DfE sets out plans to support the one in 10 children classified as 'in need'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

Both the in-year admissions process and communication between social workers and schools are to be improved in a bid to better protect vulnerable children.

It comes after the Department for Education (DfE) published the final report of its Children in Need Review.

It defines “children in need” as those who need or have needed a support from a social worker. Between 2012 and 2018, the review says that this covered approximately 1.6 million children and that one in 10 children were classified as “in need” in 2018.

Education secretary Damian Hinds set out his response to the review’s findings during a speech to the Reform think-tank earlier this month.

The review emphasises that 98 per cent of schools, primary and secondary, in England have children who are classified as in need.

It catalogues a range of educational outcomes under which children in need fair less well than their peers – even long after social work involvement has ended – including GCSE results and access to higher education.

Mr Hinds said: “Overall, if you’ve needed contact with a social worker at any time, since year 5 in school, on average you score 20 grades lower across eight GCSEs.

“It’s quite an astonishing, gap. We’ve known, and it’s widely understood, that for children in care there’s a wide gap, but this doesn’t get talked about nearly as much.”

The Children in Need Review adds: “Children who need a social worker are nearly twice as likely to join a school at an unusual time of year, around three times more likely to be persistently absent and between two to four times more likely to be permanently excluded.”

Mr Hinds said he wanted to raise the “visibility” of these young people and that part of this work will include the implementation of the recommendations of the recent School Exclusions Review undertaken by Edward Timpson.

In May, Mr Timpson’s review found that 78 per cent of permanent exclusions are issued to SEN pupils, children in need, or those eligible for free school meals. One in 10 are issued to pupils with all three characteristics.

Among 30 recommendations, he proposed making schools accountable for the pupils they exclude, clamping down on practices of off-rolling, and improving communication between social workers and schools (Headteacher Update, June 2019).

Mr Hinds has now confirmed that he is to change the School Admissions Code in order to speed up in-year admissions so that vulnerable children, including those fleeing domestic abuse, can access a place more quickly.

He also revealed plans for better sharing of information between councils and schools, including making sure social workers are informed when a child they support is excluded from school. He wants to see closer working between schools and councils to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged pupils.

On the plans to notify social workers, the Children in Need Review states: “Implementing this in the right way is critical, given it needs to be clear, quick and efficient. We will work with schools and local authorities to consider the implications and clarify how this sits alongside existing duties, to make sure this works in practice.”

Mr Hinds’ speech comes alongside new guidance published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on using the Pupil Premium effectively. The guidance advises that schools prioritise Pupil Premium spending on developing effective teaching and CPD.

Mr Hinds said: “We understand children in care have very poor outcomes. Actually, the truth is the outcomes for children in need of a social worker are almost as bad but there are five times as many of them.

“We also know the effects of this sustain. We need to improve the visibility of this group, both in schools and in the system as a whole. We need to make sure in every case that information is passed on to a social worker when a child moves school.

“We also need to improve our knowledge of what works to support and help these children. We must not lower our expectations for them – for these children it is more important that they can do their very best to make the most of their talents when they’re at school.”

Mr Hinds also said that teachers and social workers would be supported to offer mental health support for children in need by ensuring both initial teacher training and the social work standards develop knowledge and skills on mental health.

Commenting on the plans, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “We welcome the recognition of the important role that so many play in providing vulnerable children with all the support they need, including social care, youth services, local authorities, police, and schools – children do not get the help they need unless all play their part.

“It is important to recognise the significant and vital work being done to support disadvantaged children in schools, which often goes far beyond a school’s core role of education and happens in the face of significant challenges. We all want these children to succeed and must work together to make that happen.

“However, although many of these measures are positive and welcome, sooner or later the government will have to recognise that without decent levels of basic funding for schools and public services, the hard work and positive ideas of so many will simply go to waste. We desperately need new money from the Treasury for schools and children’s services, or children will continue to be failed.”

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