Education welfare officers and social work in schools

Do school staff know about the well-being agenda and the five Every Child Matters outcomes?

Hayley Lisser, deputy unit manager at a Spurgeon’s residential unit for children in Earlham, Salford:

“In a word, no.

Given our own experience of shared resource in terms of accessibility for education, that does not seem to be the case.

“They are not in-tune with looked-after children. There will often be just one dedicated person in a school for looked-after children and that’s not enough to deal with the issues. At the end of the day, the five outcomes apply to all children.

“If teachers were offered the time and opportunity then they would work more closely with social care professionals. But they are not given that.”

Petra Schmidt, specialist social worker in a therapeutic intervention service, part of the London Borough of Hackney’s family support service:

“It depends on the school and the head teacher and how involved the school is with the borough they are working in.

“I would says it’s 50/50. It’s about knocking on doors and saying ‘this is important and we want you on board because you see these children five days a week’.

“Sometimes I don’t think some schools know which children are looked-after. But some schools are working in close  partnership with us in social services.”

Avion Grant, senior practitioner working in six extended schools in east London:

“Schools are quite aware and, for the first time in several years, they are equally committed to meeting the needs of children by implementing the five Every Child Matters outcomes, especially the ones on safety and well-being.

“I’m seeing it working in action. The schools I work in periodically review the Every Child Matters outcomes.

“Social workers can be quite polarised. There’s a distance between education and social services and they aren’t able to  appreciate the efforts of the other agency, but I’m intersecting both and schools are very receptive of me being there.”

Patricia Compton, qualified social worker and child and family therapist for Kettering child and adolescent mental health services:

“School staff don’t seem to understand the well-being agenda at all; they are blinkered on the education agenda, and I think it’s about a lack of training.

“They’re not completely unaware of the Every Child Matters outcomes but don’t put them very high as a priority.”

The head teacher’s view

Pauline Doidge is a head teacher in an inner London school

As I begin my 33rd year as a primary teacher in inner London schools, it is fair to say I have a good appreciation of the role of education welfare officers (EWO) in schools.

The attributes of five of the most successful of the many officers I have worked with, as a class teacher, special educational needs co-ordinator, deputy head and head teacher, have given me a clear picture of the skills an EWO requires.

Although the five EWOs I draw upon vary in age, experience, background, gender and ethnicity, they are alike in their ability to improve outcomes for children and I have learned a lot from them.

As individuals, EWOs see the whole picture of the child and work to address their social care needs. They are warm, positive and energetic people able to relate to and respect all adults and children, and have a real presence in the school in which they work.

Effective EWOs are able to empathise with families and their difficulties, but are not naive enough to be manipulated by those with a multitude of ready excuses.

Similarly, they understand and are sympathetic to the school’s perspective and form good relationships with teachers and other staff. They are ready to question senior staff and challenge practices which may be creating a barrier to the inclusion of a child or family in the class or school.

EWOs are efficient communicators, able to cope with the rapid pace of life in a busy primary school and to keep up to date with cases. They make good use of systems already in place, such as putting information on staff and parent boards and in newsletters, and joining senior staff in the playground at the morning bell.

An EWO liaises with the co-ordinators for special educational needs and English as an additional language. He or she maintains the delicate balance of confidentiality and information-sharing successfully, and is careful to explain acronyms and terminology and challenge us to do the same to ensure any misunderstandings are resolved.

He or she draws flexibly upon all of the informal and formal strategies available, creatively and confidently adapting them for each case. Paperwork and data are used to support and focus their role, but never as a substitute for action.

In meetings with families, the EWO remains focused and agrees clear targets for improvement, with realistic but strict deadlines broken down into manageable steps with regular reviews.

A good EWO is very firm and consistent but sympathetic, always ready to praise and positively reinforce improvement, however small.

Related article
Job description of education welfare officers and their role in Every Child Matters

This article appeared in the 4 October issue under the headline “‘School staff don’t seem to get well-being agenda”

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