An investigation into the way education welfare officers understand and negotiate non-school attendance
This thesis explores the activities of education welfare officers (EWOs): local education authority employees whose work includes the investigation of pupil absence from school. EWOs have rarely been the subject of research or analysis, as writers have tended to see them as self-evident functionaries. Given the paucity of the existing literature, it was necessary to construct a research programme that would seek to describe and understand the social relationships and processes that the EWOs were engaged in and attempt to develop new frameworks and categories of analysis. To this end, a grounded qualitative research programme was pgrsued. The research data for this study was generated by a series of semistructured, in depth interviews with EWOs in three different local authorities. These interviews focused on a number of selected examples from the EWOs workloads that were discussed in detail and the case files analysed. As well as generating a grounded analysis, this data was then used as the basis for a series of case studies that were interrogated through the framework of a Foucauldian analysis of disciplinary power. The research programme produced a number of specific insights into the work of the EWO that had been absent or understated by previous analysts and writers. It also showed how the uses of care and control, as the defining analytical and antithetical categories in previous analyses, was unhelpful and at times misleading. Through a careful and detailed analysis of the EWOs work, the thesis shows how their activity is better understood in terms of processes of normalisation where strategies are deployed that utilise relations of disciplinary power as described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish. The way in which this work contributes to the development of Foucault's analysis of disciplinary society and the complications of supervisory mechanisms is discussed. However, the main achievement of this thesis is to show how the research programme led to the production of a framework for the analysis of the activities of EWOs that is able to engage effectively with questions that had apparently left previous writers baffled.