Social Work Dimension of the Primary Teacher

Social Work Dimension of the Primary Teacher’s Role.” This article is written about the British Education System that is similar to that of the United States. Often teachers have to act as social workers for the students and parents.


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The article review is about the social work dimension of the primary teacher, head teachers, and other staff in Britain. This article is a report on a qualitative research that was done in 15 schools and a national survey. Data concerning social work in the school were collected through documentation, analysis, interviews and observation in 15 schools in the North East of England. “The sample consisted of three infant schools, one junior school and 11 primary schools of which one has less than 100 pupils, three had between 101-200 pupils on roll, three were between 201-300 and eight had over 300 pupils” (Webb and Vulliamy 2002 p. 169). The schools were chosen to try to ensure diversity in terms of size and the age range. However, there was a bias towards those that might need social work demands from the teachers. This might invalidate the study, because the whole point of the article was concerning the need for social work in the school. If they already knew and chose schools needing social work, this had a direct bearing upon the study. The locations of the schools were varied with schools found in a former mining village, seaside resort, and an industrial town. Nine of the schools were located in areas of economic and social deprivation. The sample schools were referred to by alphabet to keep data confidential. A research assistant did interviews in the sample schools.

They were semi-structured, tape recorded and transcribed and varied in length from about 45 minutes to two hours. Interview questions sought to find out whether interviewees considered that they carried out social work and, if so, to ask for descriptions of what this entailed, their experiences, perspectives on factors constraining or facilitating their social work role and the resources that they considered were required for that role to become more effective. (Webb and Vulliamy 2002 p. 170).

During the observation time at the schools, the research assistant documented facts concerning social work and teachers. A process of category generation and saturation determined analysis of the data. A questionnaire was created to compare the sample schools with national schools. This questionnaire contained 18 questions on four basic areas of social work. These were helping parents with personal problems, helping students with emotional or behavior problems, child protection, and working with agencies on other issues.

Research on social work, as teachers have been very limited in the past with only a couple of previous studies. This study shows that often teachers spend a lot of time doing social work, such as listening to parents during a divorce, taking action when a parent or grandparent alleges that a child has been abused, or finding food and shelter when it is needed. There is a need of funding to provide training of social work issues for teachers. The University of York funded the project and the Association for the Study of Primary Education facilitated the questionnaire survey.

It was noted that schools in areas of social deprivation and high employment were more involved with teachers as social workers, but in reality all the schools had teachers who were involved as social workers. The headteacher of Primary School N. In an attractive and affluent resident area stated,

If you look at the area, you see a lot of our parents have very high powered jobs and all that goes with it, they live in beautiful houses, but it is what we don’t see that is the problem’. She then recounted three ongoing situations — a husband’s disappearance accompanied by a suicide note, the death of a partner and a husband leaving the family for a woman with whom he had been working – which had caused three distraught mothers to come into school for sympathetic counseling and support for their children” (Webb and Vulliamy 2002 p. 179).

Regardless of the school, teachers often have to fill the role of social workers. Parents of children who are victims of sexual abuse often tell teachers. They need the sympathetic listener who understands their fears and can be empathetic toward their children who may experience post-traumatic stress disorder or other behavioral problems. Often teachers have to listen to these stories over and over. The teachers often may become “hard” hearted because they hear the same stories repeated but with a different child.

