Trial testing impact of school social workers on referral volumes extended to 21 areas

What Works initiative expanded after initial pilot found some evidence that placing practitioners in schools reduced social care referrals

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

A pilot testing whether placing social workers in schools reduces referrals to children’s social care has been extended to 21 council areas.

Practitioners will be placed in between five and eight secondary schools in each area – with a further five-eight schools per area serving as a control group – in the What Works for Children’s Social Care project, backed by £6.5m of Department for Education cash.

A What Works pilot in three areas found that the intervention appeared to reduce section 47 child protection enquiries in two areas – Lambeth and Southampton – and reduced initiations of section 17 children in need cases in the third, Stockport, though researchers stressed these were tentative findings.

An evaluation of the initial pilot also found that the initiative was felt to be successful by professionals across education and children’s social care, children young people and families. Social workers were deployed in a variety of ways across the three areas – with some embedded in schools and others working remotely – and undertook a wide range of work, from early intervention to the Public Law Outline.

The expansion of the pilot was due to cover 10 authorities but has been extended to more than double that amount because of the high level of interest. It is due to run from the start of the autumn term next month to next March. Authorities are currently recruiting to the posts, either on a year-long contract or a six-month basis.

The councils covered by the scheme are not evenly distributed, with nine in London, four in the North West, three in the South West, two in each of the North East and West Midlands, one in Yorkshire and the Humber and none in either of the East Midlands or the Eastern region. They are:

  • Croydon
  • Cumbria
  • Devon
  • Ealing
  • Gateshead
  • Haringey
  • Harrow
  • Hull
  • Lambeth
  • Merton
  • Newcastle
  • Salford
  • Somerset
  • Southwark
  • Staffordshire
  • Sutton
  • Swindon
  • Tameside
  • Tower Hamlets
  • Wirral
  • Wolverhampton

2 Responses to Trial testing impact of school social workers on referral volumes extended to 21 areas

  1. Tom J August 24, 2020 at 11:15 am #

    Anecdotally I had heard that referrals can actually go up as more things are discovered than there would be otherwise, so it will be interesting to see the results of this study.

  2. Tracy K August 24, 2020 at 2:27 pm #

    Having worked in a school as a pastoral/safeguarding lead prior to becoming a qualified social worker, I think this is positive. I do believe it would assist regarding appropriate referrals into social care due to understanding the threshold criteria, implementing early help where appropriate and undertaking specific pieces of work and interventions.

    However, I would advocate for school social workers to access additional supervision with an appropriately qualified social worker/practice supervisor rather than just a member of the senior leadership team/teacher. Reason being whilst most DSLs are fully au fait with safeguarding procedures etc, they are not social workers, and their regulations and codes of practice will differ from our own.

    I feel it is important to keep our own identity and value base. I often felt quite isolated in my role, despite my line manager being brilliant – she was a teacher at the end of the day. Often SLT would ride rough shod over a support plan for a child, and despite trying to encompass a joined up approach within school, often each dept. would have their own way of working/agenda and I often found myself in conflict with others in trying to advocate for a child/young person and getting them the support they were entitled to.

    I am not sure SLT view social workers with the same professional standing as themselves either, which was my experience when working with a school. Often you will hear teachers say not only do they teach they are social workers too, without truly understanding what social workers actually do. Maybe I just had a bad experience.