Schools struggle to tackle truancy as education welfare services decline

Lauren Higgs
Friday, December 9, 2011

Schools are being deprived of support to tackle poor attendance as councils cut back on education welfare provision across the country, a report into the future of the service has warned.

Education welfare professionals work with vulnerable children and their families to improve school attendance and help prevent pupils becoming excluded from education.

But the report, compiled by the three professional associations that represent staff in the field, found that education welfare services have been cut "significantly" over the past year.

"In some local authorities the education welfare service has been completely disestablished," the report said. "In others staffing numbers have cut by half, which means that many schools now have little or no regular contact with an education welfare officer."

According to the report "not all head teachers adhere to the regulations" designed to keep pupils in full-time education. For example, some schools illegally exclude children with attendance and behaviour problems, or pressurise parents to educate their children at home.

The report claimed that local authorities are best placed to scrutinise such practices using education welfare services.

"Although schools and academies are monitored through Ofsted, the needs and indeed the future life chances of individual children and young people requires more frequent and detailed monitoring than the Ofsted regime can deliver," it said.

"The education welfare service acting independently from the school is, through regular contacts, well placed to monitor and challenge incidents of poor and illegal practice concerning individual young people and is, via its local authority elected members, directly accountable to the local community."

The report calls on all councils to properly fund education welfare services, both to prevent parents being taken to court for failing to make sure their children attend school, and to support families who do get in trouble with the law.

It also argues that education welfare professionals play a vital role in early intervention and identifying children who need additional support, for example if their parent has a mental health problem or issues with drugs and alcohol.

In 2010/11 more than 12,000 parents were prosecuted for failing to ensure their children attend school regularly, 35 of which were given jail sentences.

The report was authored by the National Association of Social Workers in Education, the Association Of Education Welfare Managers and children’s services union Aspect.

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