The critical role of schools in protecting vulnerable children: why schools and social workers need immediate support to respond to the effects of lockdown

Dr Victoria Sharley
Lecturer in Social Work with Children and Families

With the majority of children returning to schools this week, referrals to Children’s Services are expected to substantially rise. As Peter Walker reported in the Guardian, schools will play ‘a pivotal role in spotting neglect and abuse’.

After nearly six months away from the classroom, children who would have previously been identified as needing help and support have been invisible to staff in schools.  According to the Department for Education, the number of referrals received by Children’s Services since schools closed due to the Covid19 outbreak, has seen a dramatic reduction of 18% (compared to the last three years).

The NSPCC states that schools are vital partners in the safeguarding and protection of our children. Staff in schools have the opportunity to observe children in a range of settings, inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers and other school staff can monitor children’s behaviour daily, over an extended period of schooling, whilst observing their interactions with peers and members of their families. They are uniquely positioned to detect concerns at an early point and share information which ensures children receive the support they need at the right time.

It is therefore essential that school staff are fully supported to recognise children who are in need of additional support, and be ready to respond to those who have been living with abuse or neglect, and are in need of protection.

A new policy report by Dr Vicky Sharley (University of Bristol) highlights findings from a recent study funded by Welsh Government through Health and Care Research Wales. The report looks at how school staff identify and respond to children they suspect are living with neglect (the most common reason for a child to be on a child protection plan in England). The report sets out key recommendations for best practice across schools and child protection services, and calls for policymakers to support schools and social workers in their unique but closely related roles within the safeguarding system.

The report also outlines a new approach for the development of effective inter-agency relationships to improve safeguarding outcomes. It is essential for children’s welfare that any concerns are raised at the earliest point possible. This requires more support for school staff and social workers to develop close working relationships and excellent communication channels. Recommendations are particularly pertinent at a time when children are returning to the classroom, having been ‘hidden’ from services for more than five months and referrals are expected to soar.

You can read the full report here. The key recommendations include the following:

  • Head Teachers should be supported to establish effective learning communities within their schools so staff develop context-specific knowledge and expertise on how to respond to child neglect effectively within a school setting.
  • Schools should recruit strategic staff who demonstrate commitment to developing expertise in child neglect to promote children’s wellbeing within the school setting.
  • School staff who know the local community well should have opportunities to provide insights into the lives of children who are suspected of living with neglect.
  • Social workers should routinely provide feedback to schools on the outcome of referrals made to child protection services and the rationale for their decision not to intervene.
  • Social workers should ensure that Child Protection Conferences are not planned during school holidays, and that information is shared with new schools where children are transitioning to secondary education.
  • Informal and formal opportunities should be made available to all staff to spend time in partner agencies to support development of knowledge and expertise about service provision.
  • The local authority’s threshold guidance document should be used as a tool for reflective discussion across services, to inform professional decision making and foster a ‘shared language’, so school staff can more effectively articulate concerns in their referrals.
  • The role of the School Social Worker responds to many interprofessional barriers between schools and child protection services, and should be established in all local authorities.

This study forms the basis of Dr Sharley’s ongoing research investigating interprofessional safeguarding practices across the United Kingdom. She would be happy to answer any questions about this study or discuss her ongoing and future work in this area.

The Brazilian Education Fracture and COVID-19: A Historical Perspective

André Hedlund, Chevening Alumnus, MSc in Psychology of Education from the School of Education at the University of Bristol

“Challenging. The Brazilian Educational System is Huge”

This is written on the website of Todos Pela Educação (All for Education), an NGO that provides information about the Brazilian educational scenario in order to help boost quality and access to basic education.

Brazil has a history of elitism and oppression. Education was used as an evangelisation tool by the Jesuits to convert Indigenous Brazilians in the early colonial years, between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Till this day, many schools are run by religious institutions. In the 19th century, the elite either had the luxury of private tutors or sent their children abroad, particularly Portugal, for their studies while slaves traded in from Africa were not allowed any type of education at all. Black people are still marginalised as a consequence of structural racism.

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Motivated to succeed? Attitudes to education among native and immigrant pupils in England

Perhaps the central policy question for those of us studying education is: how can we raise levels of attainment? For long, the focus was almost solely on cognitive skills, but a line of recent research has looked at the interaction between such skills and non-cognitive factors (also called psychological traits), motivations, and culture in generating higher student achievement. Continue reading

Shut down business schools? Two professors debate

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Martin Parker, University of Bristol and Ken Starkey, University of Nottingham

After 20 years of working in UK business schools, Martin Parker, professor of organisation studies at Bristol University, calls for them to be shut down in a new book. His views have caused some lively debate and here, he makes his case. Ken Starkey, professor of management at Nottingham University, disagrees. He offers an alternative.

Martin Parker:

One of the features of today’s universities is just how much money they now spend on marketing. Websites are slick and use contemporary typefaces, billboards show laughing diverse customers, and strap lines promise success. “Achieve your dreams!” “Find the real you!” “The knowledge to succeed!” Apart from the word “university”, it’s hard to tell whether they are selling mobile phones, a yoga retreat, or a degree. Continue reading

Lessons learned from imposing performance-related pay on teachers

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Simon Burgess, University of Bristol

 

One of the toughest subjects in classrooms at the moment is the recruitment and retention of teachers. Their level of pay is often cited as a problem – and possibly part of a solution.

