A day at school

Frances Rickford talks to Louisa Day, president of the National
Association of Social Workers in Education, about the
government’s strategy for truancy and the role of those
working to improve school attendance.

Louisa Day is a specialist education welfare officer in Carlisle
in north west England, working with ethnic minority and traveller
children and young people. Since April, she has also been president
of the National Association of Social Workers in Education (Naswe),
a professional association that has both a long history and
ambitious plans for the future.

With just under 500 members, Naswe represents a minority of
education social workers and education welfare officers but numbers
are on the rise, says Day.

Naswe is certainly well established even though all its officers
are volunteers. Day explains: “The Education Act of 1880 made it
compulsory for all school boards and school attendance committees,
as they were called then, to adopt bylaws making school attendance
compulsory for children aged between five and 12.”

These bodies appointed school attendance officers who in 1884
formed their own professional association.

“We were originally employed in a punitive capacity but quickly
developed the welfare aspect of the role as obstructions to
accessing education became apparent – issues like clothing, meals
and neglect.

“I think this is why we are so reluctant to go back to a largely
punitive role again.”

Naswe has welcomed the government’s interest in and focus
on improving school attendance and behaviour, but is concerned that
education social workers are not turned into what Day calls
“traffic wardens for education attendance”.

Under measures in the Antisocial Behaviour Bill, education
social workers among others will have powers to impose fixed
penalty notices on the parents of persistent truants. Although Day
believes some will use their new powers, the association passed a
resolution at its recent national conference condemning the
introduction of fixed penalty notices. She explains: “Truancy is
the symptom of a much bigger and more complex issue. Improving
school attendance means more focus on reducing deprivation instead
of punishing parents.”

Naswe is already attracting Connexions personal advisers and
learning mentors into its ranks and hopes to recruit more. The
three groups have been brought together under the umbrella of new
national occupational standards and a qualifications framework for
delivering support services for children, young people and their
families. Under the framework, which is still being developed,
common, shared and specialist functions of each of the three groups
have been mapped, and some new functions have been proposed. Naswe
has been closely involved in the process and Day says: “We will at
last have national standards for what we do, including training
standards and a flexible qualifications framework. Until now there
has been almost no national input into the profession, and we do
feel understaffed, undervalued and underfunded, so we are very

Naswe is a professional association rather than a trade union
but has close links with public sector union Unison. Naswe’s
main activity is organising professional development and training
opportunities for its members but it hopes to become a more
influential force in relation to policy in Scotland, Northern
Ireland and Wales as well as England.

“One thing which may have a big impact on our members is the
children’s green paper. We’ve been expecting it to say
something about the children’s sector workforce, and our
fears have been that the agenda for our service would be

“We are a child-centred service – our motto is For Every Child,
A Chance. We are there to ensure children and young people in
difficulties get access to educational opportunities and we do not
want to be traffic wardens for attendance. We are for more skilled
than that.”

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