Full marks for 'bridge to home'
Professor Brian Boyd and James Doherty found "unanimous support" for the school service - from pupils who used it, parents, teachers, school senior management, other agencies and education departments of other authorities.
The service, formerly known as the family support service, was developed in 2002 to help deliver the new community school (now renamed the integrated community school) vision and link schools, parents, children, social work and health services.
It comprises home link workers, attendance support workers and health development workers. Home visits are a major part of their work, although their activities include running social activities such as Saturday night football to provide an alternative activity to gang-based aggression, reading clubs, classes for parents on how to deal with teenagers, and "drop-in" sessions at schools just "for a blether".
The evaluators describe the service as a good example of integrated delivery, which has "helped parents to become more involved with the school, to increase their confidence, knowledge and skills in helping their children to learn and to identify more closely with its work. They also provided valued support for children".
A primary headteacher said: "We ourselves have learnt much from the family support service worker - so much so that we can now use some of the strategies ourselves and let them extend their work in other ways. That really is us all working together."
Another head said: "One child's mother could not cope because of depression and was put in touch with proper medical treatment by our FSS (family support service) worker. When the mother's medical condition began to improve the child's attendance and punctuality improved. So too did the child's whole attitude to the learning experience.
"However, how do we measure that in a way which is not just a raw statistic but reflects a potentially life-changing experience for all of the members of that family. Even with the best will in the world, the school itself could not have achieved that. The family support service, the school, the family, the medical services and lots of other did."
The service's home-visiting role was identified by secondary schools as the most important part of their work - comments included an "important bridge with the home" and "an entry point to the home" in a way which parents do not see as threatening.
The service was seen, however, as almost a victim of its own success with concerns that there were simply not enough home-link workers on the ground.
Among the benefits cited by pupils were that the workers were people they could trust and talk to. Parents said home link workers were often their first point of contact. In primary schools, heads were visible and approachable, but it was the home link worker who was least threatening.