Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) are responsible for child protection and safeguarding in schools. The responsibilities associated with the role mean that DSLs are often making difficult decisions in complex circumstances, for example around contacting children’s social care (CSC) when safeguarding concerns have arisen for pupils. In this intervention, supervision was provided by supervising social workers (SSWs).
The evaluation looked at the impact of providing this supervision from SSWs to DSLs in schools. In total, over 2,400 schools across 40 local authorities were involved across the four evaluations, which assessed:
- One-to-one supervision for DSLs in primary schools
- Group supervision for DSLs in secondary schools
- Both group and one-to-one supervision for DSLs in secondary schools in Greater Manchester Combined Authority
- One-to-one supervision for DSLs in primary schools and group supervision for DSLs in secondary schools in relation to potential cases of child sexual abuse
Evaluations 1, 2 and 3 investigated whether supervision had an impact on the “appropriateness” of CSC contacts made by schools. CSC contacts were considered “inappropriate” if the new contact did not lead to further action. Evaluation 4 investigated whether supervision influenced the number of CSC contacts in relation to child sexual abuse as a proportion of pupils. All four evaluations also measured the impact of supervision on DSL wellbeing.
Each of the evaluations used a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to measure the difference in outcomes between schools who received the supervision (the treatment group) compared to schools that did not and continued with business as usual instead (the control group). The evaluations also included an implementation and process evaluation (IPE), which involved interviews with DSLs, SSWs and other LA staff and surveys sent to both treatment and control schools, as well as a Cost Evaluation to estimate the cost of providing the supervision.
Across each of the evaluations, the RCT element consistently found that providing supervision to DSLs through SSWs did not have an impact on the appropriateness of contacts or number of CSA-related contacts made to CSC, nor on the wellbeing of DSLs. There were no statistically significant differences on any of the outcomes measured, nor were any detected through a range of sensitivity and sub-group analyses.
The IPEs repeatedly found that supervision was well-received by DSLs, but there was a mixed perception of impact, with some DSL’s reporting that supervision had no impact on their practice as they were already confident in their abilities. Others valued the time for reflection, developing new ideas and discussing complex cases. The IPEs suggest that the most substantive perceived improvements were in relation to wellbeing and confidence of DSLs, and in bridging the gap between schools and children’s social care, rather than on the nature of contacts to children’s social care.
The Cost Evaluation found that providing supervision for cost each school between £850 and £4,500 per year, with group supervision costing more on average. Given the intervention had no impact on the outcomes measured, this suggests that the supervision is not a cost-effective intervention.
Our findings highlight the value of early testing before activities are implemented at scale, so that we understand whether activities have the intended impact before significant investments are made.
Decisions about the value of such a programme going forward will need to be informed by which outcomes decision-makers are most seeking to influence as a result. The current design of the programme may not substantially impact the appropriateness of contacts or number of CSA-related contacts made to CSC, but rather the key focus may be on other outcomes, such as confidence and/or joint working between education and social care. These causal pathways remain untested and may be areas for exploration in future research.
The IPE does indicate that, for at least some DSLs, there is a need for additional support. DSLs also valued the role of supervision in bridging the gap between schools and CSC. A valuable next step could be to develop and evaluate programmes to provide this support or to improve ways of working between schools and CSC in other ways.