DfE merges schools and children’s social care responsibilities under new minister

Kelly Tolhurst becomes sixth children’s social care minister in four years, but appointment sees role upgraded in status from junior to mid-ranking ministerial level

Minister for schools and childhood Kelly Tolhurst
Minister for schools and childhood Kelly Tolhurst (photo credit: Department for Education)

The Department for Education (DfE) has merged responsibilities for children’s social care and schools under new minister Kelly Tolhurst.

The DfE confirmed this week that Tolhurst would be its sixth minister with responsibility for social care in four years, three weeks after Brendan Clark-Smith left the children’s minister post to take up a role in another department. The hiatus was caused in part by the mourning period following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

As with her social care ministerial predecessors, Tolhurst’s brief will also encompass other issues concerning disadvantaged and vulnerable children, including special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and early help.

However, unlike them, she will also take responsibility for key aspects of policy on schools – including strategy, qualifications, the curriculum and admissions – which is reflected in her title as minister for schools and childhood.

In relation to the scope of Tolhurst’s role, the DfE said its focus would be children’s wellbeing.

Response to care review

Her responsibilities mean she will have a bulging policy in-tray encompassing planned reforms to SEND, schools and children’s social care, in relation to which the DfE is due to publish an implementation plan before the end of the year.

This will respond to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s inquiry into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson and the Competition and Markets Authority’s study into the children’s social care market.

In line with previous ministers for schools, her role will be at the mid-ranking minister of state level, a more senior post than the junior ministerial status held by her five social care predecessors. Robert Goodwill, in 2017-18, was the last DfE minister of state with responsibility for social care.

Praise for Frontline

Tolhurst, previously the deputy chief whip, used her first tweet since her portfolio was confirmed to highlight social workers’ “vital role in keeping our children safe”, in encouraging applications to Frontline.

The fast-track social work training scheme has been funded by the government, and championed by a succession of ministers, since its inception in 2013. However, critics within the profession have long raised concerns about the lack of attention and resources directed at other routes into social work, particularly university courses.

Welcome from children’s social care bodies

Children’s social care bodies welcomed Tolhurst to her role by stressing their key priorities for the months ahead.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of charity fostering agency TACT, said he looked forward to working with her on investing in fostering and implementing the recommendations of the care review.

The Family Rights Group said it wanted to collaborate with her “to solve the very real issues facing the child welfare system and to help children thrive within their families”.

Meanwhile, charities Adoption UK, Become and Kinship highlighted the importance of improving outcomes for adopted people and their families, children in care and care leavers, and kinship carers, respectively.


More from Community Care

One Response to DfE merges schools and children’s social care responsibilities under new minister

  1. Chris Sterry September 29, 2022 at 8:45 pm #

    It is good to see the amalamation of education and chilrens social c are under one ministry, however, that is only the start as there needs to be a continued process to ensure full integration is carried through, for changing a Ministerial role is just an initial change.

    This was evident when the Ministries of health and social care were, apparently put into one Ministry, but to all purposes they are still separated in many areas and to many degrees.

    Social Care is still the poor relation to health, even though the inter-dependency is paramount. As one can’t exist without the other as insufficiencies in social care greatly add to the problems within health.

    This will be so for education and childrens social care, both at local and national levels. At local levels more intergration could well be occurring but not seen to be at National levels, which is so evident with health and social care.

    Also, there needs to be greater involvement in both Children’s and adults social  care.