The Welfare State-School

7 May

A recent survey has estimated that schools in the UK are spending around £43m a year to offset the effects of poverty on their pupils. I am not sure what this figure would look like as a standalone Wales expenditure.  Given the disproportionate way Wales has been hit by austerity and the fact some of Europe’s poorest areas are communities in Wales I dare say it would be a shockingly high percentage of the total sum.

It is suggested that this money is made up from teachers buying clothes, including underwear for pupils; providing lunches; haircuts and even birthday cards and presents for those that would otherwise not receive anything; as well as more conventional things such as stationary, books and P.E kits.

This will come as no surprise to teachers themselves. The truth is that for many years, even in the so-called ‘good times,’ schools in Wales have been so severely underfunded that teachers would think nothing of using their own wages to pay for things needed in their classrooms.  Put simply, unless teachers were paying from their own pockets to provide basic materials they could not deliver lessons and subjects in the way they wanted or needed.

Beyond this of course we are seeing teachers acting like social workers. Teaching is becoming more and more about delivering the welfare state, at the personal financial cost to the teacher. This undoubtedly hinders lesson planning and educational aspirations. Instead of just being a teacher the role has transformed into that of a full-time carer.  It is not just a question of money either. Teachers are increasingly doing things such as washing children’s clothes or teaching children fundamental basics such as how to brush their teeth, use cutlery or even potty training.

I don’t think any teacher would wish to alter the special relationships they build with pupils.  Teaching isn’t simply a profession it is a vocation.  To many it is a calling.  Those teachers care passionately about helping students develop, not just academically, but as well-rounded individuals.  This involves more than just teaching knowledge but in supporting the emotional growth in pupils.  That said, there is a finite amount of time that can go into this without it impacting on the academic, and when we are looking at complex social issues there really needs to be more appropriate avenues for support.

The sad reality is that teachers simply cannot continue, financially or otherwise, to undertake this burden. That it has fallen on teachers in some cases to ensure that a child is clean, clothed and fed is nothing short of a disgrace and a depressing reflection of the dire nature some families have found themselves in.

We often talk about education bridging the attainment gap between children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers. However, all too often we neglect to really appreciate just how far behind they are being left by the inequality we see in everyday society.  In some leading education nations there are welfare officers; psychologists and other individuals committed to the mental and personal issues of a child stationed on site.  Teachers are able to then work alongside these professionals, and crucially, concentrate fully on ensuring the best education possible.  That is but a pipe dream in Wales of course, as indeed it is for most western education systems in fairness; but until we start accepting that teachers can’t do it all, it becomes increasingly more difficult to see how they can do any of it to the levels they themselves aspire to.

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8 Responses to “The Welfare State-School”

  1. teachwell May 12, 2015 at 5:25 pm #

    How true and how sad. I have to say there are things that teachers can and should do in the short term if necessary – e.g. washing clothes as it is better than letting the child be filthy. However, in the long term others need to step in. In addition, I couldn’t agree more about mental health professionals. I’ve heard many (usually well meaning) people tell me how teachers have to be social workers and psychiatrists too but I don’t think they understand that it is neither acceptable or right to ask teachers to do this!! In primary schools there are far too many ‘needy’ teachers who want to be depended on by children in this way. No matter how ‘nice’ these people appear to be it is all ego.

    We simply do not have the training and caring about the child is not enough. Do we think a parent is a bad parent if they take their child to a GP for depression or anxiety? Is the GP bad because he or she does not personally counsel us through our problems? Of course not, there are professionals who train and considered to be able to cope with the mental health problems of others. Teachers are not and neither should we accept it. Instead we should fight to get proper help and support for the children in our charge and not allow others to make us feel guilty because we are not prepared to parent and counsel children in a way that our role is not intended to.

