It can be argued that when everything is going to plan leadership is easy! It is when you are faced with difficulties or a crisis that leadership becomes challenging.
Most pastoral leaders would probably agree that this happens every day in their role.
When I was a senior teacher, I had a middle leader come to me and complain about the performance of one member of their team. I think they were expecting me to summon the member of staff to my office and tell them off for not performing as expected.
My response was to point out that there may have be reasons why this member of staff was not performing as well at that time and that as a leader they needed to earn their money by finding out the details about the situation and provide support when things were not going well and it is not just about taking the credit, when the team is performing to expectations.
The middle leader was not aware that the member of staff was going through a difficult divorce and although they did not want their private life to become public knowledge it was making it more difficult for them to meet deadlines at work.
It is a much easier task for leaders to develop structures and systems and to implement strategies and developments, but the real challenge comes in leading the people involved in the process. Leaders need empathy to understand the feelings and pressures people are experiencing and to find ways to enable them to make a positive contribution.
“The most powerful thing you can do in a pastoral role is to give someone your understanding” (Daniel Sobel)
This is especially true when there is a crisis.
Pastoral leaders will be under pressure themselves, but this is when their leadership skills and qualities will really be needed and tested.
It is in these situations where it is important for leaders to build trust. It is an important part of the role for all leaders, that they take every opportunity to build trust, as this will be an investment for when they are facing a crisis or other difficulties.
It is not possible for any leader to please everybody with the decisions they make but to build trust it is important that they always make every effort to act with integrity. With an ethical approach to leadership it can be demonstrated that all decisions are taken in the best interest of the organisation, the people in the organisation and its vision and values.
To achieve this, it is important that leaders are prepared to reflect on their actions and acknowledge where they have not gone to plan and achieved their intended outcomes. It is not about blame but creating a culture which builds trust, where everybody including leaders are encouraged to learn from experiences.
Pastoral leaders need to reflect on the appropriate style of leadership required in a crisis. A crisis can encourage a ‘knee jerk’ response from leaders, but this is a time when careful considered approaches to leadership, are more likely to be effective and achieve sustained outcomes.
“Involving all the people who are going to be affected by the change provides them with a basis for understanding what is going on and an opportunity to influence the change which in turn can generate ownership of it and a commitment to it”. (Daniel Sorbel)
An important role of pastoral leaders which becomes a greater priority during a crisis is to provide a safe learning environment.
This is extremely relevant during the current pandemic where the organisation of schools must change from what learners recognise and know.
The physical environment impacts on how safe people feel and this becomes incredibly challenging when actions must be taken for health reasons, that means normal interaction between people is not possible and buildings do not feel as warm and welcoming,
Safeguarding is a priority for pastoral leaders and this is because feeling safe is an important ingredient for effective learning to take place.
“When you think about a child’s mental, emotional and psychological health we need to prioritise their feeling safe, as they can be a major driving force of mental health disintegration” (Daniel Sorbel)
Changes in the organisation of the school and expectations about behaviours must be explained carefully and in a way that builds trust in the people, who are providing care and leadership for them.
There is an emerging view during the current pandemic, that the educational agenda that has focused on raising standards in recent years is widening its focus to include the socialisation of young people as an important part of a young person’s educational experience.
It has been recognised that the socialisation and personal development of young people has been damaged during the period where schools have not been fully open and that pastoral care needs to be a priority, as learners return to the classroom.
“School are aware that some pupils require additional emotional and pastoral support when they return to school, so making time for pastoral care is a priority”.
(Department for Education)
It has been acknowledged in government guidance to schools that pastoral support is an important part of the support that schools can provide for young people.
“It is up to schools to decide how they want to use face to face support in the best interest of their pupils as additional pastoral support, academic support or a combination”
(Guidance for Secondary School provision from 15th June 2020)
An article from Glasgow University published in April 2020 points out that, “apart from the obvious disruption to learning, school closures are likely to have far reaching negative effects”. (University of Glasgow of Education)
Pastoral leaders will have to plan how to use available resources to meet the pastoral needs of learners and this is likely to be a priority for some time into the future.
