DfE to expand trials placing social workers in schools

Government announces £6.5m to fund pilots in 80 English schools, aimed at earlier identification of abuse and neglect

Image of social worker in school talking to teenager (credit: Valerii Honcharuk / Adobe Stock)
(credit: Valerii Honcharuk / Adobe Stock)

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced that it will be expanding trials that embed social workers in schools.

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said the government was putting £6.5m into a project expected to involve more than 150 schools, with the aim of identifying abuse and neglect earlier.

Community Care understands this number includes establishments that will form part of a ‘control’ group, with practitioners expected to be placed at around 80 schools.

It follows the piloting of three projects placing social workers in schools in Lambeth, Stockport and Southampton, co-ordinated by What Works for Children’s Social Care at a cost of roughly £400,000 per authority.

Interim evaluations of those projects, published in August 2019, indicated mixed results. But a final report, due to be published shortly, is expected to show that teething problems were overcome in all three local authority areas, with interventions into family life reduced overall, and social workers building stronger relationships with both teachers and the young people they worked with.

What Works will also oversee the new schemes, which local authorities are being invited to express an interest in before schools – likely to be secondaries, within a limited number of areas – are chosen at a later date.

Proposed September start date

The available money – which is time-limited to the 2020-21 academic year – will cover testing and evaluation but also include some staffing cost element.

The DfE said the decision to place more social workers in schools had been taken following rising reports of domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, with some children experiencing exposure to drugs and alcohol or at risk from online harms.

No concrete date has been set for the start of the projects but the intention is that social workers could be in place for the start of the new academic year, in September.

“The stark reality is that too many children are growing up at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation,” Williamson said.

“As schools begin opening more widely and we look to the future, we must take all the steps we can to protect these children,” he added. “By bringing social workers into schools we can spot the warning signs more quickly.”

Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, said she was “delighted” to see school placements expanding.

“Keeping social workers close to children, their families and alongside their communities will help build those essential relationships, which we know to be the bedrock of effective family support and child protection,” she said.

Meanwhile, What Works chief executive Michael Sanders said the work would allow the organisation “not only to support children and families during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond, but also to build up the evidence about whether these approaches really make a difference”.

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10 Responses to DfE to expand trials placing social workers in schools

  1. Sharon May 22, 2020 at 8:18 pm #

    That’s why the sure start centre in every community we’re absolutely a lifeline to schools & families … social workers, health visitors , focus on health promotion, education and nurseries , prevention is the key !

  2. Heather Witherington May 22, 2020 at 9:31 pm #

    I am a social worker in a SEN school and it has been a rollercoaster. I truly believe it is of benefit to the children and Working together but it needs a school leadership team that believes in it and is prepared to listen and prioritise wider and more flexible approaches to holistic teaching and support. If not, the social worker is isolated, belittled and unable to make a productive impact.

  3. Aileen oconnor May 22, 2020 at 11:24 pm #

    This could work well however social worker will have to be sure to build good relationships with parents support children as today social workers seem to allinate families not provide support help teach some parents skills they need Therefore parents are afraid do not ask for help. Yes there will be children who need protection. This is a skill good social worker can identifie quickly. At schools there are family liason workers not qualified. Start questioning children frighten them as theses people are not qualified in child therapy do not have the right skills. Hhalf of them do not understand poor family who try to care for children and neglect I have been social worker worked through ranks from bottom to top. Now retired. Seen some terrible practise. To many children in care when families should have been given help. I am not talking about the real abusive cases this is different. I would like to help with this project use my experience skills to pass on to schools theses family workers new social workers I believe the reason children in need are not being a proper chance lack of empathy from today’s workers lack of dedication. I asked newly qualified social workers why they did the job the answer was appalling. The money is great I was told. I am 74worked until I was 67because I wanted to help children families enhance there life’s

    • christine toft May 27, 2020 at 1:52 pm #

      Exactly my thoughts Aileen, the essential part is the collaboration between SW, parents & school. Being non judgmental while assessing risk is essential to inclusion. And yes, people really need to understand family dynamics, substance use, MH and domestic abuse to address the issues with compassion & knowledge. Sounds like you did a great job and just the right person to advise on these projects, all too often this experience is lost in the ‘new project’ excitement of the current guru ‘face’ of buz.
      Trauma/ACE’s responsive process at the core.

  4. Rosaline May 23, 2020 at 7:46 am #

    This is brilliant, Social Workers in the heart of a system where our children’s needs can be identified early and the right support offered.

  5. Kelly Bentley-Simon May 26, 2020 at 6:42 pm #

    This sounds like a fantastic project.

    I think it would give both professions a good insight into what the other does. A lot of school staff have little idea about thresholds and procedures in social work, but then most social workers have no idea about how much school pastoral teams and designated child protection officers do.

    As a current student social worker and a former designated child protection officer in a high school for 6 years I can definitely see that this would have been useful. A lot of time was spent by our team trying to get school staff to understand how children’s social care worked and why things couldn’t happen the way they thought it should after a child made an statement that needed investigating by the school child protection team and/or a referral to children’s social care if needed. This could sometimes take the whole day and as many school protection duties are undertaken alongside other roles there would often be additional conflicts around workloads etc.

    This would be a great partnership to support working together to keep children safe. I look forward to seeing what happens next!

  6. Elaine May 27, 2020 at 8:53 am #

    This is nothing new, myself and colleagues were working in a preventative capacity in schools 15 years ago. The funding was stopped unfortunately and the role ended.

    • Kat June 1, 2020 at 11:51 am #

      Very much agree Elaine. When I qualified in 2007 there were many professionals working in schools providing much needed support and interventions. Over the years restructures were made and support in schools hugely reduced. It feels like as usual we go back full circle to what worked well in the past!

      I am pleased that this is being explored but a year is not in my opinion long enough to evidence. Building relationships takes time as does embedding roles and responsibilities.

      I really hope it works and support can go back into the schools.

  7. Gerard Joseph Newport May 27, 2020 at 9:10 am #

    Long overdue social workers in schools will only enhance learning addressing any issues in families and support children to Express any concerns they have. Pivotal to this work intervention is having parents fully on board.

  8. Vicky May 28, 2020 at 6:58 am #

    What an excellent idea, putting social workers at the heart of where all children are I feel is vital. Before coming into social work I worked in a secondary school and the connections you can make with young people is fantastic, I’ve seen first hand how I even as an administrator made the difference to one particular young person and I would absolutely relish the opportunity to be in a school as a social worker, I truly believe that this would be extremely beneficial for students, parents and teaching staff.