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Somerset - West Country faces dearth of welfare officers

A shortage of education welfare officers could hinder efforts to improve attendance in some schools in north Somerset, local authority bosses have warned.

Budget cuts and staff illness over the past three years have reduced the number of professionals available to work with children who miss more than 20 per cent of lessons.

One consultant and one full-time education welfare officer lost their jobs in 2007 and there was no overall management during the summer of 2008 because of illness.

"It has been difficult to maintain levels of court prosecutions following staffing reductions during this change period," said Sara Griffiths, a services manager at North Somerset Council.

"Evidence shows that, properly used, prosecutions and penalty notices do make a difference to school attendance. This area of work is currently not sufficiently resourced.

"The reduction in staffing levels means that education welfare officers cannot undertake early preventative work."

Rates of absence in primary, secondary and special schools in the area are below the national average, but the situation has worsened since the reduction in the number of welfare staff.

In 200708, 7.01 per cent of half days were missed at school, which rose to 7.18 per cent in the 200809 academic year.

No primary school in the south of Weston-super-Mare is due to meet targets this year.

However, primaries in the east of the town have made "dramatic improvements" after teachers took on more responsibility for attendance. km.

HAMPSHIRE

Hens offer a handle on greener living pupils in Hampshire have been tending a brood of hens as part of lessons about green issues and sustainable living.

The children, from Poulner Junior School in Ringwood, have been collecting around nine eggs a day from the hens, which they have hired from a Dorset farm.

As well as cleaning and feeding the birds, the children will use the eggs to make cakes, which they will sell at an end-of-term fundraising event. dm.

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