For families attending private school, by far the most important driver of their likelihood to recommend their school was how they perceived the care the school offered to their children.
The Right Choice, Robert Drew, Education Review, March 2018.
Excellent pastoral care, like motherhood, is one of those desirable things you can’t disagree with, but it’s surprising how often it is taken at face value and not really interrogated. So what is pastoral care and what does saying we have great pastoral care actually mean?
Let us begin with what we say:
SCAS Website: Student Wellbeing
It is clear that students who are happy and engaged at school feel more positive about their overall education experience and tend to achieve greater success. At St Columba, student wellbeing is central to the mission of our school. We therefore provide our students with every opportunity to cultivate positive relationships, community connection and personal development. This includes nurturing their physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual development.
Let us consider what has happened in school pastoral care over the years:
During my school days some fifty years ago, and during my teacher training, I never heard the expression Pastoral Care. It was used within the church to describe the apostolate of the pastor tending to the spiritual needs of his flock. It was subsequently borrowed by even secular schools to describe their commitment to student welfare. Nowadays, it is commonly used as a selling point to win over prospective parents. It assumes that the school will be responsible for the physical and emotional health of the child, offering both a safe environment and programs which will foster student wellbeing. My thesis is that pastoral care is very rarely delivered effectively by schools and that there is often only a token commitment to the physical and emotional health to students.
Why pastoral care is only a token commitment to student wellbeing, Greg Cudmore July 18, 2017
What should really good Pastoral Care/Wellbeing look like?
Here are some of the criteria I would choose:
- A good pastoral/wellbeing team at school will talk to each other and have a holistic approach. Planning for wellbeing should be a conscious action. Positive culture and values should be embedded in the school, integrated into everything school leaders and teachers do – from strategic planning; development of policies; school systems; relationships throughout the community and into the classroom.
- Pastoral Care/Wellbeing is constructed in a way that shows a clear intent to provide activities, opportunities and situations which develop resilience and resourcefulness, a training in good habits and, above all, the values and moral dimension which will sustain an individual’s wellbeing throughout their life.
- We are approachable. Staff help students deal with weighty problems, such as strife at home, bereavement or illness and students know who they can turn to if needed.
- Pastoral Care/Wellbeing provides a supportive and kind atmosphere but ensures that everyone knows what is acceptable and what is not.
- Staff liaise with Year Patrons/Stage Coordinators and other relevant staff to catch pupils who might otherwise have “fallen through the net.” The message is: “We are there to protect the wellbeing of children and to be a safety net when they need it.”
- Pastoral Care/Wellbeing teaches students responsibility for themselves and for the welfare of others. It gives the message: “Be the best you can be, not what everyone else wants you to be.”
- Parents feel comfortable because “I know staff are looking out for my children.”
- Teachers forge firm but positive relationships with pupils.
We know this.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways.” James 3:1-2 ESV
Stumble? Let me be reckless/brave enough to ask these questions:
- Do we actually do what we say we will?
- Do we do wellbeing as well as we should?
- How do we know if we are doing it well?
- How do parents know if we are doing a good job?
If, after considering these questions, you wish to respond, please consider contacting me at the school and setting up a meeting so that we can discuss any concerns you have (or praise you want to give us) face-to-face.
Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School