What's my job... Educational welfare officer

6th January 2006 at 00:00
I look after a 710-student inner-city high school and its six feeder primaries.

My aim is to ensure that every child gets the opportunity to have a good education and, more specifically, to improve attendance levels.

Mostly I work with heads of year, assistant headteachers and headteachers.

Pupils with a less than 90 per cent attendance record are discussed at weekly meetings called to address absenteeism, lateness and welfare issues.

If there are concerns, I might see the child involved or their parents.

A great strength of my role is that I am independent, as I amnot employed by the schools. Children often come to me for that reason: they can make an appointment at any time . The action I take depends on the issue and what has already been done. I might make a home visit; discuss the situation with a school nurse, or a student might be referred to a drug project or the child andor family to social services.

We recognise the need for early intervention. I work closely with teachers.

One may say: "Jane seems off colour these days." If so, I would check whether other teachers are worried too. Otherwise concerns might be raised by the child or parents. They may tell us that a child is showing signs of not wanting to come to school. It could be as simple as all his or her friends being in a different group, and we would have a meeting to see what could be done.

Sometimes we are alerted by a primary school that a child has problems - perhaps behavioural or literacy problems - so we get support in place ready for the child's arrival. I go to meetings with other agencies. The multi-agency meeting is where information is shared so that a holistic approach to supporting pupils' needs can be planned. I enjoy these because there is such a diversity of knowledge and experience to be shared.

I believe in benchmarking and work on strategies to improve attendance.

Recently, I became one of the first EWOs in the country to be awarded a new NVQ level 4. I feel it has given me more confidence and raised the profile of the educational welfare service.

Sandra Nightingale works for Devon county council and is based in Exeter.

She was talking to Carolyn O'Grady

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