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Dr Mike Calvert

Pastoral care has evolved so much over the last 50 years and, when writing a recent article charting the changing discourses and priorities over that time, I was struck by how difficult it is to write about pastoral care in schools with such a divergence and multiplicity of structures, practice and understandings. I come from, and my research has been predominantly in, the secondary sector so please accept that my examples will be drawn from that area. Those in primary and tertiary might reflect differently on the changes to their respective areas.

There was a time when large-scale initiatives such as Active Tutorial Work were common, when mention of Heads of House/Year, pastoral deputies and form tutors were the norm and where, broadly speaking, linkages between pastoral care and PSE (personal and social education) were at least predictable if only predictable in their unevenness of quality and provision.

Nowadays, school structures have changed so much, the pastoral/academic hierarchical structure of pastoral deputy, Head of House/Year, form tutor have been replaced by a range of staff with new titles and new responsibilities.

I recently visited an Academy which employed a Counsellor with higher degree qualifications in psychology and counselling. She was clearly a key member of the senior management and had a respected role in working with students with challenging social and personal circumstances. She was supported in her role by the Head who recognised her importance. Another school I visited had devolved most of the disciplinary and ’emotional first aid’ functions to Assistant Learning Co-ordinators (ALCs) with predictably variable results. Students were referred via notes in pigeon holes or ALCs engaged in elements of ‘fire fighting’ in the event of a student who was to be ejected. A third school had moved to vertical tutoring (Yr 7-11 (age 11-16)) and had smaller tutor groups of 15 which were looked after by teachers and teaching assistants. A final school had 2 Senior Management Teams – you guessed it – one for academic and one for pastoral. This throwback to previous times reminds us that not all schools have changed in some respects. It would be interesting to know how many secondary schools still have an academic and a pastoral deputy and, surely not, the equivalent of a Senior Mistress.

There are huge implications to this kaleidoscopic pattern of provision as schools cope with the huge demands that are made of them by government, society and market forces. The first of these is that it is much harder to understand what is happening in general terms. My research on citizenship brought this into stark relief. Schools’ practices in terms of marrying citizenship with pastoral care and the curriculum in a wide sense were so vastly different and revealed very different levels of conceptual understanding and sophistication.

Secondly, it presents difficulties for teacher educators. Pastoral care has always had less pre- and in-service coverage than ‘important’ subjects and arguably with the ‘Strategies’ have seen provision squeezed still further. How on earth does a teacher educator encapsulate such a multiplicity of practice during a 36-week course?

Finally, as meanings of pastoral care become more diffuse, as the Wider Children’s Workforce extends what we mean by ‘care’ and practices and structures become more complex, how are we to map this provision in such a way that pastoral care is not either high jacked to ratchet up performance, overshadowed by the apparent dominance of safeguarding as the key element of ECM (Every Child Matters) agenda or neglected by those for whom performance is the overriding concern?

There are some outstanding innovations in pastoral care provision and the above is not a call to return to the ‘cosy’ predictability of the past. There were poor practices then as now. It is simply a call to stop and think about the pattern of pastoral care provision (of staff and students), what it means in the institutions that we work in and where it is going.

Dr Mike Calvert
York St John University

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