New research carried out by School-Home Support (SHS) has found that there has been a significant cut in local authority Education Welfare Service (EWS) budgets in the last six years.
Data from Freedom of Information requests to all local authorities in England found that budgets had been cut by on average 39%. In 2010/11 the average spend on EWS was £732,325, this has shrunk to £446,641 for the 2015/16 budget.
Within local authorities the EWS has the statutory responsibility for monitoring the attendance of pupils at all schools within the council boundaries. This includes instigating legal proceedings against parents who have failed in their duty to ensure their children’s regular attendance, applications for education supervision orders (ESOs) and issuing school attendance orders.
In addition to the statutory duties, many authorities have previously provided additional support to schools and families to address attendance concerns, including:
- Regular meetings with key school staff to agree referrals and intervention for pupils whose absences from school are causing concern.
- Advice, contact and support to parents and pupils regarding education matters.
- Regular register checks.
- Provide in-service training, advice and guidance to school staff on issues impacting on individual pupil’s attendance and behaviour, including school policies.
- Liaison with neighbouring authorities in order to secure appropriate support services for improving pupils’ attendance and personal welfare.
In August, Press Association research showed that the number of parents being taken to court over their child skipping school is rising, 6,430 people in England were prosecuted for failing to ensure that a child went to school in 2014.
As budgets diminish, greater focus is being placed on the punishment of parents, rather than putting in the support to identify the root causes of high absence rates. To have sustained change, so that children have the best chance to thrive in education, it is vital that the barriers to education are addressed. These barriers include housing crisis, mental and physical health issues, domestic abuse and severe poverty. Often the use of fines can push these families further away from the support they need to turn their lives around.
Jan Tallis, Chief Executive, School-Home Support says:
“The significant cuts to the Education Welfare Service we found in our research are a real cause for concern. It is important that schools are able to work constructively with parents so that children get the best out of education. We are concerned that this data indicates a rush to using financial penalties to get children into school, which presents the very real risk that children from the most disadvantaged families won’t get the support they need engage with their education.”
TES have covered the story here.