    • hath53 May 13, 2015 at 8:34 am #

      Hi Teachwell,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that it would be awful to see children allowed to remain filthy, or hungry. That is why of course many teachers do indeed take on these social/parental roles. I also totally agree that in the long-term others need to step in. if anything teachers need to be saved from themselves. They are only human and if they can help a child in need then naturally they will do that. Sadly it is now becoming more and more the expectation on teachers and distorting the role. The more society relies on teachers to take up this role the more teachers will be expected to pick up the price of poverty and poor parenting as part of their professional duties.

      I’m not sure I fully accept the view that there are ‘needy’ teachers making children dependent on them due to ego. However I do agree with your later points. I think there is a serious danger in expecting teachers to act and social workers and psychiatrists. While we never want to see unqualified teachers leading lessons as we know those individuals are not trained nor qualified to do so, teachers are not trained nor qualified to take on those roles. Of course there is an onus on teachers to recognise warning signs and offer emotional support in certain circumstances but beyond that, where there are serious complicated issues, these need a separate professional insight. At the very least we should want to see closer collaboration between teachers and the social services than is currently taking place in schools.

      • teachwell May 13, 2015 at 8:49 am #

        I am not saying all teachers who do this are needy however I have come across my fair share who are – especially SEN and in Primary. Maybe my diagnosis is incorrect but there is something unhealthy going on there. Perhaps it is fear of failure or wanting to be seen as having tried everything.

        Having worked in inner-city schools all my teacher life, I have had these additional roles foisted on me and if I have ever suggested that external help is needed, been treated as though I have killed a sacred cow!!

        There are schools where the ethos includes the idea that teachers are ‘the’ stable person in the child’s life and ought to conduct themselves accordingly. This is problematic to say the least and almost enshrines the need to meet their other needs before the academic.

        On a different point, I have heard of schools that are directly buying in services of speech and language therapists and the like. I can only think this is the way forward. Other professionals are well meaning but too often their solutions are based on the idea that the teacher is in a position to spend additional time with that particular child in class. We need solutions for the problems which acknowledge there are 29 other children in that class too. Instead of idealistic solutions we need ones based in the reality of the situation.

      • hath53 May 13, 2015 at 10:55 am #

        We have obviously not had the same experiences teachwell but I accept your personal interactions. As you say it could be down to well-meaning factors. It would be interesting to see a breakdown somehow of why teachers feel the need, beyond basic human decency, to take on these additional roles.

        Your final point is very interesting. I think buying in specialist services is a key area where things could be improved. As I stated in the original blog in some nations they have these professionals stationed in-house to tackle the issues, thus allowing teachers to get on with what they are trained and qualified to do. Sadly I think the pressures on budgets here make that an unlikely possibility at present.

      • teachwell May 13, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

        I think you right unless schools club together in groups – a bit like how they can for IT technicians. It’s not ideal but its better than nothing!! Also I think given the cuts in the NHS it may well have to be the way forward!! It would be interesting to see what academies and the like do…

      • hath53 May 13, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

        Very good point about NHS cuts. We are probably going to see things get worse rather than better due to that

  2. thequirkyteacher May 13, 2015 at 4:42 am #

    The trouble is many teachers do go into teaching because they see themselves more as social workers/carers than people who impart knowledge (a rhetoric destroyed by progressive education anyway). Many teachers may indeed be willing and able to take on the social, emotional and physical welfare of 30 children, but some teachers may have families/lives of their own that they want to live. The latter are made out to look like monsters for just wanting to teach.

    I worry about the mental health of teachers who have taken on the upbringing of an entire class (by force, or free will). It is too much for one person to cope with.

    • hath53 May 13, 2015 at 8:25 am #

      Hi thequirkyteacher,

      I’m not sure if it is the case that those teachers who “just teach” are made to look like monsters but more that for those that do go above and beyond there is no recognition or praise for that. Certainly there is no acceptance for it when it comes to the narrow accountability measures teachers are faced with. It is just seen as standard practice. Equally how many these days are able to “just teach.” A teacher doing their job and their job alone is not a common thing these days.

      I fully agree with you in regards to the mental health of teachers to cope given the pressures, physically and emotional, that come with the current set up.

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