Reporting Year 2021

Children's social work workforce: attrition, caseload, and agency workforce

This is the latest dataAd hoc statistics
Published

This release provides additional analysis of the children’s social work workforce data which is collected by the Department for Education from local authorities in an annual census. Official statistics for this data are published here.

This release includes new analysis on social workers who leave a post in local authority children's social work. This release provides estimates for two years. The first year covers 1 October 2019 to 30 September 2020, and the second year covers 1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021.

Within the group of leavers for each year, social workers are identified as belonging to one of 3 groups based on their status on 30 September:

  1. those who have moved into another children’s social work role, employed by a local authority;
  2. those who are now working as agency children’s social workers; and
  3. those who are not identified as a local authority social worker or agency social worker in local authority children’s services.

The term “attrition” applies to both the second and third groups. The second group is called “attrition into agency”, and the third group is called “full attrition”.

This release also includes new analysis on the numbers of cases held by social workers on 30 September 2021 and on the profile of agency social workers on 30 September 2021.

This is the first release in this series. It covers two years of data, starting from 1 October 2019. Both years of data may be affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only two years of data in the release, longer term trends should not be drawn between the two years of data in this release.


Headline facts and figures - 2021

Attrition

  • When social workers leave local authority (LA) employed children’s social care (CSC), this group is referred to as “attrition”. When social workers leave the LA-employed workforce and move into the agency workforce, this is called “attrition into agency”. When social workers leave children’s services in local authorities, this is called “full attrition”.
  • The attrition rate of social workers leaving local authority employed children's social work for the year ending 30 September 2021 was 11.2%. This is 3,630 full-time equivalent (FTE) social workers.
  • The 11.2% attrition rate can be broken down into:
    • 2.6% attrition into agency, and;
    • 8.6% full attrition.
  • The attrition rate of social workers leaving local authority employed children's social work for the year ending 30 September 2020 was 9.3%, or 3,000 FTE social workers.
  • Of the social workers aged 60 and over, 22.4% were attrition out of local authority children's social work. This was the highest attrition rate of any age group, and is possibly expected as this reflects social workers reaching retirement.
  • Social workers who left local authority children's social work and had been in their role for less than 5 years were more likely to move into agency social work than those who had been in their role for 5 years or longer.
  • When moving between roles, most social workers started their new children's social work role within 7 days of leaving their original role.

Caseload

  • Among social workers who held cases at 30 September 2021, one-third held 20 or more cases per FTE, compared to the average of 16.3 reported in the children’s social worker workforce statistics.

Agency workforce

  • Agency children’s social workers were employed across all organisation role types. Where role type was known, agency social workers were more likely to be in a case holder role than local authority social workers. 

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Definitions

This release uses the following definitions:

  • LA-employed social workers - Social workers who were in a local authority (LA) employed children’s social care role on 30 September of the reporting year.
  • Leavers - Social workers who were recorded as leaving a children’s social care role between 1 October of the reporting year and 30 September of the reporting year.
  • Attrition from LA employment - Social workers who were recorded as a leaver (as above), and were not observed in an LA-employed children’s social care role as of 30 September of the reporting year.
  • Agency social workers - Social workers who were in an agency-employed children’s social care role on 30 September of the reporting year.
  • Attrition into agency social work - Social workers who were recorded as attrition from LA employment (as above), but were observed as an agency children’s social worker on 30 September of the reporting year.
  • Full attrition out of children’s services in local authorities - Social workers who were recorded as attrition from LA-employed children’s social care, and were not re-observed in any other children’s social care role as of 30 September of the reporting year.
  • Movers - Social workers who were recorded as a leaver (as above), but then were observed as an LA-employed children’s social worker on 30 September of the reporting year.

Note: 

  1. There is likely to be a small overestimate of attrition, as some social workers may move into their new role after 1 October, so are not captured in the data. However, this is thought to be a small proportion of social workers.
  2. Some social workers may have moved into an agency social work role, but as agency social worker data are only recorded for those working on 30 September, some movement into agency social work may not be captured. However, this is thought to be a small proportion of social workers.

Attrition from local authority children's social work

Attrition rate

The attrition rate is calculated as the number of FTE children’s social workers leaving a children’s social work role during the year ending 30 September and then not observed in a local authority children’s social work role on 30 September of the reporting year, divided by the number of FTE social workers in post at 30 September.

In the year ending 30 September 2021, there were 5,000 FTE leavers from a children's social work role, and 4,300 FTE leavers in the year ending 30 September 2020.

Attrition

Nearly three quarters of leavers (73%) in 2021 left local authority children's social work and moved into agency social work (attrition into agency), or stopped working in children's services in local authorities (full attrition). This is compared to 69% in 2020.

The overall attrition rate of social workers leaving local authority employed children's social work for the year ending 30 September 2021 was 11.2%, made up from a full attrition rate of 8.6% and an attrition into agency rate of 2.6%.

The attrition rate of social workers leaving local authority employed children's social work for 2020 was lower at 9.3%, with a full attrition rate of 7.2% and an attrition into agency rate of 2.2%.

It is possible some social workers in the full attrition out of children's services in local authorities group may have moved into private, independent, or voluntary children’s social work, may have moved into adult social care, or be on a career break. 