In England, the public sector pay freeze of recent years has meant real terms pay cuts for many teachers. But another part of the picture is the procedure which decides how much an individual teacher gets. Until recently this has been the pervasive public sector approach under which pay has generally increased automatically over time. Continue reading

How can we resist post-Brexit racism?

What does one do when they feel their home turning against them?

Picture of graffiti on a wall - a girls face

SmugOne graffiti, Bristol. duncan c/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by-nc)

“It’s good to be back home” said one of my friends after we had come back from a two-week holiday abroad. I looked at her not knowing how to respond and just smiled reluctantly. Before Brexit I would have said it too without hesitation, having lived in the UK for over ten years. But I could not share my friend’s excitement. It was three months after the vote.

A couple of days earlier, a Polish man had been killed in, what was believed to be, a hate crime attack. I found out about it from my parents who called me from Poland to check how I was doing and to ask if Bristol was a safe place for me to live. It was the first time they asked me this question since I moved to the UK in 2005. I couldn’t help but feel worried and upset upon my return rather than relieved and happy as my British friends did. Unfortunately, for me it was not so good to be back at not so home anymore.

Brexit questioned my feeling of belonging to British society. I started having doubts if British people had ever accepted me and other EU citizens. Not everyone voted to leave. And of course, not everyone who voted leave is racist or xenophobic. The hate crimes, even though rapidly increased following the EU referendum, are still relatively low in numbers. However, this is not to say that they are insignificant. The death of the Polish migrant was not an isolated incident. Continue reading

How can schools help talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds into university?

Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University Graduate School of Education

Dr Jo Rose, Senior Lecturer in Education, Bristol University

There are many bright young people who come from disadvantaged family or school contexts where university attendance is not the norm.

As part of the High-Potential Learners Project, we investigated how these young people could be supported in making decisions about university. In particular, we wanted to know how to encourage high-achieving young people to consider the highly-selective, research-intensive, Russell Group universities as an option.

Over a period of two years, we worked with a group of 44 sixth-form students from schools across Bristol, to understand how and why they made decisions about university. We also analysed a large-scale, nationally-representative dataset of 2290 high-attaining learners who had turned 18 in 2009/10.

Our project found that school context was highly important with regards to subsequent university attendance, and identified some of the ways in which schools and universities can work together to support students’ decision-making.

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Why we need to teach political philosophy in schools

Dr Jonathan Floyd, Lecturer in Political Theory, SPAIS, University of Bristol

Dr Jonathan Floyd, Lecturer in Political Theory, SPAIS, University of Bristol

What is the spectre haunting Europe today? It’s simple. The thing that truly dogs us, that really drags at our heels, is ignorance. Ignorance of the fundamental ideas at the heart of politics. Ignorance of the key terms of political argument: liberty, equality, power, justice, and so on. Ignorance of the subject matter of political philosophy.

This ignorance is a spectre precisely because it is invisible to us. You might, for example, not know how a microwave works. But you know you do not know that. Now imagine there are purple aliens growing yellow mushrooms on the other side of the moon. In this case you are unaware that you unaware of them.

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Tongue-tied: Britain has forgotten how to speak to its European neighbours

Dr Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, University of Bristol

Dr Martin Hurcombe, Reader in French Studies, University of Bristol

The decline in the number of students of modern languages from GCSE to degree level is an annual lament. Only 10,328 pupils in the UK took French at A Level in 2015 and although Spanish enjoyed a rise in entries at A Level of 14%, German continued its steady decline.
As Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, noted last year, the study of French and German at A Level has declined by more than 50% since 1999.

Similar patterns can be observed at GCSE where entries for French, for example, declined by 40% between 2005 and 2015. The rise in interest in Arabic and Portuguese has not offset the overall trend towards the marginalisation of language learning in Britain’s secondary schools, and most notably those in the state sector.

A Level language entries, 2006-2015. JCQ

A Level language entries, 2006-2015. JCQ

It’s hard for language learners and teachers to remain optimistic in this climate, and harder still with widespread Euroscepticism and the possibility of the UK voting to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23.

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From the narrative of failure to the narrative of potential?

Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.

Professor David Berridge. Professor of Child & Family Welfare. He is a leading national and international child welfare researcher and is author/co-author of 13 books and numerous other chapters and articles.

David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at the School for Policy Studies, considers the process of making an impact on policy and practice by discussing his research on children in care.

It is interesting, and advisable, at the completion of a research project to reflect on how it went. There can be a tendency to delay this process, encouraged by feelings of relief as well as driven, no doubt, by the need to catch-up with other, overdue responsibilities.

These thoughts were with me at the end of 2015 on the conclusion of our research on the Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England.  Many challenges arose, including: obtaining and analysing large government databases; negotiating access to six contrasting local authorities; contacting groups of older teenagers in care, their social workers, carers and teachers; obtaining and analysing large amounts of qualitative data; and writing-up the results.

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