The row with Frontline – the government’s graduate scheme for the social care sector – has escalated after the organisation blasted this website for yesterday’s story describing the physical and psychological impact that some participants are suffering, as they understand they are unable to quit the programme without paying up to £10,000.

In light of this, Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald has today asked that Frontline investigates the situation immediately, finds out how many participants are desperate to leave, allows them to go, and changes their policy now.

In the last 24 hours, we have heard from the CEO Josh Macalister (via Graduate Fog’s lawyer friend and advisory board member Jolyon Maugham QC), their external communications director Mark Potter (on Twitter) and their communications office Sarah Vallis (via email direct to us). They have issued a two-page document challenging various points in the story, which we are happy to publish below.

However, their defensive and pernickety approach makes clear they have completely missed the point – and betrays a horrifying lack of care for the participants of the Frontline scheme. Where is the concern for these young people, whose voices we heard in our story, who say they are having nightmares, losing weight, being signed off sick and prescribed anti-depressants? Please tell us if you can spot a shred of genuine concern in the document they sent us:

Or in this tweet from Mark Potter, external relations director at Frontline:

Or in the emails we’ve received from their CEO Josh MacAlister (via Jolyon Maugham; Josh knew it would be forwarded to us):

Hi Jolyon,
I’ve attached a short document that covers the inaccuracies in the story. We’ll also send them directly to Tanya. Many of these points were raised in previous email exchanges and the team had offered to speak with her on the phone twice though this was never taken up.
Over 1,000 people have started the Frontline programme and we have only requested repayment from 8 people. We’re a charity and take our graduate recruitment and employment responsibilities seriously. We’re a living wage employer, we don’t take unpaid internships, we voluntarily publish a pay-gap report and we are obsessed(!) with programme feedback. The Graduate Fog piece has been a been a real blow to the team running the programme and feels far from the reality of our work. As offered before, we would be very happy to sit down with Tanya or anyone else from Graduate Fog and explain our approach.
Please do get in touch with any questions.
Best wishes,

Or their spokesperson Sarah Vallis:
We wanted to bring to your attention that the article published yesterday on Graduate Fog, titled ‘EXCLUSIVE: Graduates must pay £10,000 to quit ‘harrowing’ government social care scheme‘, contains a number of factual inaccuracies. Please find attached our response to the untrue statements contained within the article.
The information provided in the piece doesn’t accurately reflect Frontline’s policy, nor does it accurately reflect the Frontline programme. In light of this, we ask that you retract your article or amend it accordingly.
As offered previously, we would be happy to have a conversation with you to discuss the programme, as well as any of your concerns.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,

Sarah Vallis
Communications Officer

Addressing Frontline’s response, Tanya de Grunwald, founder of Graduate Fog, said:

“Frontline’s senior staff should be thanking us for bringing this serious issue to their attention, expressing deep concern for the well-being of their participants, and pledging to investigate without further delay. Instead, they have sent us a list of details that bugged them about the way we told these desperate participants’ stories.

“From Frontline’s heartless response, it is clear that they care more about the reputation of their organisation than they do about the welfare of their own participants. Whether the consequences of this policy are intended or unintended, they are deadly serious and demand Frontline’s immediate attention.

“As is blindingly obvious to everyone except them, our story highlights the fact that there are serious and damaging consequences to these few lines in the contract being given to new joiners of the Frontline programme, saying they could have to pay back up to £10,000 if they leave the scheme early. How many have actually paid – and how much – is less important than the number of current Frontline participants experiencing physical health problems and psychological distress which they say is a direct result of staying in a job they are desperate to escape. Nobody knows that number – but, given the seriousness of the situation, Frontline must now do everything they can to find out what it is. Those participants must be given an appropriate opportunity to identify themselves, be listened to and allowed to leave the scheme without any charge if they want to go. This policy should also be changed immediately, as it is clearly reckless and harmful.

“This is an extremely serious situation, and I am not satisfied that the senior leadership at Frontline have grasped the gravity of what is being suggested. I look forward to hearing from them regarding my request outlined above.”

De Grunwald also wishes to remind Frontline and Graduate Fog’s readers of this quote from one current participant:

“I’m desperate to leave Frontline but freedom has too high a price. My only hope is getting signed off sick, as Frontline say they reduce the repayment bill if you’re unable to finish the scheme due to ill health, or in some cases let you off completely. Several cases I’m working on are so harrowing I’m having nightmares.

“I was naive and didn’t realise how disturbing this work would be. I think I’m close to breaking point from all the stress. Being signed off would be a silver lining if my mental and physical health continue to deteriorate, if it leads to me being released from the Frontline scheme.”

De Grunwald says that no changes have be made to the original Graduate Fog story, apart from the all mentions of “£10,000” which now read “up to £10,000”. A link to Fronline’s latest statement has also been added to yesterday’s post. Regarding Frontline’s repeated invitation to discuss the matter further in person, de Grunwald said:

“We are a blog – not Newsnight. We asked them for a statement. They gave us one – and we published it. If they didn’t explain themselves properly, that’s on them.”

Since publishing our story, Graduate Fog has been made aware of a brilliant piece of reporting by Alex Turner: Frontline drops compulsory master’s from fast-track social work scheme, which details further reports of serious problems within Frontline. It also highlights Frontline’s pride at having a markably high retention rate (ie. very few quitters). Hmmm. Do we now know why?


What do you think of the bosses’ responses to our story? Do you know how much you’d have to pay to escape? If you feel that you cannot afford to quit, what impact is that having on your physical health and psychological well-being? Please share your story below…

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