioned to undertake an evaluation of the early implementation of the Think Ahead fast-track social work training scheme with a specific focus on mental health practice. The evaluation is scheduled to take place from July 2016 to January 2019 to help Think Ahead to develop the quality of the programme and its working practices. Indirectly, it is also to be hoped that the evaluation will contribute to wider improvements in education and practice in mental health social work.

The evaluation aims to do this by examining the quality of training provided to programme participants in preparation for a social work career; and the quality of work demonstrated by participants in their first year as qualified practitioners. Key features of the evaluation are that it will be both longitudinal – following Think Ahead recruits for two years from the point at which they join the programme; and comparative, as it will also assess the learning and initial practice development of social workers qualifying by other routes. This approach is intended to provide important insights which will enhance future delivery of Think Ahead programmes, with potential benefits also for social work education more widely, as well as contributing insights to facilitate improvements in the preparation of social workers to go into mental health practice.

The evaluation will incorporate a number of different research methods, including observation of teaching and learning, observations of practice, a review of learning materials and assessment methods, surveys and interviews with participants and with other key stakeholders. Service user perspectives will be included in several aspects of the evaluation in order to enhance confidence in the findings. Validated measures of practitioner self-efficacy will be used to assess the development of professional knowledge, skills and values over the course of the programme.

Interim feedback on key findings from the evaluation will be made available to Think Ahead, including the review of the initial intensive period of learning delivered by way of the Summer Institute; a comparative analysis of the subsequent year in training; and an assessment of participants’ professional development through their first year in practice. On completion of the evaluation, a substantive project report will be available, incorporating further recommendations for improvement in social work education, induction into the initial phase of practice, preparation for practice in mental health settings and the further development of the Think Ahead model.

The evaluation will be carried out by staff from Durham and Bristol Universities, led by Professor Roger Smith (Durham), and including Professor John Carpenter (Bristol), Claire Russell (expert by experience), Dr Demi Patsios (Bristol), Dr Evgenia Stepanova and Dr Laura Venn (Durham).


From the Department of Sociology