Teachers 'have to be social workers'

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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS are coping with so many welfare problems that they are becoming underfunded branches of the social services, a report published today says.

The report, from the University of York, reveals that primary school teachers are being asked to solve not only pupils' problems but also those of parents, such as drug abuse, family breakdown and crime Dr Rosemary Webb, the report's author, argues that the Government should provide money for full-time social workers in deprived areas so that teachers can get on with teaching.

Her report, commissioned by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says: 'Having encouraged parents to feel welcome in schools and to contribute as volunteer helpers, class teachers and headteachers found it difficult to refuse them attention.

'It became very apparent that parents experiencing problems were claiming a great deal of headteachers' time because, in most schools, it was only headteachers who had non-contact time and were therefore readily available.

Discussion initiated on children's problems often quickly turned to the needs and predicaments of parents.'

The research on the effect of the national curriculum on teachers involved interviews with 47 heads, 29 class teachers and 19 deputy heads.

In a single week one junior school headteacher had to decide whether to let a father who was separated from his partner see his son alone, console a mother whose husband had just been killed in a motor accident, talk to a mother who was at her wits' end about her son, who had leukaemia and also had behavioural problems, and referee an argument between two mothers, one of whom was complaining about the way the other treated her daughter.

Another head described how she dealt with a boy whose parents had split up and who refused to come to school.

He twice ran out of school and had to be frogmarched into the staff room with the help of the caretaker. Later, she made his mother a cup of tea.

'She told me all about the bother she is having with him'. The incident took up more than an hour.

Headteachers, the report says, are finding it difficult to get on with their jobs because they are often the only person available in school to handle school disturbances and because disruptions caused by theft and vandalism have escalated.

Since schools began to manage their own budgets they have had to spend more time interviewing contractors and suppliers. Teachers, too, have found their energies dissipated 'by tackling simultaneously too wide a range of initiatives and the heavy demands of clerical tasks'.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, said teachers were taking on more demanding workloads because of the national curriculum. 'Although there are clear gains, there are dangerous signs that the real losers from this growth in management culture could be the pupils.'