REPORT: NAPCE’S Sell-Out Northern Ireland Symposium – FULL REPORT
NAPCE’s First Northern Ireland Pastoral Care Event – Who Cares About Pastoral Care – REPORT
Who cares about Pastoral Care?
This was the title for the event organised in Belfast on Wednesday 21st June by NAPCE and Stranmillis University College.
The idea for the day came from conversations over breakfast in October last year.
This was the morning after the first live presentation event for the National Awards for Pastoral Care for Education, organised by NAPCE.
The Awards evening had been a brilliant opportunity to share good practice in pastoral care and to recognise the excellent work that makes a difference to children and young peoples’ learning experiences and future life chances. People had travelled to the Presentation Evening from all around the United Kingdom including a large number from Northern Ireland.
Many of the people who attended the presentation were staying at the Premier Inn at Worcestershire Cricket Ground in Worcester, where the event took place and the following morning no longer in the formal wear, met up for breakfast and to share thoughts and ideas.
The conversations over breakfast showed how much can be gained, from spending time with people with similar interests and from different backgrounds and experiences and how much can be learnt from these discussions.
It was from these breakfast conversations and the enthusiasm built from the positive experience of the previous evening that the idea emerged of NAPCE organising an event in Northern Ireland.
When NAPCE was first founded over 40 years ago, there were regional groups all over the UK who shared an interest in pastoral care.
This included Northern Ireland, which as a region made a big contribution to the work of NAPCE, to raise awareness about pastoral care.
The inspiration and motivation for planning the event came from Professor Noel Purdy who is the current editor of NAPCE’s academic journal ‘Pastoral Care in Education’ and a member of both NAPCE’s National Executive and Editorial Board.
The venue for the event was Stranmillis University College in Belfast. Together with NAPCE they worked on the planning and organisation, of the face-to-face symposium, to share good practice in pastoral care and address the challenges facing schools in Northern Ireland.
I was delighted as NAPCE National Chair to be invited to Belfast to host the event on behalf of NAPCE along with Professor Noel Purdy from Stranmillis University College. Anne, my wife, who is part of the administrative support team for NAPCE made the journey with me to support the administration of the symposium and to represent NAPCE at the event.
When we left for Birmingham Airport for the flight to Belfast on the Tuesday, we were informed of a 30-minute delay.
By the time we arrived at the airport it had become a 2-hour delay and we were then made aware that the flight had been cancelled.
Determination to overcome all challenges and to attend the symposium took over and a frantic search on the internet using my phone found two seats on a later flight.
This then meant that we were going to spend nearly 10 hours in the airport!
It felt a little like we were doing a remake of the Tom Hanks film, ‘The Terminal’!
It became a little desperate at one point when we started playing, ‘I spy’!
I never realised how competitive that game can be in certain situations! The worry was that our long wait might end in disaster with another cancellation, but the flight eventually took off with a 30-minute delay and we arrived in Belfast in time to go to bed in preparation for the symposium the following day.
The good news was that there had been a very positive response to the opportunity to attend the event and all available places had been taken.
As hosts it was a pleasure for Noel and I to welcome delegates to the symposium and to introduce the programme.
The first speaker was Koulla Yiasouma, the former Children’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland, who spoke on the title “Education needs pastoral care to succeed-addressing pastoral care challenges facing schools in Northern Ireland”.
In an honest and passionate presentation, she reminded the audience that every child is a unique person with rights that include the right to be safe and the right to be heard.
She explained how there is a link between pastoral care and academic progress and how pastoral care is an integral part of education and needs to be part of a whole school approach to meeting the needs of children and young people.
She talked about how different language is used to describe pastoral care in schools. She reminded the audience that all children have pastoral care needs and some vulnerable children have more than others.
She argued that we need to learn from the experience of the pandemic and that supporting children with social and emotional learning is important.
The next speaker was Catherine Davidson, Vice-Principal of Ballysillan Primary School. The title for her presentation was “The Importance of a nurturing approach to primary schools”.
Catherine gave some brilliant examples of how the school supports nurturing and commented that ‘small changes can make a huge difference’.
She pointed out that it is important to model the nurturing that the schools do with the children, with the parents.
She described some of the many initiatives the school has implemented to support the personal development of the children in their care.
These include, ‘Kindness Ambassadors’, ‘Star of the Week’ and ‘The Treehouse’, which is a self-funded nurturing room.
Another speaker was
Claire Breen, Principal of Tor Bank Special School, in Dundonald.
The school was the winner of the NAPCE Award in 2020 for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Pastoral Care’.
The title for the presentation was ‘Supporting the school community through their bereavement journey’.
The presentation raised the audience’s awareness about the challenges that staff in pastoral roles in schools may face.
It was an important reminder that it is the pastoral structures and systems that support schools and their learners when they are faced with the biggest challenges.
The final speaker was Catherine McHugh, who is Principal of St Patrick’s College in Dungannon.
The school was the winner of the 2022 NAPCE Award for Pastoral Team of the Year and Pastoral Development of the Year.
The school have been chosen by the judges as a finalist for the 2023 National Awards for Pastoral Care in Education, School of the Year award. The title for the presentation was, ’All Children, All Backgrounds, All Succeeding’.
In the presentation Catherine expanded on the title, to share the good practice in the school and the positive impact it has on the children in their care
She recognised that it is difficult for schools to prepare children for a changing world and that there are many financial and educational challenges to overcome.
Catherine was clear that despite the challenges inclusion and equity are rooted in the provision of the school.
She explained that pastoral care in the school is about recognising the potential of all learners.
The event was a brilliant opportunity to share good practice taking place in pastoral care and to bring people together who despite the many challenges currently being faced by schools, had a determination to make a difference for the learning experience and future life chances of all children.
After joining me to thank everybody for their contribution to a very successful event there was time for Noel to change his role and give Anne and I a tour of the city of Belfast as our tour guide.
The following morning, we were up early for our return flight to Birmingham. This time the flight left on time and arrived back in Birmingham early!
The symposium in Belfast is an inspiration to organise further regional NAPCE events in the future.
It is great to be able to bring people together with enthusiasm and a passion for pastoral care to share ideas and good practice.
I am looking forward to the breakfast conversations after the presentation event for the 2023 awards which takes place in Worcester, at Worcestershire County Cricket Club on the evening of 29th September.
I am sure there will once again be some great conversations during the weekend and will lead to some more good ideas for NAPCE events and activities to support pastoral care in education.
National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (NAPCE)