Debate on schools commissioning services

We asked:- Are the government’s proposals for schools to
commission services the right way forward to improve outcomes for

These are some of the comments we received

“The government proposes that schools become the centre
for children’s services. But after 27 years of full-time
experience in services for children, including in education, child
protection, and looked-after children, I can state quite
unreservedly that the proposal is a mistake.
I say this for a variety of reasons. Firstly, personnel in schools
are focussed on education and on cognitive functioning. They have
limited knowledge of issues for children in the care system and
limited knowledge of children with emotional and behavioural
In my current post as director of an Independent Fostering Agency,
I come into contact with schools from various local authorities,
and very often because of child protection matters. My experience
is that there is a noticeable lack of knowledge and awareness of
child protection in schools and there is even a startling lack of
ability to follow basic protection procedures. In short, personnel
in schools do not have a protection focus.
It is also my experience that personnel in schools do not have a
child focus, bizarre as it may sound. They do have an education
focus. But at a much more basic level than focus on, or awareness
of, child protection, is the fact that they do not have the time to
diversify from education in the way suggested. How then, can the
proposed role ever be fulfilled adequately?
Furthermore, my experience is that in the last 10 years, it is not
only education which have been seen to be lacking in the ways
described above. Social services departments are continually
failing to be protective or child-focussed.  I find that I am all
too often the person taking, from the independent sector, a ‘lead’
role in protection matters involving children in our placements.
This is a serious situation.

It must be said that social services are losing their child
protection knowledge base.    They very often avoid protection
issues altogether, or fail to go to their own protection teams, or
allow legal departments and barristers to be the main
decision-makers, or have a distinct lack of clarity about what
keeps children safe, amongst other concerning trends. Every week I
get new evidence of corporate neglect and carelessness – a
dangerous gap has developed and dangerous practice is extremely
The new proposals will do absolutely nothing to address this. My
view is that the only realistic solution is a National Protection
Agency and I sincerely beg the Government, on behalf of all our
children, to think again about this forgotten potential for child
protection. It is the only safe way forward.”
Jane Neild
Independent Fostering Sector

“Speaking from experience of working in schools, I respond
with caution to Margaret Hodge’s hope for them to be the hub of
service delivery. Placing care professionals within schools sounds
great theoretically. However it is fraught with practical

This includes many practical issues such as the location of
where care professionals work within the school building (i.e.
providing confidential and quiet space for young people and their
families to feel safe and secure without a whole school population
knowing that they are seeing a care professional etc), care
professionals having clear distinct roles, along with more
philosophical and theoretical issues, for example, the projects
aims and objectives (i.e. is it to serve the local community, young
people and families’ needs, or the schools?).
This later point is critical. If schools view and commissions
services that reflect their assessed needs referrals will reflect
this. A large proportion of those needing a service may be unable
to access it for criteria boundaries e.g. if priority is given to
those demonstrating behavioural problems in class. Furthermore,
pressure could be placed on care professionals to develop responses
that meet the school need for positive behaviour, rather than the
needs of the child or families.

Similarly, without independence, professionals can feel trapped,
as triggers to a child’s in-school behaviour can often lie within
its responses to children. Practical problems also occur, for
example, if children are excluded from school premises or are
permanently excluded in the midst of intervention work.
In addition to this, school staff often lack of knowledge of care
work, its role and method. This can lead to a lack of
understanding/professional division/cultural clashes (especially
over confidentiality, advocacy for families/young people in school
meetings, and data protection). It can also lead to the service
being used as a form of punishment and last resort, rather than a
partnership with parents and young people to promote positive
Furthermore, placing teaching staff that are untrained, lack
knowledge and experience about social care needs and provision is
scary and naive. It also undermines the skills that social care
professionals possess and have spent years training for. It would
also not be acceptable for a social worker to go and manage a
school as a headmaster, nor is it vice versa. Neither professionals
know or have the necessary skills, experience or knowledge to
effectively manage each others discipline effectively.

What should be hoped for is a system that allows those in
education to teach, and be responsible for this area, and social
care to provide social care services. These should be managed
separately. In this way, because of their proximity by being placed
within a school premise and working with young people and families
within the schools, better awareness, trust and closer working
relationships will probably develop.
 A system that gives schools the power is a system that fails young
people and families as it is susceptible to serving a
school’s need and is vulnerable to the skills, decisions and
values of one person – the head.

