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Welfare officers face job shake-up

EDUCATION welfare officers are offering a "patchy" service and must do more to clamp down on truants, say ministers.

The Government wants EWOs to take the lead in bolstering its controversial policy of prosecuting parents whose children persistently truant.

So far, the policy has had mixed success and fast-track prosecutions for truancy have floundered.

However, local authorities prosecuted an estimated 7,500 parents a day last year.

Now the Government aims to alter the role of EWOs so they would:

* Fine or otherwise penalise parents if their children truant - and get them prosecuted within weeks, not months.

* Work with groups of schools (or even be based in individual schools) to help headteachers set and meet attendance targets.

* Help schools set up systems for contacting parents within an hour of their child missing a lesson.

Ivan Lewis, an education junior minister, said the Department for Education and Skills would consult local authorities, who employ EWOs, about how the job should change.

Mr Lewis said that while some welfare officers were "heroes" others were simply duplicating work done by services such as the youth service Connexions.

"Across the country the service provided by education welfare officers is patchy, their responsibilities are unclear and their status is low," he said.

The revamp will be part of the Government's pound;470 million three-year behaviour and improvement strategy, other aspects of which have included basing police in schools.

The Association of Education Welfare Management, which represents around 150 education welfare services managers, said it agreed that services were too variable and welcomed moves to improve them.

However, Jenny Price, general secretary of the association, said members opposed plans to fine parents because they feared it would damage their relationship with families.

"We are appalled at the idea and believe that if EWOs receive those powers they just will not use them," she said.

A recent two-year study by the National Foundation for Educational Research suggested that placing welfare officers in schools had a beneficial effect on truancy and behaviour.

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