The findings discussed here are based on five case studies and a small survey (n = 46) of how secondary schools are responding to demands that they collaborate with other services to intervene to prevent the social exclusion of children and young people. The case studies revealed a new space of action opening up around schools where practices were being shaped by ‘welfare managers’ who were employed by schools and were undertaking responsive work with vulnerable children and young people and the other services who were also supporting them. At the same time heads of year and/or heads of school and form tutors were increasingly focusing on children's achievement in school. The changes in roles and responsibilities were encouraged by workforce remodelling and changes in criteria for teachers’ salaries. However, focusing primarily on the work undertaken by the welfare managers, the article draws on cultural‐historical activity theory analyses of relational agency and distributed expertise to question whether welfare managers can undertake the work required in the new space of action without attention to the development of their core expertise.