Schools use many processes and techniques to safeguard and provide pastoral care to their pupils. Here are some of them.
Pastoral care is the provision the school makes to ensure the physical and emotional welfare of your child.
You’ll know when it works. A successful pastoral care programme means that your child is safe, happy, involved and able to perform to their potential. They are integrating well with other pupils and any problems are spotted and dealt with.
Parents think they know what good pastoral care is, but they miss the bigger picture
Because pastoral care shares similarities with parenting in in that it protects a child from harm and lends them a sympathetic ear, we parents naturally assume that we know what it is. But though we use the term frequently, we also use it inconsistently.
Ask a the parents of a junior school starter what pastoral care is. They might say it has something to do with a “homely classroom” and a “mumsy” teacher bearing lollipops and Elastoplast.
Ask the parents of a senior school starter what pastoral care is and they might say something different. They might say pastoral care has something to do with sex education and policing social media. Maybe even acting on tip offs about bullying, breaking up fights and excluding offenders.
Ask a pupil what pastoral care is. They might say pastoral care is about access to a school nurse, the head of year or the deputy head.
There are elements of truth in all of these perceptions but they miss the bigger picture. The primary school parent is confusing teaching style with pastoral care. Yes the homely environment might help children settle but what happens next year when the child moves to a not so mumsy teacher; a teacher who, perhaps, insists that their child pack/unpack their own bag without adult supervision? Will pastoral care have changed? No, only the teaching style will have. The senior school parents are confusing constant intervention and discipline with elements of child protection. They will be on the phone to the school as soon as another child has a disagreement with theirs. The pupil, while aware of a broad network of people who can help her is perhaps unaware of the work of others that she sees on a more regular basis like her form tutor or house tutor.
Pastoral care is like parenting, but it’s not
Having suggested that pastoral care is a bit like parenting, I must be clear that parenting it’s not. It can’t be. Those providing the pastoral care have a lot more than 2.4 children to think about. And so pastoral care has to be a series of policies, procedures and processes that work irrespective of personnel. No matter who works in a school, they should all be able to provide the same level of pastoral care or know who to refer to when necessary.
I think it is in the interest of schools to be more explicit to parents about what their provision for pastoral care, and be proud of it. So to help parents with a basic checklist, I’m going to outline the scope of what pastoral care covers. To ensure the physical and emotional welfare of your child, the school will undertake a series of initiatives to safeguard your child and initiatives to promote your child’s wellbeing.
Think of safeguarding as protecting; preventing abuse and ensuring safety. Here are some elements of safeguarding.
What to do in case of accident and illness
From the graze in the playground to the trip to A&E the school has to have procedures in place to deal with and record accidents and illness; be that the remit of the playground supervisor, school nurse, first aid officers, boarding staff, or first on the scene. Some schools run immunisation programmes and this would also fall into this safeguarding remit.
Make sure that the premises are secure and safe
Ensuring that the school premises are secure and safe addresses locks, fences, alarms. This does spill over into general health and safety and there should be people assigned to processes to ensure, for example, that there are no roof tiles likely to fall onto the playground, that water spillages and other slip hazards are dealt with, that branches aren’t likely to fall off the trees in a strong gale.
Child welfare and protection
Teachers do a lot of training on child welfare and protection. In the first instance the school has to ensuring that everyone, from teachers to contractors, who could come into contact with your child is vetted, has references and those records are centrally maintained and regularly updated. This is known as the Single Central Record.
In addition, the school has to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to identify child welfare and protection concerns, how to communicate to such children and how to refer to the appropriate agencies.
Teaching children to keep themselves safe
Often taught in PSHE (personal social and health education) lessons, children are taught in an age appropriate manner about risks outside the school gates and how to keep themselves safe . At a junior level it might address topics such as stranger danger, road safety, healthy eating and internet safety. At a senior school it might also address stress management, sexual health and sexual responsibility.
Promoting good behaviour and taking measures against bullying, harassment and discrimination
You can often see posters in schools referring to the school rules, golden rules or a code of conduct. This is part of promoting good behaviour. It teaches pupils desirable values and therefore pre-empts undesirable behaviour. How the school reinforces these values is a question worth asking.
