Employing an education welfare company: Experience, reputation and value for money

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As schools look towards service provision for next academic year, it’s a good time to reflect on what to consider when commissioning an education welfare service. Tracy McLennan offers her tips for securing the right service for you.

Summary

  • Establish exactly what is on offer, both from your local authority and from any outside provider.
  • Ensure that you are clear about charging policies. What are the expectations on payment?
  • What are the policies when it comes to allocating staff to individual schools, and do these staff have the experience and training needed?

Attendance is in the spotlight at the moment, and attendance officers and their schools are looking for additional support to bring students back and maintain their good attendance. Securing the right provision is essential to the effectiveness of your attendance strategy. Here are seven pieces of advice to assist you in the process. 

Tip 1

Be clear on what services the local authority will provide as part of its statutory and/or core offer.  

All local authorities (LAs) will have a core of services which are available to all schools. These may include prosecution processes, support to track and monitor children who are missing education (CME), or supporting children at risk of exclusion.

Over and above this, LAs have a range of services which are provided via service level agreements or on a project-led basis. By knowing what you can access as part of a core offer you will then have a clearer idea of which services you wish to purchase either directly from the LA or from an independent education welfare provider. Be clear that you are not being asked to pay for services which you can already access or do not need.

Tip 2

Consider the flexibility of the service level agreement or package approach

Consider how flexible the package of support offered is and whether this meets your needs. A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not serve the needs of every school. Where one school may wish to train their own staff to monitor and track attendance, another school may prefer to have an education welfare officer provided to them to work directly with parents. One school may wish to have strategic support with data and Ofsted preparation, another may need more support with targeting and addressing persistent absence.

The package of support offered should, ideally, meet your needs as a client and each provider should clearly outline what they can and, just as importantly, cannot deliver for you. For example, although as a business I will deliver advice around support for children at risk of exclusion, I do not deliver one-to-one support for young people and do not offer any services around diagnosis of need or classroom observations – there are better qualified professionals who can deliver this, and I make schools aware of this if they ask about this aspect of our provision.

Tip 3

Consider how the company charges for work

As budgets become tighter and harder decisions are made about funding, schools must justify how and what they are being charged for. Find out if the business runs on a service level agreement basis and, if so, how this is paid for, e.g. are all the hours paid in advance at the start of the academic or financial year. If so, what happens if hours are left over at the end of the year? Are you reimbursed? Do the hours roll forward? Do you lose the hours?

If you are likely to have hours rolled over then you must be sure that you are happy to continue that business relationship, and that clear guidelines are in place for ending a relationship early if not. Similarly, if hours are likely to be lost, what happens if the welfare service provider can’t meet the hours due to staff availability – do you still have to pay for those hours? If the provider bills on a termly or piecemeal basis, when do the bills get sent and what is the expectation for payment?

There should also be clarity within any business contract about what you are paying for, e.g. all work for schools including parent meetings, email or phone contact. In addition, check whether travel time and/or mileage is included in the charging structure.

Tip 4

What are the experience levels of the company and their staff?

Everyone must start somewhere and although the company may be very new, the staff within it may be highly experienced. Therefore, ask about:

  • the experience levels of the staff
  • their prior roles in education/youth work
  • how active they are in their field.

Consider what ethos the company has in training its own staff. Ask:

  • when staff last had safeguarding training
  • whether staff have training in trauma-informed practices
  • what training they are given to support families.

It is important that any person working with children and their families maintains a high standard of training and that this is reflected in their practice. If the company is delivering support for you, you must feel comfortable in the professionalism of that support for your families.

Tip 5

How is work allocated?

It is important that you understand whether, as a school, you will have an allocated education welfare officer or whether any work falls into an allocation pool and is given to any welfare officer within the company.

Whether work is allocated to one person or to a team, you must feel comfortable and confident that you can work with that person or group of people effectively. Just as importantly, you must be confident that your parents will respond well to whichever model is provided. Ninety-nine per cent of the work done within the field of education welfare is based on relationships, so it is important that these benefit all parties involved.

Tip 6

What policies does the company hold and how is information shared?

The nature of education welfare work means that the provider is likely to be meeting families and accessing data around individual young people. Therefore, you must be confident that the company holds relevant business insurance, and that confidentiality and data sharing agreements are in place.

If the company has access to your networks or attendance data remotely, then there must be clarity about levels of access and who is responsible for any confidentiality breaches should these occur.

Tip 7

Ask around

If you are considering employing an independent education welfare service provider, find out about their reputation. A good company will have no problem with you asking them to provide references from other schools. It may be that these recommendations are already published on the company’s own website.

You might want to ask:

  • Does the company have current schools that are willing to vouch for it?
  • What is their retention rate with schools?
  • What is the success rate of the work they have delivered?
  • Can the company show you any case studies of success?

Similarly, ask colleagues in other schools who they would recommend or how they monitor/support school attendance.

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Tracy has worked in education for over 20 years, beginning in the classroom as a science teacher for nine years and then working with the local authority as an Education Welfare Officer (EWO), Senior EWO and finally Principal EWO. She is a qualified Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENDCO) and was an assistant headteacher and experienced senior leader in secondary schools, supporting learners with SEND. Tracy now runs her own independent education welfare company.

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About Author

Dr Suzanne O'Connell

Dr Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. She is also the Managing Editor of Attendance Matters Magazine. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was a headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.

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