Instead, a dual process needs to occur. In this way care
professionals will feel safe, supported and able to provide
effective care provision that is not limited, pressurised or
impeded by school management or needs. Schools will benefit from
greater social care provision at earlier stages of intervention
that can also offer schools greater advice and access to support
for the young people it serves, offer programmes of training to
school staff (if schools seek it), and develop responses to
community needs that reflect the area.

For this to occur, it requires independence from school
management within a wider local strategy that aims to improve
children’s well-being – and not just schools’

Name withheld

“The are two main problems with schools commissioning
services. Firstly, only primary schools are proximate to the
communities from which pupils are drawn and few have either the
staff or the expertise to take this role on by themselves. Very few
high schools are located near the communities they serve and it is
hard to see how young people, their families and communities can be
part of the process – crucial if we are to reverse the poor
relations that exist between some schools and families.

Secondly, too many high schools still tend to exclude or suspend
pupils with complex needs rather than create a school environment
where they can function well.  There needs to be a significant
change in the culture of schools (as well as with partner agencies)
before any single agency is competent to exercise this role
effectively.  There is a real danger that some schools will view
this as an opportunity for each school to have their own social
worker or other specialist to deal with ‘problem children or

As a prevention strategy team working alongside partner agencies
to commission Children’s Fund services, we have considerable
experience of commissioning and believe that multi-agency panels
(which include schools) can be extremely effective. They are more
likely to create a climate of peer and user review as part of their
quality assurance function. 

We have seen a huge improvement in school attendance, as well as
improved cooperation between agencies delivering services in and
around schools, when commissioning and scrutiny takes place outside
of school.”

Mary Maguire

“The proposal for schools to commission services will not
work and will cost the government, social services departments and
schools a lot of money before they find out that it will not
Educationalists do not understand, know or care about how other
services work, or what their values are or what they actual can
I am a schools social worker – one of about 18 in the county in
which I work. I have spent two years building up an early
intervention, preventative project to prevent permanent
During that time I have had to constantly promote what social
workers do. I have worked with many excellent teachers who have
confessed they do not have the first idea about my training path,
my expertise or my skills and value base. They have also agreed
that they do not have the time or the inclination to find out for
I have worked with head-teachers who are like the remnant of time
past and who as managers of schools have the first and the last say
about how the work takes place on the ground.
I have developed a successful community-based social work project
with voluntary sector partnership that is now running out of money,
but more importantly is being marginalised by a head-teacher who is
out to make her mark on her new and first headship by showing the
governing body that the school no longer needs the social stigma of
a social work service delivered directly into the school.
What I have discovered while working with teaching staff is that
they have little or no knowledge of values and the way they impact
on their pupils and they have little or no regard for the value
base that other agencies work out of. They are so pushed by this
government to be target orientated that they will take anything
from anywhere and apply it to the child with a plan called a PSP.
These plans have very little to do with the reality of the
child’s world and, in my experience, it very rarely has any
impact on the provision that is put in place for children with
challenging behaviour.
Recently I had several meeting with teaching staff, the SENCO and a
child to engage in a plan of action about how to contain this child
in the school and the services we could provide ( such as weekly
one-to-one sessions looking at self esteem, choice, perception and
responsibility ) .

The more successful part of the plan was to have him care for
the school hamster. This he had been doing with some success and
his behaviour in class has improved. Then the two teachers who
share the teaching of his class went on training at the same time
and a stand-in teacher came to the class. The child had experienced
the teacher before so that was not the problem, but the issue was
that the stand-in did not know about the hamster how its care
worked. So at the first play time when the child felt his behaviour
was such that he should be rewarded with time with the hamster, he
did not get it and was sent out to the “naughty area”
for being rude and argumentative with the teacher. He then
proceeded to run  round the school until the threat of calling his
father brought him to his senses.
My point is that in terms of culture school /education is another
race, a different nationality. Education professionals do not see
the need they are not aware of the need and do not respect the need
to work together with social services departments. They will work
with health because they know about them, they respect them, they
understand them and, more importantly, they are directed to defer
to them.
 I am mad, sad, angry and frustrated that this work which I love – 
which provides 18 one-to-one sessions a week for primary school
children, group work around handling difficult behaviour,
information about parenting issues and confidence building work –
is being marginalised by the strategy of the educationalists and
the ignorance within teaching about the possibilities for
preventative social work.”

Name withheld

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