The problem in public school assessment is that it does not assess everything that needs to be assessed in the lives of children. “The National Curriculum is structured round various forms of rich knowledge and understanding; but assessing these is precisely what public tests do badly” (White 1999 p.201). Public assessment tests do not allow for personal problems or feelings during an academic assessment test. These do not begin to understand the individual. Only teachers who know their students know the social issues that come with the students daily to school. An assessment test cannot know that the person is mentally hurting inside, but the person is actually very intelligent once the personal issues are dealt with. Only the teacher that works in the capacity as a social worker can take the student past the assessment test to one of accountability. The teacher works with the parent for the best education for the child and this includes social work. “Teachers’ primary responsibility is for the child’s social and personal education and the more specialist work they do is to be seen under that aegis” (White 1999 p207). Often it is necessary for teachers to keep informal records of how a child is progressing in school that an assessment test cannot do. National Curriculum should be built around the needs of the students. There will be more of a focus based on the personal and social aims of students in the 2000 Curriculum. Even in the 1988 curriculum,

The fundamental aims were to do not only with the acquisition of knowledge and skills, including physical skills, but also with the spiritual, moral and cultural development of pupils. If these are indeed among the most important aims of the National Curriculum, then how is children’s progress in these fields to be assesses” (White 1999 207)?

The problem is that often the personal skills and needs of the students are not being measured. Few studies have been done on the teacher as a social worker, because most national programs do not even recognize this. It is like the article that was written by Terry O’Neil, “It Takes A Teen To Know A Teen” (2001), parents are often forced to pay for the actions that their children commit. In this article, parents would have to pay up to $10,000 to pay for any damages a child does. If a child goes to school and destroys the classroom, what would the child learn from the parent paying for the damage? The problem is that often the laws are adding to the problems that children have. Parents cannot spank their children or do other physical actions to control their actions. Often the parents talk to the teacher about the behavioral problems that they are having at home. “Headteachers spent considerable amount of time providing advice and support on behavior management to parents who were experiencing major problems in controlling their children’s behavior. When pupils’ behavior in school was disruptive and unacceptable, headteachers explained to the parents the school’s response to this behavior and sought to work co-operatively with them to effect improvement” (Webb and Vulliamy 2002 p. 171). One of the biggest problems with parents and schools is that the child may be out of control and neither the school nor the parent can get help until the social services take the child from the parent. Only then can the parent and school receive the needed help.

Often teachers feel similar to what this librarian stated, “I am here as an advocate for children and families, for healthy communities, for economic development, for scholars and researchers, for individuals who seek educational and informational resources throughout their lives” (Thus Said 2002 p. 36). Teachers are there to help their students in whatsoever ways that are needed. If that is social work, then they are willing to go the extra mile and do it.

There have been several Education Acts in Britain: the Children Act in 1989, the Education and Reform Act 1988 and the Education Act 1933.

Two cornerstones of British social policy – the responsibility to the state to ensure that all children are educated and that their welfare is safeguarded and promoted – have been subject in recent years to major changes in the legislative framework which underpins them” (Sinclair and Grimshaw 1994 p. 281).

Section 27 of the Children Act, identifies the responsibility of services to children in need as a corporate responsibility involving several agencies. The question can be asked about who will take ‘unwanted’ children in a market-led system where individual schools have the right to choose the students they want. An example of this can be seen in this illustration, little girl was sexually molested and developed some behavioral problems including the fact that she was being bullied by classmates who knew about her molestation. The school district did not offer care or support, but told the mother she was acting out. The mother took her to another school that wanted her to put her in some emotional behavioral classroom where she would be the only girl among twelve boys. Finally, the school kicked her out. Where should this child get her education? Which market-led school should take her?

There are many inconsistencies in the legislation about education as well as in many education systems. In the example of the young girl, who will act as her advocate or who will provide the education for this “unwanted” child because she was molested? These are questions that arise everyday in the classroom. Most of the time teachers act as the advocate for the “unwanted” child and offer all the support that they can. There is a need for more British educational psychologists to assess these children with emotional and behavioral difficulties (Counseling 1994 p 198). The problem is that often these children are lost in the shuffle of who should provide educational care for them.

