In total there were 4,306 applicants for the fourth cohort of the Step Up to Social Work initiative – an intensive 14-month full-time training programme which got under way in January – but there were just 400 places.
This means there were an average of 10.8 applicants for every place for the 2016/17 programme. Details of the level of demand for the programme emerged when children's minister Edward Timpson answered a parliamentary question tabled by Labour MP Stephen Timms.
This indicates a similar level of demand as for places on the Frontline social work training programme – dubbed Teach First for social workers – which had 1,916 applications for the 180 places in its 2016 cohort, an average of 10.6 applicants per place.
The government has said that there will be 550 places provided through cohort five of Step Up – which gets under way in 2018 – a 37.5 per cent increase. Meanwhile Frontline is set to be expanded across the country and is aiming to provide 300 places in 2017.
Details of the popularity of the programmes come just a week after statistics published by the Department for Education showed that numbers of social work vacancies in local authorities across England have unexpectedly risen.
The figures show that, as of 30 September 2015 there were 5,470 children’s social work vacancies. This compares with 4,320 as of September 2014 – a rise of 26.6 per cent.
Under Step Up to Social Work, trainees receive a bursary of more than £19,000 for the duration of the course. Applicants must have a minimum 2:1 degree, or a 2:2 degree alongside a higher degree, such as a master’s degree or a Postgraduate Certificate in Education.
Timpson said the government aims to train more than 3,000 new social workers through fast-track schemes by 2020.
"In addition to this commitment to fast-track schemes, government invested £695m into mainstream social work training between 2010 to 2015, including social work bursaries and the Education Support Grant, which supported generic qualifications for those wishing to enter social work."
Timpson said that the 2015/16 funding for social work bursaries and Education Support Grant is £81m, adding that there is no confirmation for the 2016/17 allocation.