Dáil Éireann - Volume 654 - 15 May, 2008

Written Answers. - Education Welfare Service.

Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of education welfare officers employed to monitor school attendance in south Dublin City; the name of the schools in which they are employed; the number of EWOs in each of these schools and their typical job description; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18978/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: The Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) as the national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the Board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

The Board operates through 5 regional teams, with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. A service is provided from 26 locations nationwide. Educational Welfare Officers (EWOs) are appointed and deployed throughout the country to discharge the Board’s functions locally. EWOs employ a welfare oriented approach in the interests of the children and young people who do not attend school regularly, working collaboratively with schools and other agencies in meeting the needs of the children and the young people concerned.

I have been informed by the Board that it prioritises its resources to support the most disadvantaged areas and schools participating in DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) the action plan for educational inclusion. EWOs provide an intensive service in these areas. Outside of these areas, priority is given to children who are out of school or have significant difficulties with school attendance.

EWOs play a pivotal role in implementing the service provided by the NEWB through monitoring school attendance and working to improve it. The EWO delivers the key front-line services of the National Educational Welfare Board, as detailed in the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000, assisting schools, students and parents to comply with their legal obligations under the direction of the Board and its management.

[658] In addition to case work on referrals from schools EWOs also provide assistance and advice to parents whose children experience school attendance difficulties by arranging for continuation of education through alternative placement or assisting with application for home tuition. They also work closely with schools offering advice and assistance on developing policies to encourage children to attend school regularly. At both school and community level EWOs work in co-operation with other agencies to integrate delivery of services to schools, families and children. Furthermore EWOs also handle queries relating to The Educational (Welfare) Act, 2000, and school attendance issues in general. Where required the EWO has responsibility to initiate legal proceedings under the Act to safeguard the educational welfare of a child.

In relation to the deputy’s specific question I am informed that there are currently 8 EWOs assigned to the Dublin South area. This covers 273 schools in the South Dublin City & County. One additional post has been designated for this area from the start of the next school year bringing the total to 9. Dublin South is part of the Dublin Region of the NEWB where there are 3 Senior EWOs, 2 of whom have responsibility for Dublin South and 1 Regional Manager who has overall responsibility for the full Dublin Region.

It should, however, be remembered that the Board is just one aspect of the comprehensive framework that this Government has put in place to improve school attendance and encourage more young people to finish school. In this regard, extra supports targeted at young people in disadvantaged areas include both educational initiatives such as intensive literacy programmes and services such as breakfast clubs and homework clubs.

In fact, in addition to the NEWB, there are currently in excess of 620 staff within the education sector with a role in school attendance. Home School Community Liaison Coordinators (HSCL) through their work with parents, promote school attendance and its importance for success in school. School attendance is a central objective of School Completion Programme (SCP) with attendance tracking a core feature and one of its preventative strategies. Access to these services is available to all schools participating in DEIS the Action Plan for tackling educational disadvantage.

Work is ongoing to develop appropriate protocols for all agencies and services to work together in collaboration. This approach aims to develop the delivery of services in a cohesive way and ensure that optimum use is made of the resources deployed.