§ 9. Mr. Hinchliffe
To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement about the future of the education social work service.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Nigel Forman)
My right hon. Friend sees a continuing role for the education social work service —more commonly known as the education welfare service —in working with schools, parents and pupils to promote and maintain regular school attendance. The importance of that role is reinforced by new attendance and pupil reporting regulations, which place greater emphasis on the identification of unauthorised absence.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
The Minister must be aware that, by any measure, there has been a huge increase in the workload of the education social work service in recent years. What steps are the Government taking to improve staffing levels to take account of its increasing workload? What assessment have they made of the proposed introduction of league tables on truancy for the work of education social workers, and is the Minister aware that that proposal and the direction in which the Government are moving on the issue fly directly in the face of the spirit and intentions of the Children Act 1989?
§ Mr. Forman
We certainly value the work of the education welfare service. It is very important that its 3,000 officers in England and Wales should continue their supportive work. There is no suggestion that truancy is anything other than a most serious problem which the Government view very seriously, not least because it is estimated that in the worst-affected areas perhaps one in five pupils is truanting at some stage. We shall continue to ensure that the education welfare service does the job for which it is appointed and shall support it through the new regulations to which I referred in my first answer.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
Will my hon. Friend confirm the importance of the relationship between the education psychology service and the education welfare service, particularly in relation to the need to produce proper statements for children in need? Is he aware of the possible 131 dangers to the education psychology service from schools opting out, and will he ensure that the service has a future, just as grant-maintained schools also have a future?
§ Mr. Forman
I think that my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. Opted-out schools are making use of the service. Furthermore, we believe that it is right to give discretion on these matters to grant-maintained schools so that they can make decisions in the light of their own circumstances.