Cabinet agreed this week to deploy Welsh Government funding to expand Family Engagement Officer (FEO) roles across the County, based on the highest identified need and to benefit pupils across all phases – primary, secondary and Pupil Referral Unit learners.
The recent announcement by Welsh Government of funding for Family Engagement Officers, in addition to the funding previously agreed by Cabinet and match funded by schools, has allowed the expansion of the scheme.
Family Engagement Officers are employed by schools to tackle inequality and absence issues, helping provide support to children and families and fostering positive relationships between schools and families.
Improving attendance and engagement in education is a priority for the Council.. To ensure that the most vulnerable pupils were supported, the Education and Inclusion Services Directorate identified a model of best practice around the role of Family Engagement Officers and approved an initial pilot in February 2020.
Initially launched as a one-year pilot project, with six positions across six schools, the impact of COVID-19 led Cabinet to agree to an extension of the pilot in June 2021 for an additional year at secondary/through schools and the introduction of a 24-month primary pilot for 13 settings on a match-funded basis.
On the 21st March 2022 the Education and Welsh Language Minister, Jeremy Miles, pledged £25m investment in Community Focused Schools across Wales with £4.9m being made available for Family Engagement Officers.
The Welsh Government funding will enable the extension of Family Engagement support to an additional 13 schools in RCT for a further two-year period between September 2022-August 2024. This will bring the total offer of support for Family Engagement Officers, since the initial pilot in 2020, to 32 settings.
Councillor Rhys Lewis, Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation and Welsh Language, said:
“Expanding the Family Engagement Officer Role in RCT was one of our core manifesto commitments at the Local Elections this year.
Tackling the impact of poverty on attainment is essential if we are to achieve high standards and aspirations for all. We know that the life chances of children and young people are hugely influenced by their home and community and that teachers need more support in addressing the issues some children and young people face.
The COVID-19 pandemic raised multiple barriers to engagement in education and learning which were experienced by all learners but particularly with our most vulnerable families. Despite the challenges of this time, the FEO pilot merits recognition for its impact.
Schools have reported significant benefits as a result of the funding provided. At Maerdy Primary the FEO has been used to support whole school attendance. They have introduced attendance circles, regular discussions with parents, awards systems and reward trips. The school was also able to successfully apply for Winter of Wellbeing funding and ran after-school activities organised by the FEO with 92% of all pupils accessing these sessions.
An increased focus to support families does also have attendance impacts. At Penpych Primary Attendance in September 2021 was just 78.5% but this increased to 86.6% at the end of the Spring Term.
The early adoption of this pilot in RCT has placed us in a positive position as it has become a focus area for Welsh Government in recent months”.