Social worker Ann Marie Howell has a caseload of 1,800. But she
wouldn’t change her job in Holland Park comprehensive school for
the world. Alison Miller talked to her.
When a five-year-old boy was permanently excluded from school
after assaulting a school care worker, social services were called
to investigate amid a storm of media interest.
Ann Marie Howell, a children and families social worker with
Kensington & Chelsea, London, is something of an expert on this
subject – albeit with older children – because she is one of an
extremely small band of social workers to be based in a school.
Holland Park comprehensive school is Howell’s workplace and her
social worker post is funded by Kensington & Chelsea Council as
part of the Inclusion Project, a Quality Protects financed by the
social services department and local education authority.
Her remit is to work with young people at risk of permanent
exclusion and to reduce the exclusion rate. She has been
successful: fixed-term exclusions have dropped significantly since
the project started.
Holland Park school is the only comprehensive in Kensington and
has 1,800 pupils from diverse backgrounds – more than 100 languages
from 90 countries are spoken. One in three of the children has
English as a second language and one in four has special
“The Inclusion Project’s remit is to offer support to children
who are experiencing difficulties in school,” Howell explains. A
forerunner to the social exclusion unit’s much favoured one-stop
centres, the project consists of an educational welfare officer;
two learning mentors, a learning support unit worker; two youth
workers and two drama therapists.
Howell has been with Kensington & Chelsea for five years and
joined the project at its inception in October 1999. “I was
attracted to the job because I enjoy working with young people: I
see myself as a positive role model who is able to build a good
rapport with young people,” she says.
“I have weekly meetings with the heads of years and they talk
about the kids they are concerned about – often the ones who are
disruptive or are exhibiting challenging behaviour. Based on this I
do a check on these kids (she is fully linked up to the social
services department’s IT systems) – it’s a matter of getting
information about the young persons’ lives and finding out what
they are going through.” She cites the example of one very
disruptive boy. “He had thrown a chair at the teacher and was about
to be excluded. His case was passed to me and when I checked with
the child protection team I discovered that he was going through a
child protection investigation because there were concerns that he
was being abused by his step-mother. The boy was not getting any
support from his father and so was coming to school and taking it
out on the teachers. Once I shared this information with the school
they were able to take it on board, understand why he was behaving
in such a challenging way, and we were able to find strategies to
She has an open surgery and young people are free to drop in to
chat about anything that is worrying them. She stresses though that
often the key to picking up young people who may be in trouble is
by walking around and talking to them. “Sometimes you can tell just
by looking around – it’s the kid whose eyes are lifeless, or
perhaps the one who doesn’t have any friends who most needs
Recent work has included setting up group work on self-esteem
with girls who were behaving in a very challenging way, working
with the Somalian Welfare Association to help a refugee pupil and
calling a meeting with the perpetrator of bullying and his victim
to try and resolve the problem.
Wherever possible parents are involved – sometimes this might
involve home visits and some frank talking, sometimes an agreement
between pupils, their parents and the school will be drawn up.
Another part of her role is to help to support young people who
are known to social services. “These can be looked-after children,
children with statements or children whose families are known to
social services. It’s my job to promote positive
Her job involves a great deal of multi-agency working. She works
closely with many different agencies – statutory and voluntary –
including the asylum team; the youth offending team; the eight
Kensington & Chelsea locality teams; the unaccompanied minors
team; the police child protection and community safety teams; the
child adolescent and mental health service; local health clinics;
and local asylum seeker groups. The school’s wide catchment area
means she can be called to case conferences at any of the councils
near to Kensington & Chelsea including Brent, Southwark,
Lambeth and Ealing.
Unlike the young people however, Howell doesn’t get to enjoy the
long school holidays. “I use the summer holidays to catch up on
admin and to do a lot of home visits. It’s a good opportunity to
talk to the kids outside of their home environment so we often go
Social work at a school is clearly not an easy option.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m social worker for 1,800 young people,
and unlike social services departments there’s no office door or
waiting room, but I feel it’s so important for me to be here.
Research shows that if one person shows an interest in a young
person’s education it makes a huge difference to how they feel
So, are we going to see more children and families social
workers in schools? If the government shows the same enthusiasm for
joined-up working in its new term, the smart money says it’s a
pretty safe bet.
Key issues for children
– Domestic violence
– Conflict with parents
– Abuse (both physical and sexual)
– Peer pressure
– Sexuality crisis
– Identity crisis (especially common among mixed race and black
– Drugs and Alcohol