There has always been a strong education demand for education in Britain, but there are many problems even today (Persianis 1996 p 45). The parent is the main advocate for his/her child (Feinstein and Robertson 1999 p 209). Parents are concerned that their children get the best education especially now that both parents have to work. This concern is even more evident when there are divorces or family struggles. It is easy for parents to talk to the teachers, because they know that teachers spend a good portion of their lives in the classroom. It might be asked if social work classes should be part of the education for future teachers (Gibelman and Fast 2001 p1). “School is argued to have potential as an ally for children, a guarantor of basic protection, a capacity builder, a secure base from which to explore the self and the world, an integrator into community and the culture, a gateway to adult opportunities and a resource for parents and communities. It is suggested that school can have a special supportive value for children experiencing adversity, including those in state care or under supervision, those whose parents are divorced, and those recovering from abuse or neglect” (Gilligan 1998 p 13). The teacher has several masks that he/she must wear everyday. There is a need for teachers to think about the social work of a teacher even though many places do not realize the various roles of teachers. Teachers usually must work with the school and community on different issues. Often the teacher has to work with social care agencies for the child, too. As the article shows that it is important to realize the teacher is not only a social worker for the child, but the teacher works for the entire family on different issues.

The challenge is to make effective connections between the content of social foundations and the practical work of the individual teacher as decision maker’ and yet do so without losing attention to issues of social context and moral purpose that define the field of social foundations” (Beadi 1996 p 77).

Often teachers have to do various tasks for their students that are not planned. This may include social work, such as listening to a student that may have been verbally abused at home and is feeling distraught. The masks that teachers put on daily or often hourly are different throughout the day. A teacher does more than just “teach.”

In a typical classroom of 25 students, today’s teachers will serve at least 4 or 5 students with specific educational needs that they have not been prepared to meet. In addition, they will need knowledge to develop curriculum and teaching strategies that addresses the wide range of learning approaches, experiences, and prior levels of knowledge the other students bring with them as well. And they will need to know how to help these students acquire much more complex skills and types of knowledge than ever before” (Grant 2000 p 913).

Dianne Reay states that there are many substantial and persistent inequalities in the British education system (1999 p. 89) She states that women begin early to learn that there are emotive intimacies of class that influence women’s everyday attitudes and actions. From an early age children treat different “classes” different.

A generally, children of high status parents, through the intervention of their parents, achieve the best conditions, for example, stable, competent staff. Children of low status parents, on the other hand, suffer adversely as a consequence of the actions of high status parents” (Relay 1999 p 89).

Popular students bully lower class students, while teachers look away. The problem is that often the teacher has to listen to both sets of parents knowing there is little that they can do about it. Often it is difficult to mix special education students with regular students because they may be bullied or mistreated. However, all students by law should receive a proper education. There are many concerns in the educational system and many changes that need to be made. However, the researchers of this project point out how often teachers perform the work of a social worker. This is needed in the educational system because there are so many problems in families that affect the student. It is difficult for a teacher to perform all the “masks” that they have to wear in their teaching responsibilities. Often it is difficult for the teacher to perform all their duties that are necessary during the day. Sometimes the teacher has to place learning aside to be able to meet social work problems. For instance, a mother that lacks the ability to buy food for her children may begin to cry. The teacher will take time to listen to the mother. Then, she will suggest agencies that the mother may go to get help with food. Sometimes the teacher may even find food for the teacher and arrange to take it to the child’s home. Most teachers try to not get personally involved with issues, but at times this is difficult to do.

The information from this article shows that it is important to decide if a person has the characteristics to meet all the different roles that a teacher has to wear. Most teachers are teachers because they love children. This is a necessary point when things begin to overload a teacher. The article shows that often teachers experience burnout or overload. Most social workers have someone to talk to professionally when the going gets rough, but a teacher does not have anyone to discuss the problems with. It is vital for the teacher to have a friend or mate that he/she can discuss different issues with.

The article clearly pointed out that teachers perform social work. More research should be performed to decide how to meet these social work issues. The government should consider having someone that can handle these social work problems or at least be there for the teacher to discuss issues with.


