Education welfare officer

Education welfare officers resolve issues that impede children's education, writes Charlotte Goddard

What is an education welfare officer?

Education welfare officers have been around for a long time – according to professional body the National Association of Social Workers in Education (NASWE), the Education Welfare Service and its predecessors are the UK’s oldest state-funded "social work" service.

Education welfare officers (also known as education social workers) work with schools, parents and pupils to resolve any issues preventing children from getting a full education. Some of their duties are statutory – they have to make sure the local authority is carrying out its duties in relation to school attendance, child protection and school exclusions, and will legally enforce school attendance through magistrates’ courts when necessary. They are also involved in regulating child employment and advising on child protection issues, and help arrange alternative education for excluded pupils.

Other work is preventative, with activities such as parenting groups and working with schools to identify attendance problems and possible solutions.

What qualifications are needed to become an education welfare officer?

There is no nationally recognised qualification. In a sample of 100 education welfare officers in a 2010 survey, NASWE found 26 per cent were qualified social workers, but 18 per cent held no qualifications at all. Backgrounds can include teaching, youth work, Connexions and early years.

The Children’s Workforce Development Council says qualifications in social work, teaching, and youth and community work are often accepted. It adds: "If you do not have relevant experience, a Level 3 qualification is usually needed, or evidence of successful completion of the National Programme for Specialist Leaders in Behaviour and Attendance." The latter is a year-long programme including work-based learning and study days.

The NASWE survey found the Level 4 NVQ in Learning, Development and Support Services was the most frequently cited qualification recognised by local authorities, along with social work qualifications.

What skills are needed?

An education welfare officer has to have a good working knowledge of issues that can prevent children from attending school, such as domestic abuse or teenage pregnancy. They need good listening skills, the ability to build relationships with pupils, parents, teachers and other professionals, an understanding of the law relating to education and childcare, and a calm approach to confrontational situations.

What kind of salary is on offer?

Salary levels vary. According to the government’s Next Steps careers site, salaries can range from around £20,000 to more than £30,000 a year, depending on qualifications and experience.

Where do education welfare officers work?

Most are office-based, but spend some time visiting schools or meeting children and their families in their homes. They normally work a standard 9 to 5, 37 hour week, but may be required to attend school parents’ evenings or make home visits in the evening.

What is the current policy context?

The government is prioritising tackling absenteeism: it recently lowered the threshold of "persistent absenteeism" to 15 per cent. But NASWE is concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on school attendance and enforcement, and not enough on early intervention. There are also calls for a regulatory framework and professional development.

Are education welfare services affected by cuts?

The situation is patchy. Guy Halley, NASWE president, says: "Many authorities are not appointing at all. There are a mass of colleagues being made redundant as we speak. It is like a revolution; some authorities’ services are being maintained and others are being demolished."

The director of the Centre for Social Justice  claimed this year that schools should consider drafting in voluntary sector support as a substitute for education welfare services.



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