Schools should become “corporate parents” responsible for the wellbeing of looked-after children and given a seat at the safeguarding table, according to a landmark review that warned the relationship between social care and education is “consistently fraught”.
Josh MacAlister has published the final report of his independent review of children’s social care.
It warned that without a “dramatic system reset”, outcomes for children and families would remain “stubbornly poor”, and the number of children in care will be approaching 100,000 within ten years.
Here are the main recommendations relating to schools.
1. Give schools ‘corporate parent’ legal duty
In Scotland, organisations like schools, the police and primary care providers have been made “corporate parents”, and now have a legal duty to promote the wellbeing of those who have experienced care.
The review found this had led to “tangible and meaningful changes which could be replicated in England”.
Making a similar change to the law here would “more accurately reflect the role that schools, colleges, universities, health agencies and other parts of the public realm play in the lives of children in care and those with a care experience”.
The report also called for a review of the role of council directors of children’s services to give it “clarity”.
This should reflect their role as a “champion for children and families within their area”, as well as the findings from this review, the SEND green paper and schools white paper.
2. Make schools statutory safeguarding partners
Statutory safeguarding partners, currently local authorities, health services and police, are responsible for local safeguarding arrangements in their areas.
But leaving schools out means the voice of education is “missing” in “too many places”.
The review’s deep dives found the relationship between social care and education was “consistently fraught”. Children who have needed a social worker are more likely to be excluded and less likely to achieve a strong pass at GCSE English and maths, it warned.
The report said schools and children’s social care “need to be brought into lockstep”, and recommended that the law be changed to make education the “fourth statutory safeguarding partner”.
The DfE should work with social care and school leaders to “identify the best way to achieve this, ensuring that arrangements provide clarity”, with upcoming school reforms providing an “opportunity to act”.
3. Base new ‘family help teams’ in schools
The review proposed a new category of “family help” to replace “targeted early help” and “child in need” work, providing families with “much higher levels of meaningful support”.
These family help teams “would be based in community settings, like schools and family hubs, that children and families know and trust”.
4. Let teachers ‘known to’ children foster them
The review warned that the culture of care meant it was “often considered inappropriate” to ask a teacher or friend’s parent to consider becoming a specific child’s foster carer.
This “needs to change”, and in circumstances where fostering within a family network is not going to work, then adults known to the child and willing to foster, like teachers, should be identified.
5. Hold virtual school heads to account for progress
Virtual school heads have a duty to promote the educational achievement of children in care and manage their pupil premium funding.
But although the review found that virtual school heads hold “important levers” to improve educational attainment, there is a “lack of real accountability”.
Progress 8 for children in care should be a “key measure” by which virtual school heads’ performance is judged, and Ofsted should assess this through its framework for inspecting children’s services.
The review also said virtual heads should direct pupil premium funding “towards interventions that are well evidenced, and the Education Endowment Fund should help to inform these choices”.
6. Use free schools cash to create state boarding places
The review found that “more could be done” to increase the supply of boarding school places for children looked-after in the state sector.
The DfE should therefore “consider investing some of the free schools capital budget into a new wave of state boarding capacity”.
This should be led by the “highest performing state schools that have a track record of providing excellent pastoral care”.
Virtual School Heads should also work to identify more children in care who might benefit from a place at a state or independent day or boarding school.
7. Replace young offender institutions with secure schools
The government and sponsor the Oasis Charitable Trust are in the process of opening the country’s first secure school for young offenders in Medway, though the project is three years behind schedule and massively over-budget.
The social care review said young offender institutions and secure training centres should be “phased out” entirely within the next ten years and replaced with secure children’s homes and secure schools.
8. Train all staff on mental health response
The review said the identification and response to poor mental health issues should be a “core part of training programmes for any professionals working with children and young people that have involvement with children’s services”.
Mental health support teams should also be rolled out faster, and senior mental health lead training provided to all schools and colleges in England.
9. DfE to extend school schemes, but details scarce
The DfE has not issued its full response to the review, but did issue a press release, albeit with limited details about what it will do.
The department said it would provide funding for councils to continue delivery of the social workers in schools programme, which was praised in the review report, and for the designated safeguarding lead supervision programme.
This funding would build on “successful pilots which have supported young people in hundreds of schools since launching in September 2020”.
However, the DfE has not said how much funding will be available, or how many more LAs will benefit.