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Next Step - How do I become ... an education welfare officer?

Features | Published in TES Newspaper on 20 February, 2009

It's a job with variety that offers the chance to work with a wide range of other agencies, but it can be emotionally demanding and will put your people skills to the test

Success at school isn't just about what goes on in the classroom. Children need to be happy, confident and settled if they're going to fulfil their potential. And that's where education welfare officers come in.

EWOs are social workers, whose focus is on helping children to engage fully at school. They are employed by local authorities, but are usually based in a particular school, or group of schools. Most will specialise in either the primary or secondary sector, though some officers work across all age groups.

It's an incredibly varied job. EWOs will work with pupils in a similar way to a counsellor or mentor, offering support and helping to develop life skills. But it's not just about the children. Welfare officers also spend time working with parents to tackle problems at home. Poor parenting skills, divorce, debt and alcoholism - an EWO won't necessarily deal with these things directly, but will offer support and liaise with other agencies.

"It can be tough," says Laine Simpson, an EWO working in Luton. "But you have the support of teachers at the school and the rest of the education welfare team across the authority. That makes a real difference."

As an EWO, your duties will vary, depending on the type of school and area you're working in. A typical day might involve one-to-one discussions with pupils, some group work and perhaps a home visit or two. And EWOs don't just deal with individuals and families: they also tackle whole-school issues such as attendance. It's their job to check the school registers for accuracy and identify possible attendance issues. Inevitably, the job involves a fair bit of paperwork, and there may be evening shifts too if you have to visit parents who work during the day.

There are about 5,000 EWOs in the UK, but some authorities employ more than others, so prospects vary from place to place. Most EWOs say the job is rewarding but emotionally demanding, and that it's your people skills that are put to the test.

"You need to know when to offer support and when to step back," says Ms Simpson. "You need to be assertive without being aggressive, keep a good sense of humour, and try not to be judgmental. But it's a great job. No two days are ever the same."

Ed Magee is education welfare service manager for Camden local authority in north London. Mr Magee currently manages 10 EWOs who work in primary and special schools, and his department's main focus is improving pupils' attendance and punctuality.

"I enjoy coming up with new ideas that will make a difference - like the 'attendance bears' we give to the class with the best record that week," he says.

"It's great when young people I have worked with stop me on the street and tell me how well they are doing.

"We also have punctuality weeks, when we stand at the school gate and speak to parents who are dropping their children off late. It's not much fun when it's wet and cold, but by the end of the week, far more children are arriving on time. In this job, you need to be able to talk to parents and offer them support, but also to challenge them when appropriate.

"As a last resort, we take legal action against parents who fail to improve their child's attendance. It's such an important issue because it's obvious that regular attenders get better exam results, and this improves their life chances."

Next week: How to become an Advanced Skills Teacher

Everything you need to know

- Salary: Starts at about Pounds 20,000. Those in senior positions can earn more than Pounds 50,000. There are often opportunities for part-time work at an hourly rate of about Pounds 15.

- Qualifications: Some authorities insist on a degree or professional diploma in social work. Others recruit more widely, then train people. If you're a teacher or teaching assistant looking to switch careers, your experience puts you in a strong position.

- Key qualities: Patience, tact and determination to make a difference.

- Next Steps: Work in a similar role as a volunteer, to gain experience and see if it suits you. Visit www.csv.org.uk.


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