The long shadows of austerity and the COVID pandemic in English schools: the rise of leadership as social triage

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Every Child Matters heralded the beginning of a process of service integration, centred on the child and their family to create coherent support for young people. However, before this approach to service provision was given the opportunity to mature, an incoming UK Coalition government began a process of austerity, from the moment of their election in 2010. Over the subsequent ten years many of the services allied to schools which were to form this integrated approach were severely cut back often leaving schools as the sole remaining provider of essential services. Here, we chart the impacts of austerity and the cutting back of the services meant to support children and families, particularly in more deprived areas of England. We then consider the experiences of head teacher during the Covid-pandemic and the continued and intensifying difficulties they have faced since the official ‘return to normal’ in February 2022. We identify that schools are now often the only public service offering regular face to face engagement with their communities, leaving head teachers to deal with an ever widening spectrum of issues far beyond those they are officially charged with by government. This leaves them fulfilling a form of ‘social triage’ where they absorb many of the social issues faced by their children, parents and communities whilst attempting to find additional help where they are able, all whilst continuing to demonstrate progress in their core responsibility of educating the children in their care.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLondon Review of Education
Publication statusSubmitted - 3 Jun 2024


  • social triage
  • education
  • leadership
  • schools


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