Heads will hire officers to chase truants

GOVERNMENT plans for schools to be handed the responsibility for rounding up truants are to be piloted in 16 local authorities from September.

Last year, the Department for Education and Employment started consulting on proposals to transfer the budget for education welfare officers from councils to headteachers. Secondary schools would be given funds to hire staff, whose job it would be to ensure that pupils attend school.

Most welfare officers are currently employed by, and based in, local authorities. Under the plans they would be answerable to a head and be based in schools.

After heavy criticism of the plan by professional groups, ministers now say they will not launch the scheme nationally without first testing it in one year pilot projects.

Jenny Price, general secretary of the Association for Education Welfare Management, which represents education welfare officers, said: "We welcome this move. There are a huge numbe of issues raised by this proposal, and these pilot schemes will hopefully help to tease them out.

"Our biggest concern is the independence of education welfare officers. Put bluntly, there are some children schools just do not want. If the officer is answerable to the headteacher, how will they be able to stand up for the rights of the child?"

The proposal was also criticised by the Local Government Association. The Secondary Heads' Association, however, was supportive. John Dunford, general secretary, said: "The headteacher is answerable to the Office for Standards in Education for attendance and for the truancy statistics and therefore they need to be in a position to manage the education welfare officers."

The authorities piloting the scheme are: Norfolk, Havering, Bristol, Leeds, Stoke-on-Trent, Westminster, Bournemouth, Stockton, Camden, Portsmouth, Southend, Isle of Wight, Barnet, Leicester, Luton, and Haringey.

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