On a scale of 1 to 5 rate the following questions. One is never or seldom, two is sometimes, three is frequently, four is most of the time, and five is almost always.

On a daily basis a parent will discuss personal issues.

Students on a daily basis talk to me about personal issues.

A often see children act out inappropriately.

Parents tell me about their love life and their next girlfriend or boyfriend.

Parents often seek me out to talk to them.

Most of the time I am able to spend most of the time teaching.

Sometimes I have to spend more time working with one child more than teaching the whole class.

Often children will tell me about their mother’s new boyfriend.

Sometimes students seek me out to talk to them about how their mother is treating them.

Often during the morning before school starts I have parents wanting to talk to me about behavioral problems a child may be having.

It is often felt that my goals in teaching are not being reached because too much time is spent talking to parents or upset students.

Often I have students tell me about how someone molested them at home.

Often I have students tell me about how their mother slapped them or hit them.

It is seldom true that I have to spend time with social problems.

Most of my time is spent teaching with few social work problems.

It is important for me to get to school late so I can avoid waiting parents.

I have recently had mothers tell me about their husbands abusing their children.

Most of my time has been spent with regular students and no problems with any special education students.

I do not have any students who have social issues in my classroom.

It is difficult for me to teach because I have several students who act up behaviorly.

It is easy to teach because I am able to follow all of my lesson plans.

I am never able to follow lesson plans because I always have several interruptions during the day.

Few parents seek me out to talk to me before or after school.

Few parents tell me their problems about their children or about their personal lives.

Most of my time is spent teaching and following my lesson plans.


Beadi, Nancy. “From ‘Teacher as Decision Maker’ to Teacher as Participant in ‘Shared Decision Making’: Reframing the Purpose of Social Foundations in Teacher Education” Teachers College Record Fall 1996 98 (1): 77

Bucknell, David. “Practice Teaching: Problem to Solution” Social Work Education Apr 2000 19 (2): 125

Counseling and Guidance” Education Administration Abstracts Apr 1994 29 (2): 198

Feinstein, Leon & Robertson, Donald. “Pre-School Education and Attainment in the National Child Development Study and British Cohort Study” Education Economics Dec 1999 7 (3): 209

Gibelman, Margaret & Fast, Jonathan. “Teaching to Teach: An Ethnographic Exploration of a Course in Social Work” Social Work Education Aug 2001 20 (4)

Gilligan, Robbie. “The Importance of Schools and Teachers in Child Welfare” Child & Family Social Work Jan 1998 3 (1): 13

Grant, Carl A. “Teacher Education and Knowledge in ‘the Knowledge Society’: The Need for Social Moorings in Our Multicultural Schools” Teachers College Record Oct 2000 102 (5): 913

Karban, Kate “Long-arm Practice Teaching for the Diploma in Social Work: the Views of Students” Social Work Education Mar 1999 18 (1): 59

O’Neil, Terry. “It Takes A Teen to Know A Teen” Report/Newsmagazine (BC Edition) Sep 10, 2001 28 (17) p. 2

Persianis, Panayiotis. “The British Colonial Education ‘Lending’ Policy in Cyprus (1878-1960): An Intriguing Example of an Elusive ‘Adapted Education’ Policy” Comparative Education Mar 1996 32 (1): 45

Reay, Diane. “Class Acts’: Educational Involvement and Psychosociological Class Processes” Feminism & Psychology 1999 Sage 9 (1): 89-106

Sinclair, Ruth & Grimshaw, Roger. “The Education of Children in Need: The Impact of the Education Act 1993 and The Children Act 1989″ Oxford Review of Education 1994 20 (3): 281

Thus Said” American Libraries May 2002 33 (5): 36

Webb, Rosemary & Vulliamy, Graham. “The Social Work Dimension of the Primary Teacher’s Role” Research Papers in Education 2002 17 (2): 165-184

White, John. “Thinking About Assessment” Journal of Philosophy of Education Jul 1999 33 (2): 201

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