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In unambiguous and simple terms, an Educational Welfare Officer, known as an EWO, is a local government official who is saddled with the role of making sure all children within the age of getting formal education are sufficiently educated, be it in school or at home.
A child is not expected to show up in school every single day all through the term, as certain things like family holidays, illnesses, and other factors can prevent a child from going to school. When a child who is always regular in school does not show up for a couple of days in the term, it is not a reason for worry as the child can easily catch up on what he/she missed throughout his/her absence.
However, a child being absent from school becomes a problem when it happens frequently. This affects the overall learning of the child and will lead to the child playing catch-up when compared to his/her peers. Such children need an EWO appointed to them to understand what is causing the absenteeism and to ensure they become regular attendees in school again.
A recent study has revealed that absenteeism among students has been on the increase as parents have cultivated the unwise habit of taking their kids on unauthorised term-time holidays. The study showed that over 1.7 million days of the 2 million days lost to holidays in the autumn term of 2019 were lost to unauthorised holidays. This is quite high and worrisome, especially when the effect that missing school has on a student’s learning is put into perspective.
The dishing out of record fines to parents who take their kids on holidays without getting prior permission from the school has not been able to arrest this ugly development. Unauthorised holidays still account for 87% of the 2 million lost school days. This figure is a record high and is well above the number of unauthorised holidays recorded in the autumn term of 2018.
What does an EWO do?
An EWO is employed by the local council to find students who are missing school too frequently. They also take the necessary action to stop students’ regular absence before it becomes detrimental to their learning. The EWO spots these kinds of students using two methods.
- The EWO makes frequent trips to schools to speak to class teachers, school welfare officers, etc. to get first-hand information from them about students who have been missing school very frequently. Reports from the school will determine if they will take further action concerning the student.
- They examine the attendance register of schools during their visits to use their expertise to identify a child’s absenteeism pattern that could be linked to an underlining problem.
What are their day-to-day tasks?
The National Career Services official website lists the day-to-day tasks of EWOs as:
- Maintaining a close working relationship with staff in schools to get information concerning students’ attendance.
- Having physical meetings with parents and pupils either at the school or at their homes.
- Ensuring families get their benefits.
- Taking court actions when necessary through the magistrates’ courts.
- Arranging education for pupils both at home and in schools.
- Writing letters and also case notes to parents to keep them informed of the latest developments.
- Ensuring that the schools’ computerised records are updated.
- Carefully handling highly sensitive information.
- Ensuring set deadlines and targets are met and beaten if possible.
Why families maybe referred to an EWO
There are a number of reasons that can make a child’s attendance fall to levels that will make an EWO’s intervention necessary. Some of them are:
- Parents taking their children for holidays during term time.
- Student illnesses.
- Parents’ illnesses.
- Financial problems.
1. Parents Taking Their Children For Holidays During Term Time: Absenteeism caused for this reason has been on the rise in recent years. Parents now take their children on holidays during the term, sometimes without due authorisation from the school or teachers. In order to tackle this problem, fines have been introduced to punish the parents of students who miss school without authorisation. This has not been particularly effective as parents still continue to take their children on holiday during the term. People have called for more stringent punishments or an increase in the fines to stop parents going against the rule.
2. Student Illnesses: We know that illness happens to every living thing once in a while, especially kids. However, some children get sick more often than others, and they may have to miss school to recuperate, attend doctors’ appointments, and for other reasons. Children with sickle cell anaemia miss school more often due to the crises associated with this condition. This kind of case is treated as a special case as the student is missing school not out of their own volition or their parents’ but just because of the circumstance they find themselves in.
3. Parents’ Illnesses: A parent suffering a chronic illness can also make children miss school more frequently than normal as the child might need to care for their parents in their own little way. Also, the ill health of the parents might mean that there will be no one to take the child to school and bring them back. Hence, the reason why some pupils miss school and fall behind in attendance.
4. Financial Problems: Lack of money can make a child miss school often, as the parents might not be able to afford the school fees, necessary accessories needed in class, or the required means of getting the child to school each day. When an EWO visits such parents, they let them know of the benefits that could make things easier for them and allow their children to attend school more regularly. Some of these benefits include free or subsidised transportation and also feeding benefits. This will unburden the parents of some of the financial stress of seeing their child through school.
5. Bullying: Bullying is a major reason why a child might dread going to school each day. The National Center for Education Statistics revealed that 1 in 5 children had been bullied in school. Bullying has a lot of detrimental effects on the general well-being of a child. Bullying causes low self-esteem and poor academic performance, among other issues. Parents are advised to build strong relationships with their children and watch out for signs that their wards are being bullied in school. One such sign is sadness when going to school. Children are supposed to be happy when they are going to school as they get to meet their friends. When a child exhibits the opposite and always looks for reasons to miss school, then there is a need to have a conversation with the child.