It is also possible that this is an over-estimate of the number of social workers leaving local authority employed children's social work, as some social workers may start their new role after 1 October 2021, so will not be observed in this reporting year of data. We cannot yet quantify the scale of this. 

Movers

The remaining leavers (27%) moved between local authority children’s social work roles in the year ending 30 September 2021, compared to 31% in 2020.

Attrition by age

The highest rate of attrition by age was in social workers aged 60 and over, where almost a quarter of children's social workers aged 60 and over left an local authority employed children’s social work role. The full attrition rate of social workers leaving children's services in local authorities was also highest for this age group. These are perhaps expected, as older social workers are likely to be reaching retirement age.   

Social workers aged between 20 and 29 had the highest rate of attrition into agency children’s social work (3%), three times higher than social workers aged 60 and over (1%).

These patterns were broadly the same for the year ending 30 September 2020.

Attrition by time in local authority

For social workers in post at 30 September, time in local authority (LA) is calculated as the time in years from when the individual started in a children's social worker role at the local authority to 30 September of the reporting year. 

For social workers belonging to one of the attrition groups, time in local authority is calculated as the time in years from when the individual started in a children's social worker role at the local authority to the date they left a children's social worker role at the local authority. 

Therefore time in local authority does not necessarily represent the amount of time an individual has been registered as a social worker, or how long they have spent in the social work profession.

For more information on how time in LA was calculated, please see the methodology

The majority of social workers (69%) who had left local authority employed children's social care had been working at their previous LA for less than 5 years. This may be expected as most of the overall workforce had been at their LA for less than 5 years.

Of social workers in the attrition group, 29% of those who had been in their LA for less than 5 years had moved into agency-employed social work. This rate is almost 3 times more than social workers who had worked in their LA for 5 years or more (10%).

A similar pattern was seen for the year ending 30 September 2020.

Time between roles

Time between roles is provided for two groups: leavers in the year ending 30 September 2021, and those who left their role during October 2020. 

The second group allows for a longer timeframe for a social worker to start their new role within the data collection period (1 October 2020 to 30 September 2021). This is to reduce movement of social workers between roles not being captured within the collection period.

For both groups, the majority (70%) of social workers started their next local authority social work role within 7 days of leaving their previous role, and at least 60% started their new role within 3 days.

Additional attrition estimates

To consider social workers leaving one role but potentially not starting their new role within the data collection period, additional attrition estimates were calculated for two groups. 

The first group estimates attrition from leavers in October 2020 (first month of collection period). These leavers would have at least 11 months between leaving their original role and starting their new role to be identified as a mover rather than as attrition from local authority children's social work. This allows for the longest time for social workers to start their new role, and offers the lowest likelihood of identifying a social worker as attrition rather than a mover due to the social worker starting their role after the end of the data collection period for the reporting year.

The second group estimates attrition from leavers between October 2020 and March 2021 (first fix months of collection period). These leavers would have a minimum of six months between leaving their original role and starting their new role to be identified as a mover rather than as attrition from local authority children's social work.

For comparisons, annual turnover  estimates based on these were also produced.

Annual attrition estimates range between 9.8% and 10.5%, suggesting the initial estimate considering the whole year of 11.2% may be a small over-estimate.

Across all estimates, the proportion of leavers which were in the attrition from local authority children's social work group remained around 70%.

 

Agency workforce and organisation roles

Agency rates

Agency rate varies widely across the country, with some local authorities employing no agency workers and therefore having an agency rate of 0% (Rutland, Brighton and Hove, North Yorkshire, Leeds, Kensington and Chelsea, and Kirklees) and others having an agency rate of over 40% (Newham, Slough, and Trafford).

Organisation role types

Agency-employed social workers were employed across all organisation role types recorded in the children’s social work workforce census, from case holder to senior manager.


Of social workers with known role type, six in ten agency social workers were in a case holder role type. This is higher than the proportion of local authority social workers in a case holder role type. However, since role type data was missing for around a quarter of agency social workers, these figures should be treated with some caution.

Caseload

Caseload calculation

A case is defined as any person allocated to a named social worker, where the work involves children's social work. Average caseload is calculated as the total number of cases held by FTE social workers (including agency workers) in post at the 30 September divided by the number of FTE social workers (including agency workers) at 30 September that hold one or more cases .

The national average caseload was 16.3 cases in 2021, unchanged from 2020. 

Among social workers who held cases on 30 September 2021, around one in 10 held fewer than 5 cases. 

Around one third of case-holding social workers held 20 or more cases per FTE. 

Caseload by role type

Agency social workers had a higher average caseload (17.9 cases) than local authority social workers (15.9 cases). 

A higher proportion of agency social workers hold cases (70%) than local authority social workers (50%).

Case holders have the highest overall caseload (16.8 cases), but not all social workers in this role type held cases. Social workers in more senior roles are less likely to hold cases, and hold fewer cases.

This pattern was seen for both LA and agency social workers.

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Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

Ad hoc official statistics

Ad hoc official statistics are one off publications that have been produced as far as possible in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

This can be broadly interpreted to mean that these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

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