Council worker spat at by parent during school absence
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
A council worker was spat at while visiting a household to discuss a child’s absence from school.
A parent spat at an education and welfare officer (EWO) for Neath Port Talbot Council when asked about why their child had not been attending school.
The incident took place “in the last couple of weeks” and has been reported to police, according to John Burge, manager of the council’s school and family support team.
Mr Burge said the council’s punitive measures, like issuing fixed penalty notices or prosecuting parents who fail to send their children to school, have been “suspended for the time being”.
He added: “Welsh Government have asked that local authorities do not take punitive action against parents and that we continue to work and encourage attendance which we do.
“Some of our parents know that we’re not prosecuting at the moment and some of my EWOs are facing abuse at the doorsteps. They are being sworn at.
“We are getting comments such as, ‘I know my rights’, ‘I know you can’t take any action against me at the moment’, and the door gets slammed in their face. But that is from a small minority.”
He said there are currently 20 pupils out of 21,000 in Neath Port Talbot who have not returned to school or engaged “at all” with the local authority since September 2020. Around Christmas time, 200 local pupils had still not returned to school.
“We have been working with every one of these families to try and find out why they’re not coming back and why they’ve not engaged. This is a matter that is being experienced across the United Kingdom.”
The “principle reasons” for long-term school absences are “Covid concerns”, such as parents who believe schools are unsafe, Mr Burge told the council’s education, skills, and culture scrutiny committee, during a meeting on Monday, June 28.
He said other parents are refusing to return their children to school due to medical issues or to protect shielding members within their households.
“Some of those reasons, of course, we understand but… there are still some pupils and families out there who are school refusers. There is no medical reason why these children shouldn’t be in school, there are no reasons given that warrant approval of absence.”
Mr Burge said some children “fell silent” during the first lockdown in March 2020 and the council’s EWOs made more than 1,200 visits to households since September 2021.
“Regardless of schools trying to ring and keep in contact with some of these individuals, they almost fell off the radar, so EWOs were knocking on those doors.
“The commitment and the energy that they have given in supporting the individuals has been immense.”
He said staff from the education and welfare service “have been out from day one” working throughout the pandemic.
“They have not regressed,” he added. “They have been at the frontline, knocking on doors and whilst they can’t go in people’s houses they’ve still been seeing our families and vulnerable pupils in the garden, on the doorstep.
“They’ve been checking-up and acting on behalf of schools to make sure that individuals are being seen, that they are safe and they are still engaging with schools.”
Mr Burge also said school attendance across the county borough is currently at around 90% capacity, which is “lower than normal” and “down from pre-Covid times”.
He said pupills are continuing to self-isolate and “it is no suprise” that isolation figures are rising because “we are at the beginning of a third wave”.
“We are seeing a little bit of a hockey stick effect after Easter – attendance was really good as pupils stated to return full time… but now in the last fortnight I am now getting daily reports from schools of Covid issues.”
Mr Burge said transmission in schools is not the main cause of increasing coronavirus rates but community transmission.
“I do feel sometimes there is a little bit of a public perception that schools are hotbeds for spreading the Covid virus but we analyse through Public Health Wales and TTP every single positive case we get and the in-school transmission is miniscule. It is all being brought in from community-related activities”.