One of the worst feelings a parent can have is that their child might suffer bullying, harassment and discrimination at school. Because it’s so high profile, the good news is that school staff are well trained in identifying and managing it. The bad news is that it happens. It happens everywhere and for all sorts of reasons. As a parent, you need to be assured that together with the school staff, you can nip it in the bud if you think it is happening to your child.
Whereas the potential dangers to children can be relatively easily identified and appropriate safeguarding measures established, promoting wellbeing is somewhat more nebulous and far reaching. To promote wellbeing schools establish organisational hierarchies and matrices of responsibilities. Every member of school staff who comes into contact with your child, will do so with a different perspective. The pastoral care programme that can capture the input from all these different sets of eyes is one that works well.
The form teacher, the tutor, the teaching assistant
By far and away the most regular interaction a pupil will have will be with the form teacher or tutor. This person will often be the first person the pupil will approach if they have a concern or worry. They are also the main liaison with parents. As the pupil progresses through their school career they will have more lessons with teachers other than the form teacher. But there should always be a pastoral base; such as a form room and a form teacher. Small is generally a good thing when pastoral care is concerned. People get noticed in small groups. So if the school you are looking at is larger, look for the mechanisms to make the pastoral group smaller such as separate tutor groups within or separate to classes, Heads of Year and even Heads of Junior, Lower, Middle and Upper Schools, in addition to the form teacher.
Some schools appoint a tutor to each child, and that tutor stays with them throughout their school career. Pupils in some schools (such as Steiner schools), keep the same form teacher throughout their school career, ensuring a very strong teacher-pupil pastoral bond.
Teaching assistants perform a valuable role in pastoral care. They are another pair of eyes and can attend to a particular ability group within the class. The younger the age of the class the higher the ratio of teaching assistants to teachers. Typically absent from senior schools (except for special educational needs) there might be one for every two or three classes in Years 5 and 6 of junior school, possibly one per class in from Reception to Year 3 or 4. For nursery to Reception children there are minimum legal requirements to comply with; for under two years olds its 1 teaching assistant to 3 children, for two year olds its 1:4, for three year olds and over its 1:8 or 1:13 depending on the qualification of the teaching assistant, from Reception class its 1:30.
Residential boarding staff
In boarding schools a further consideration is the pastoral care provided by the residential staff which may include the Head and their spouse, house parents, matrons, nurses and gap-year students. Among other things, boarding staff need to be able to manage home sickness and provide care in loco parentis. They also need to juggle flexibility of parental access with maintaining safeguarding arrangements for other children.
The House system
The House system is another pastoral care device. Pupils belong to a house and compete against the other houses in a variety of events through the year. It brings two main benefits; reinforcing positive behaviour by the award of house points, and putting children in vertical age groupings (ie multi –year) rather than horizontal age groupings (children of the same age – like their classes). In a mixed age group children form a family type relationship. The older ones teaching and caring, and the younger ones learning from and looking up to the older ones. Some schools have mixed age classes for this very reason; a particular feature of Montessori schools.
Other staff promoting wellbeing
There are many other devices that school use to ensure high levels of pastoral care; mentors and buddies, prefects and roles of responsibility and a school chaplain for example. Some larger schools employ an independent listener as an additional and neutral facility.
Activities to promote wellbeing
Personal Social and Health Education is part of the National Curriculum. It encompasses many aspects of physical, emotional and digital wellbeing. As part of this curriculum pupils will also learn about exam stress management and achieving balance between work and play. Many schools actually monitor the amount of extra-curricular activity their pupils undertake to promote that balance. Some school actually have a “balance week” when no homework is set on the understanding that pupils try a new a new activity. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness sessions are becoming popular.
Pastoral care doesn’t just happen. It is a process and it takes up an incredible amount of time and energy. Schools take it seriously. Staff are assigned to it, a senior member of staff will be in charge of it, and governors are responsible for it too. Schools do vary in their provision, particularly in wellbeing, but some of the safeguarding measures are obligatory. School inspectors monitor it and have the power to close schools that aren’t up to standard.
On any school tour, there’s so much to learn about the school’s pastoral care and a prospective parent should feel free to ask about these points. Don’t assume that because a school is small it will provide good pastoral care. Look for the policies, procedures and processes listed in this post.