Children and young people are going back to school. Except, that
is, those still without a secondary school place, those not back
from an extended summer holiday, those whose behaviour record
precludes their return, and those who have moved without a
forwarding address and disappeared out of the system.

The summer has brought news of Emma Garza whose mother was
jailed three years ago for not sending her to school. Emma is now
back on track thanks to the support of a Connexions worker. Her
sister continued to struggle, leading to a second term of
imprisonment for her mother. In a separate case, 19-year-old Maxine
Breakspear is in jail for murder, having drifted out of the
education system years earlier. Reading their stories it is hard
not to ask why no one intervened early on. Why was no one able to
observe the tell-tale signs and listen?

The truth is that workers who come into contact with such
children at school are massively overstretched and have little time
other than to despair and refer them on. Teachers have 29 other
children to attend to.  Education social workers are busy with a
whole range of statutory duties. The school nurse may visit once a

Spare a thought, then, for the school-home liaison workers who
will spend the next couple of weeks dedicating their time to
tracing all those students who simply haven’t turned up. They’ll be
liaising with education authorities and heads of year, buying
uniforms and bus passes, setting up nurture groups and knocking on
doors until nearly everyone is in school. And then they’ll be
working for the rest of the year to keep them there – not always an
easy task.

Many head teachers testify that they could not work without
them. But school-home liaison workers have to worry about where the
funding is to come from as every few years the charitable funds run
out or the school is forced to reassess its budget.

If this is the sort of worker that young people are asking for;
doing the sort of work education authorities identify as necessary
but beyond the scope of ESWs, should they still have to be at the
mercy of their head teacher having to bid for the latest pot of

Whether it’s tackling the causes of crime, offering preventive
strategies, or implementing Every Child Matters, surely there
should be a more coherent way of funding.

Helen Bonnick manages a school-home support service. She
is a social worker.

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