“When schools return teachers will be tasked with not simply resuming normal classes but with supporting their students’ emotional wellbeing”. (University of Glasgow School of Education)
The article calls on schools to make the development of resilience a priority to enable young people to cope with shocks in life whether they come from Covid 19 or other threats.
Pastoral support in school is likely to become more relevant, in supporting young people during and after the pandemic and this will encourage a greater understanding of its importance to the learning experience of all young people.
“Pastoral care is not simply a sub plot in the central story of curriculum, teaching and learning but rather a foundation stone upon which everything else in school can take place”
The experience of leadership during a crisis, encourages leaders to reflect on priorities. It is likely that pastoral leaders will look to focus on the whole person in planning and delivering pastoral support in schools.
In a crisis the importance of developing the whole person is highlighted and encourages a focus on developing resilience and positive attitudes in young people, so they can cope and face challenges in their daily lives.
“There are few who would question that developing the whole human being is a legitimate part of the school’s work”. (Les Bell and Peter Maher)
Effective pastoral support will not be a ‘firefighting’ reaction to problems, but it will become a structure and system for preparing young people for challenges in their lives.
Primitive views of pastoral care, being responsible for maintaining discipline, may not be relevant in schools after the pandemic and pastoral leaders will need to explore how available resources can be deployed, to meet the different needs of all learners in the ‘new normal’.
There will be implications for curriculum planning and more emphasis may have to be given to developing and implementing a planned pastoral curriculum, to support learners in making sense of their learning and the challenges they are likely to face.
It was a founder member of the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (NAPCE), Michael Marland, who first introduced the concept of a pastoral curriculum being needed in schools. For Marland the Pastoral Curriculum was part of the whole school curriculum.
“It was that part of the curriculum which more or less dealt with the development of the whole person”. (Les Bell and Peter Maher)
An approach to pastoral care that focuses on the needs of the whole person will become relevant in schools after the pandemic.
“For those who saw pastoral care as an emergency first aid system to deal with discipline problems Marland’s’ introduction of the term pastoral curriculum is certainly a quantum leap”. (Les Bell and Peter Maher)
A quantum leap will be required from pastoral leaders to respond to all the pastoral needs of young people during and after the pandemic and a planned proactive approach will be required that resists the temptation to not a react to problems as they arise.
The current crisis should encourage pastoral leaders to reflect on the role of the form tutor. Effective tutoring can help young people to make sense of their learning and support them in coping with the challenges that they face.
In the uncertain times that schools find themselves in, which is likely to continue for some time, they should reinvest in form tutors and value the important contribution that they can make.
“Where problems arise the form tutor is well placed to offer help and encouragement”.
(Les Bell and Peter Maher)
There has in the past been some tension from some staff about their role as a form tutor. Pastoral leaders need to make it clear how tutors can have a positive impact on achievement and make sure that the most important resource for this process the staff engaged in the role have the training and support they need to be effective.
Finding time for academic mentoring, could be a positive investment for pastoral leaders to identify gaps in students understanding and barriers to their achievement.
This could be one example of a positive outcome from the crisis that pastoral leaders can use to improve future pastoral support for learners in schools.
National Association for Pastoral Care (NAPCE)
Bell, P and Maher, P. 1986 “Leading a Pastoral Team” Blackwell Marland, M. 1980 “The Department for Education. 2020 “Guidance for Secondary School Provision from June 15th, 2020”, GOV.UK website
Department for Education. 2020 “Pastoral Care in the Curriculum. How schools can provide additional emotional and pastoral support for pupils when they return to school following the coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak”, GOV.UK website
Pastoral Curriculum”.in Best, R. Ribbins, P. and Jarvis, C. (eds) 1980,
Perspectives on Pastoral Care, Heinemann
Sobel, D. 2019 “Leading on Pastoral Care”, Bloomsbury
University of Glasgow School of Education. 2020 “Supporting Resilient Learning in the Face of Covid-19”, University of Glasgow School of Education Website