Revisiting the role of social workers in schools: lessons from the pandemic

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  • Ad ID: 1685

  • Added: 13 October 2021

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During the pandemic, the School of Social Work at ARU attempted to expand the provision of school-based placements. In 2021, we placed students in nearly 50 schools across the region and this is due to increase to nearly 80 in the next academic year. This pilot project was subject to a small scale study in the summer of 2021. Jenny Rafter, Deputy Head of School for Social Work, draws on the key findings and lessons for future initiatives.

Recently, there have been renewed calls to revisit the role of social workers in schools (SWIS). In the UK, the most recent SWIS initiative is exemplified in the May 2020 announcement of £6.5milllion Department of Education funding, which expands trials coordinated by ‘What Works for Children’s Social Care’. The upscaled project is now extended to March 2022, working with 21 Local Authorities and 140 social workers. Despite the appearance on innovation, these are not unchartered waters.

Academic interest in the late 1990s generated extensive commentaries and debate around the SWIS role. During this time, there was an upsurge of intense activity, with a succession of pilot schemes. At its peak the most established initiative can be found in the Hull Model, which in the early 2000s, claimed school-based placements were firmly on the map. Others suggest such practice remains elusive and many SWIS studies called for further investigation and scope for expansion. Beyond the early interest, little attempt has been made to bring the literature up to date. Thus, there is a limited knowledge base about SWIS as a professional group and the potential benefits.

Jenny Rafter is from East London and started her career as a social worker in a Community Mental Health Team in Newham. She then moved to Essex and became a school-based social worker for a Children’s Charity. She joined ARU as a lecturer and became Deputy Head of School for Social work in Chelmsford. She continues to teach on our social work programmes, and she is particularly interested in the impact of poverty and community orientated practice.

Jenny is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Education and she focus is the role of social workers in schools. During the pandemic, Jenny led an initiative to place social work students in school-based placements across the region. This pilot project is due to be upscaled and expanded in the next academic year. You can follow Jenny on Twitter.


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