Supervising Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) in primary schools

This trial aims to establish the impact of providing a designated social worker to supervise Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) in primary schools.


Randomised controlled trial / In progress

Estimated completion

November 2022

Evaluated by

National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR)

Key Figures

Local authorities 10

Project Summary & Aims
This trial aims to establish the impact of providing a designated social worker to supervise Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) in primary schools. DSLs are responsible for safeguarding and child protection in schools, and are expected to: manage referrals; act as a liaison with safeguarding partners including local authority case managers, head teachers and other school staff; undergo specialist training; raise awareness; and maintain child protection files.

Although the role can involve having to make difficult decisions about vulnerable children in often complex circumstances, anecdotally at least, the provision of formal supervision for DSLs can be limited.

The aims of the intervention are to:

  • Improve knowledge and understanding of children’s social care processes and issues, resulting in reductions in inappropriate contacts to children’s social care.
  • Reduce DSL stress and anxiety, resulting in reduced rates of DSL burnout and turnover

Project Background
This programme builds on the initial pilot programme delivered to primary schools in Bolton in the school year 2019-20, and a further scale up currently taking place within Greater Manchester Combined Authority Secondary Schools. These programmes were developed in recognition of the fact that the DSL role can be stressful. Qualitative evidence from the Bolon primary school pilot indicates that DSLs receiving the programme welcomed the support this offered with some reporting of increased confidence and improvements in mental wellbeing.
This primary school scale up follows a similar intervention delivery; offering one-to-one supervision.

Project Design
The evaluation comprises a randomised controlled trial, along with an implementation and process evaluation and analysis of costs.
The two-arm randomised control trial will take place across 10 Local Authorities. Participating schools in this programme will be randomised (at Local Authority level) to either receive DSL supervision through this programme or to continue as ‘business as usual’. Approximately 1,205 schools will be participating in this project across the 2021/2022 academic year. The final evaluation report will be submitted in November 2022.

The overarching purpose of the implementation and process evaluation (IPE) is to show how the intervention is delivered and implemented in different Local Authorities and schools, the factors that inform this, and any perceived impact on DSL practices. In this way, the process evaluation aims to bring greater clarity to the quantitative research findings and to understand the reasons behind them. It also gathers practitioners’ views on how the intervention might be improved, to inform any future delivery and rollout.

Each participating Local Authority will recruit supervising social workers to work with and supervise the DSL’s based in the intervention arm of schools to support children and families more effectively and improve the appropriateness and quality of contacts to children’s social care. Supervision to DSL’s will be provided in the form of one-to-one sessions, taking place every four-six weeks.

Data for the cost evaluation will be collected from the participating local authorities and schools.

Privacy Notice

The Privacy Notice for the participants in this project can be found here: Privacy Notice