Every teacher is devoted to the personal, social development, education and care of all pupils across the school.
They are responsible for their welfare and progress and they put pastoral care first because they want to deliver safe and supportive environments for students to get the best out of everyone.
Pastoral care isn’t an ‘add-on’ or complimentary practice. It’s at the core of every successful school with an intelligent, responsible and focused policy centred on personal development and wellbeing; where happiness and welfare are prioritised. Success is built upon strong inclusive values.
But what does effective pastoral care look like? How can we meet the diverse needs of learners in schools, support them in achieving their full potential and prepare them for the future?
A dynamic leader
Although every teacher has a pastoral responsibility, pastoral leaders are “absolutely critical” (Sobel, 2019) for identifying, understanding, and responding to the challenges unique to their school and that means developing sound pastoral structures and systems. The management and administration of pastoral care is crucial and needs someone with their eye on the ball and finger on the pulse in relation to planning, resourcing, monitoring, evaluating, encouraging and facilitating platinum pastoral care.
Effective provision, therefore, starts with having a coordinator with 20/20 vision who can drive a team of professionals to deliver top pastoral care with energy and insight. Pastoral care relies on relationships oiled by clear and consistent communication within an enabling culture and a school is only as good as the relationships leaders foster and harness.
A pastoral leader cannot work in a silo as a saviour and superhero but requires the support of every colleague to create an environment which can help students flourish. But even being surrounded by a phenomenal team won’t deliver great pastoral care without relevant and top-quality training.
There are boxes of issues and challenges schools face and they all require expert input from inclusion experts who know their onions in relation to safeguarding, bullying, mental health, working with outside agencies, managing challenging parents and plenty more besides.
Effective pastoral care has to be fed by effective training in order to make an impact on human and social capital. It is highly unlikely that this training can be delivered purely in-house so schools need to be outward-looking, strategic and selective in getting what works for them to address gaps and need.
3. A clear idea what pastoral care is
Pastoral care is not an end in itself but firmly embedded in the aims, values, beliefs and norms of the school. It is clearly articulated and there is a shared and strong conceptual understanding of the meaning of pastoral care amongst staff across the school community.
Pastoral care will mean different things in different contexts and there is no one agreed definition. It might involve counselling, sustaining, open door guidance, guiding, reconciling, peer support, mentoring and nurturing of pupils mixed with promoting and supporting self-efficacy, healthy risk-taking, goal setting, negotiation, reflection, empowerment and a welfare network. It might be all these and more.
The key point is that the most effective schools articulate what pastoral care means to them and translate this into a philosophy of care at every level, so a clear definition of what is and isn’t pastoral care within the school is important to manage the school community’s expectations.
This ensures there is an awareness of the contribution sound pastoral care makes to the success of the school and a common agreement of the expectations of the school. Everyone sees pastoral care as the foundational dimension which supports learning.
4. It’s everywhere
Pastoral care is omnipresent and touches every part of school life and so has to be felt at all levels of curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment, school organisation, ethos and environment, partnerships and services.
Pastoral care that is a living and breathing entity builds community within the school, creates supportive systems and positive relations between all members of the community and promotes a strong ethos of mutual care and concern.
Pastoral care can only make a difference when professionals and parents work together so it has a strong inter-agency requirement with timely communications between key workers, relevant organisations and families.
Effective care is proactive and preventative, in that a school provides a range of activities and supports various processes that anticipate ‘critical incidents’ in children’s lives and aim to prevent and reduce the need for reactive casework. This involves providing distinctive programmes and developmental pastoral curricula.
A distributed model of pastoral care delivery, where all staff know the actions they are required to take both proactively and reactively, gets the best results.
When all staff understand what is required of them within their teaching role and everyone is singing from the same song sheet then care is consistent, fair and reliable across the school and this is felt by the students.
7. Never stands still
An effective circle of care is constantly reviewed and updated so that it is responsive and current. A whole-school pastoral review is timetabled and managed so that strengths and weaknesses can be identified and care is never compromised or short-changed and that vulnerable learners, in particular, are always on the radar.
Pastoral care is hugely collaborative and policies, procedures and processes are a corporate effort of regular communication, information sharing and shared responsibility.
You may decide to form a Pastoral Task Force, consisting of teachers, counsellors, and other leaders so you can plan professional development and focus on key areas such as personal and social learning, careers education and global citizenship.
8. Supports each other
Establishing a culture of caring and mutual respect conducive to learning needs staff fit and able to do the job. Teachers, counsellors, learning support teachers, school nurses, and others on the front line all need networks of support to do their jobs effectively and that can be a mixture of inside and outside networks. Care for the carers is always something a pastoral leader will be vigilant of and pro-active in nurturing and developing self-protecting systems so that staff wellbeing feeds the wellbeing of the school population.
Schools take pastoral care seriously because it defines their identity as an organisation. Pastoral care doesn’t just happen either – it demands an incredible amount of time, energy, planning and coordination.
When done effectively, daily routines are planned and carried out scrupulously and everyone works in the best interests of every pupil to safeguard their welfare and promote their development.
A critical feature of pastoral care is how well staff know their pupils’ unique circumstances so they can learn effectively. Ultimately, the best care is defined on the quality of relationships, strong partnerships, high expectations and how staff respond to the needs of specific pupils and groups.
By John Dabell
John Dabell is an experienced teacher, former school inspector for Ofsted, project manager, writer and editor: @John_Dabell