This article draws on a study which investigated the interpretation and use of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) in primary schools in the UK (the authors gratefully acknowledge Studentship funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for this study). The paper focuses on school staff members' perceptions about the intentions and purposes of the scheme. The testimonies of head teachers, management staff, teachers, teaching assistants, welfare assistants and pastoral staff members illustrated how the interpretation and use of SEAL was influenced by their perceptions about the pupils' parents and, in particular, parental ability to develop ‘appropriate’ social, emotional and behavioural skills in their children. In schools where parenting was positively appraised, SEAL was used to complement parenting practices; whilst in schools where parents were negatively appraised, SEAL was used to counter their endeavours. The scheme was also used to compensate for certain inadequacies that were deemed to be taking place in the home. These differing perceptions of parents were linked to social class, with the scheme being used to complement the practices of middle-class parents and to counter those of minority-ethnic and working-class people. We contend that this interpretation and use of the scheme helped to re-affirm the practices of the dominant culture whilst serving to marginalise the values of the less powerful groups in society. Implications of the study's findings are discussed and recommendations for staff, schools and policy are made.