School Day Dreams

I have heard it said that a good school is at the centre of its
community but is not a community centre. I disagree. A good school
is not just located in the heart of a community; its day-to-day
activities are shaped by it.

The best schools already open their doors to those living in the
neighbourhood, offering activities for children after the school
day, training courses for adults and improved access to a range of
support and advice for families. The government is encouraging such
developments. It hopes that, in future, all schools will become
extended schools and that, in doing so, health, education and
social services will work closer together.

These changes are at the centre of the government’s Every Child
Matters agenda. Schools are being expected to play a major role in
the drive to improve outcomes for children. In terms of
safeguarding children, it is now recognised that schools have an
important role to play since they see children more regularly than
any other service and are in a good position to identify children
for whom there are protection concerns. Already more referrals to
social services come from schools than from any other source.

But some schools are worried about rising expectations on what
they can deliver. Their anxiety is often expressed as a plea to
allow teachers to be teachers, rather than social workers. Such
pleas are misleading.

Teachers are not resistant to having regard for children’s
welfare. Nor will they be expected to usurp social workers’
responsibilities. But in the future teachers and social workers
will have to work more closely together.

Both professions will have to adapt their approach. And this
will require changes to attitudes, expectations and ways of

Teachers and social workers need to understand each other’s
roles better and appreciate the differing work constraints. Schools
often say that social workers find reasons not to take on cases,
miss appointments and delay making referrals. Teachers may fail to
appreciate the heavy workloads, tight deadlines and paperwork with
which social workers toil.

Social workers, on the other hand, tend to believe teachers dump
all their problems on them and can fail to appreciate teachers’
ability to communicate with children and their opportunities to
pick up signs of abuse at an early stage.

Both professions remain wary and suspicious of each other. Each
can feel that, on safeguarding children, they are working alone.
Yet both have a crucial role to play.

But understanding each other’s roles will not be enough. If
teachers and social workers are to work together effectively they
will also have to adapt their methods. Teachers need to become
better at responding to child protection concerns. And social
workers need to be more available to work with teachers.

One barrier to change is the different approach each profession
takes in managing its work. Because of the government’s “new
relationship with schools”, there are now fewer directives issued
by government (although schools might contest whether this is the
case). Schools have gained more freedoms to make decisions about
how to organise their services in the best interests of children.
Social workers, by comparison, still operate under the considerable
weight of procedural directives and there is little regard for
autonomous decision-making.

As a result teachers and social workers speak different
languages. Neither really understands how the other makes
decisions. At child protection meetings teachers are sometimes
bemused as to why more time can be spent discussing whether
procedures have been followed than how the respective agencies
might work together. On the other hand, social workers find it
difficult to pin down what teachers actually do. The different
styles of working help to breed at best distrust, at worst

In the coming days the government is expected to publish a
strategy for the children’s workforce. The strategy is unlikely to
be a blueprint for change, but rather a consultation document
exploring the likely direction of different parts of the children’s
workforce and the merits of a common qualifications framework.

These are important debates. But changes to attitudes,
expectations and ways of working will not come about by simply
aligning career structures. It will fall to leaders in the sector
to promote a new relationship between schools and social workers,
one based on mutual understanding, respect and a shared

Lisa Harker is chair of the Daycare Trust.

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