‘Go further’ on school social care reform, says review author

Schools need a seat at the safeguarding 'table', says Josh MacAlister, after government kicks reforms down the road

Schools need a seat at the safeguarding 'table', says Josh MacAlister, after government kicks reforms down the road

10 Feb 2023, 7:00

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The government must “go much further” to boost schools’ safeguarding role, the author of a landmark review of social care has said.

Ministers’ have faced criticism for their “half-hearted” response to Josh MacAlister’s review, which recommended that schools should become statutory safeguarding partners alongside police, health services and councils, and that they should be considered “corporate parents” of children in care.

The Department for Education’s response last week pledged only to consult on these changes, while other recommendations were not addressed.

The review called for £2.6 billion over five years but ministers have allocated just £200 million over two years.

Josh MacAlister
Josh MacAlister

MacAlister told Schools Week that changes to statutory guidance in the next two years will give education a bigger role in safeguarding.

But he warned that ministers “will need to go much further to give schools a seat at the table as a full safeguarding partner”.

His report called for schools to become corporate parents in England to “more accurately reflect the role” they play in the lives of looked-after children.

The government’s response pledged only to consult on “extending corporate parenting responsibilities to a wider set of public bodies”, and then again in the autumn “as necessary” on proposals for legislative reform.

It will also consult in the spring on how to “strengthen the role of education settings”, following a warning in the review that the fact schools are not currently statutory safeguarding partners means the voice of education is “missing”.

‘The time for consultations is surely over’

The DfE said it would use responses to the consultation to help form proposals on “whether and how” to make education a fourth safeguarding partner through consultation in autumn 2023, but made no firm commitment to doing so.

Anne Longfield, the former children’s commissioner, said the DfE’s response to the “sensible proposals for schools” in the review “seems half-hearted”.

Anne Longfield
Anne Longfield

“The time for consultations is surely now over, and we need the government to get on with making immediate improvements and setting out a fully funded long-term plan to improve the care system,” she said.

Other proposals included a new category of “family help” services, based in community settings like schools. The government has so far pledged a £45 million pilot in 12 areas to improve current services.

MacAlister suggested education settings were the “most obvious” location for family help services but the DfE has made no firm commitment to this.

He added that he hoped “changes to what we measure and prioritise in the care system results in a small number of teachers taking on the role of foster carer”.

MacAlister’s review warned the culture of care meant it was “often considered inappropriate” to ask a teacher to consider becoming a child’s foster carer.

It said this “needs to change”, with teachers being identified in circumstances where fostering within a family network was not going to work.

The government pointed to its current fostering recruitment and retention programme, making no mention of teachers.

Teachers a ‘hugely untapped’ fostering resource

Longfield said there was a “national shortage of foster carers and the government needs to be more ambitious about how it is going to recruit them” and that school staff represented a “hugely untapped resource” for fostering support.

Matthew Cooke, incoming chair of the National Association of Virtual School Heads, said the DfE’s response had offered “some meaningful approaches” to improving children’s social care.

However, he questioned the review’s assertion that there was a “lack of accountability” for virtual school heads in their duty to promote the educational achievement of children in care.

The original document also called for these leaders to be held to account for the progress 8 scores of looked-after children, but the government did not mention this in its response.

Instead, ministers pledged to consult “as necessary” in the autumn on “expanding the Virtual School Head role to include children in care and care leavers up to the age of 25”.

Cooke defended his colleagues, saying there were “countless examples and positive write-ups in [Ofsted] reports that suggest virtual heads use additional funding in effective ways”.

“Every single inspection I’ve been involved in has held me to account for my progress 8 score with my children in care.”

The DfE did not respond to requests to comment.

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One comment

  1. Victor Burnop

    Most teachers would support this, if the ineffective Ofsted was rightly disbanded.
    Ofsted advisors would muddy the waters, come up with half-baked ideas, reinventing the wheel strategies to make a name for their themselves Good idea but the climate of fear in schools would mean their engagement would be out of fear,and consequently ineffective. Another half-baked idea.