Frontlines: School based support workers

I have been persuaded to write this week about something with which I agree. A rather challenging task in an environment in which the immediate response to new ideas or initiatives is so often of the “that won’t work here” variety. Nevertheless, here goes…

I think family support workers in schools are a good thing. More than that, I think independently employed family support workers are even better.

Schools have long enjoyed contact with, and visits from, professionals from other agencies. And, as extended schools develop, they are becoming used to the idea of other disciplines being based in their buildings. This brings immediate benefits of fast access to multi-agency expertise and support without the hassle of employment responsibilities.

Family support workers free up teachers to teach. They create a vital link between home and school in the development of communication and the support of behaviour or learning initiatives as well as in overcoming home difficulties that may be affecting a child’s ability to learn. Independently employed workers bring an extra dimension in that parents will often trust them with information, or a relationship, which they might not otherwise choose to share with the school.

If there is already antagonism or suspicion, there are immediate advantages in being able to say, “I am separate from the school”, while still working to repair the link. And, where it is clear that workers do not represent the school at meetings, they are able to support or advocate for parents in a way that otherwise might not seem appropriate.

In hard-pressed and overstretched workplaces, goodwill can be pushed to breaking point. Other tasks may seem more urgent or are given higher priority, and a worker’s skills and expertise may not then be used to full advantage.

However, when the worker is employed by someone else, it is much easier to maintain professional boundaries and integrity. Ultimately, the child’s needs are central and the goal of all remains their welfare and educational achievement.

On the other hand…

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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