This evaluation looked at three pilot projects which embedded social workers in schools. It explored how working in this way might help reduce referrals, support schools, and reduce the need for children to enter care. Schools play a key part in keeping children safe, and tend to be a source of many referrals to Children’s Social Care. The thinking behind the project was that if we can improve the way schools and social workers work together, then there could be real benefits for children and families, schools and the social care system.

The pilots, based in Lambeth, Southampton and Stockport, offer insights about how to implement such an intervention and give us some early indications about what impact it might have. Social workers did the full range of statutory work in all three places, thought the nature of the work and how the social work teams were configured varied between the pilots. Across the pilots there were a range of types of schools involved, including mainstream primary and secondary schools and also specialist schools for children with additional needs.


In our evaluation we tried to understand the nature of the intervention, how feasible it is to implement and what challenges and opportunities this involved. We also explored how promising it is in terms of making a difference to some key social care outcomes – including child protection and care outcomes. The aim was to generate a theory about what the intervention looks like in practice, and inform policy decisions about whether it is worth testing further at scale.

How we went about it

We used a mixed methods approach, involving qualitative and quantitative data to build a detailed picture of the intervention.  Throughout the different stages of the evaluation we developed and refined a theory about how social workers in schools could be used and what outcomes having them in place might lead to. We analysed administrative data from schools and undertook a range of semi structured interviews, practice observations and analysis of the activity logs that social workers kept while they worked.

Key findings

  1. All the pilots were successful in embedding social workers within schools, and their base was moved from social care offices to one or more schools in the borough.
  2. The intervention varied across local authorities, ranging from social workers being fully embedded to a more remote approach where they visited schools regularly.
  3. Social workers undertook a wide range of activities, working with children who were involved with children’s social care (CSC), and also children who were not previously known to CSC.
  4. The pilots were perceived to be broadly successful by professionals across education and CSC, children and young people, families, and other professionals.
  5. Challenges associated with interagency working were highlighted by the pilot, but there is also evidence that the process of working more closely together helped to overcome these issues.
  6. There is some evidence that the pilot had a positive impact on reducing some of the social care outcome indicators we studied – in particular section 17 (Child in Need) referrals and section 47 (Child Protection) enquiries.


Our findings suggest that the intervention is worth exploring and evaluating further, to see whether the indicative evidence presented here is replicated elsewhere. As part of this, efforts should be made to refine the intervention and encourage more consistent and effective integration of social workers into schools. Alongside this, there is a need to further clarify the nature of the SWIS role and its boundaries.

What next

What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) is requesting applications from local authorities to be a part of the Social Workers in Schools (SWIS) Scale-up.

The Social Workers in Schools programme aims to embed social workers in secondary schools to reduce referral rates to children’s social care (CSC), and reduce the numbers of Section 17 or Section 47 investigations, along with the overarching aim of reducing the number of children in care, and improving educational attainment. It is hoped that this will also promote better inter-agency working between schools and the children’s social care system.

In this scale-up, funded by the Department for Education, we anticipate working with up to 160 schools in up to 10 local authorities. This is set to commence in September 2020, and run throughout the school academic year.