6. Truancy: Truancy can be another reason why students miss school. This is common among older children. Some of them leave their homes to go to school but never actually attend; instead, they end up returning back home or hanging out with their fellow truant students. Truancy can be a long-term effect of bullying.Some parents don’t know that their children are missing school as they think they go to school whenever they leave home in the morning. The EWO will bring this to the attention of the parents of such children when they summon them to school or visit them in their homes to find out why their child is not regular in school.
What support can be put into place?
Before legal action is taken against parents for the frequent absence of their child in school, the school, together with the EWOs, will try to look for ways to help parents get their children to school more frequently. This is particularly helpful to parents whose children miss school due to circumstances that are out of their control rather than out of choice.
Different support methods are used to help parents get their children to school more frequently.
Some of these methods are enumerated below:
Provision Of Free Transport Services: As it was stated earlier, most times, children might miss school because their parents cannot afford to transport them to school each day, or they might be down with an illness or, worse still, disabled. This kind of situation makes it extremely difficult for these parents to get their children to school.
When the EWO notices that a child is not regular in school, he/she attempts to fix a physical meeting with the parents of the pupil. This meeting is to ascertain the reason for the regular absence and also to remind the parents of the implication of it continuing. If the parents reveal that the absence is caused by anything related to transportation, then the free transportation service will come in handy.
Provision will be made for a vehicle to always pick up the child for school every morning and also drop him/her off after school. If transportation is the real reason for the child’s absence, this will solve that and allow the child to attend school regularly.
Counselling: Counselling is also a method used to improve a child’s attendance in school. This is particularly effective for children who are skipping school because they are being bullied. It is also very effective for students that miss school out of truancy. The child is counselled on the importance of school and how they should react when next they are bullied.
The school is also encouraged to keep students motivated while in school and make the school very conducive by employing these methods that are also used in the workplace but are effective in schools.
What happens if a child’s attendance doesn’t improve?
If after the EWO has had a dialogue with the parents of a child and even offered help to ensure a child’s attendance to school improves and such help fails, the EWO and school will have no option but to resort to taking certain actions against the parents. These actions can include legal action that is backed by the Education Act 1996 to make sure the child’s attendance improves.
Legal action can lead to any of the following:
- The parents are fined £60, and they are required to pay this fine before a grace period of 21 days. Failure to meet this date will see the fine double. This is similar to the fine enforced on parents that take their children on holiday during the term.
- A parenting order which will require parents to go for a parenting class might also be given. The parenting class will help the parents become better parents, which will include taking their child’s attendance in school very seriously.
- If the parents are still not cooperating with all directives, a supervisor is appointed to make sure the child gets to school each day. This is called an Education Supervision Order.
- A School Attendance Order can be issued if the council has tangible reasons to believe that a child is neither getting homeschooled nor attending school. The parents would be given a time frame (usually 15 days) to provide proof that their child is getting an education either at home or in a school. If that cannot be provided after the time frame, then the council can make the parents send the child to any school of the council’s choosing.
When a parent is issued any of these orders, and they still fail to comply, the EWO might choose to take the parent to court, which in turn might lead to the parent being prosecuted or fined.
It is vital to note that the EWO is not to be seen as an enemy of parents, but rather, they should be commended because their goal is to ensure that every child in the country gets the best education. Getting a good education will ensure that children will have a better chance at becoming something good in the future.
Why is good attendance important?
It is crucial for parents to imbibe the habit of good school attendance in their children from a very young age. The primary level is the best time to let children know the importance and value of going to school daily. If parents encourage their children to skip school at this stage, when they get to a higher level, there is a huge chance that they will become truant and miss school even without the knowledge of their parents.
Students missing school is something that is definitely going to affect them a great deal as it will lead to low grades. A low grade will greatly reduce the chances of the student furthering his/her education, and it will also reduce their chances of getting a good job.
That said, missing school drags children back a great deal and makes it difficult to catch up with their peers. Students that have always attended school regularly will find it easier to read and assimilate more complex topics they are likely to face as they advance in education.
Children who started missing school at the primary level find it difficult to study as they have already developed a very poor attitude to school. Parents are therefore encouraged to ensure their children have the right attitude to school by making sure they go to school as regularly as possible. They should only miss school when it is absolutely necessary.
An EWO is a person charged with the responsibility of ensuring that all children who have attained the age of getting an education are getting an adequate education. They also make sure students don’t miss school too often, as they monitor students’ attendance by getting feedback from teachers and other relevant staff in schools. They also study attendance registers to find students who have been missing school frequently.
Families are referred to an EWO when a child from the family is observed to miss school very often that it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed. EWOs will visit or summon the parents of such a child to understand the reasons why their child is missing school regularly. When this is done, if the parents state there is a problem as to the cause of the child’s regular absence from school, the council will look for ways to solve the problem, so that the child can begin to attend school regularly.
If these problems are solved, and the child is still missing school frequently, then actions will be taken against the parents. Some of these actions include fines, parenting orders, education supervision orders, and school attendance orders. If a parent still fails to comply after this, then they will be taken to court where they will be fined or prosecuted.