Parents besiege teachers with at least 300,000 requests for help each week

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The Independent Online

One hundred thousand parents a week are turning to schools for help with their emotional and financial problems. New research shows that teachers are besieged with requests from families wanting advice on divorce, bereavement and money worries, as well as their children's education.

Ministers are so concerned about the extra pressure on the education system they are considering a scheme to put health and social workers in schools, a model already adopted in the United States.

Conducted over two years in schools around the country, research by the charity Community Education Development Centre (CEDC) shows that teachers get more than 300,000 requests for help each week, from around 100,000 families. While the Government has promised to eradicate child poverty, the evidence from schools is that the problems are mounting, said Phil Street, CEDC director.

"Schools are inundated with requests for support, particularly in poor areas. Quite often parents come in wanting to talk about their child's education, but the discussion quickly moves on to their own predicament, which might include financial or relationship problems," he said.

Children's behaviour remains the greatest concern for families, accounting for more than a quarter of requests for help. But health and relationship problems also emerge as significant worries.

"On many inner city estates, poverty, unemployment and violence have served to increase the sense of isolation," Mr Street said. "There has been a virtual exodus of essential services and now, in many areas, only the schools remain. They have a vital role to play – as demonstrated by our figures for the number of problems presented to them each week. Parents are largely turning to schools for help, but teachers do not have the resources or time."

In some parts of the country, the nearest Relate service could be at least 25 miles away.

A number of British schools already have their own dedicated welfare officer on site, part of a government-backed experiment. "We believe it's very important that families should be able to get help quickly, which social services can't always provide," said a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills.

The National Union of Teachers is backing the plan to put health and social workers in schools. "This is a clear indication of the demands on teachers which are beyond their professional training," said Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary. "Teachers do their best to help. But it underlines the need for social services help to be available in schools for parents."