LEAD ARTICLE: “Is Care Being Taken Out of Education. An article by NAPCE Chair Phil Jones
Is Care Being Taken Out of Education by Phil Jones
An advert recently appeared on television in the United Kingdom featuring school children calling for people to talk about their mental health.
The advert can be found on YouTube and the school children talk about a world of crisis after crisis with climate change and the cost of living given as examples and their need to talk about these issues for their well-being and mental health.
The advert points out that it is not school subjects that they find the hardest but their own thoughts and concerns.
The children in the video call for people to ask them what is on their mind, to reduce stress and anxiety.
At the end of the film the subtitles point out that mental health has declined by 40 per cent in young people.
In September, at the presentation event for the National Awards for Pastoral Care in Education, I had the pleasure of meeting once again the charity ‘Lads Like Us’.
They do a brilliant job raising awareness about the care and support that children and young people need based on their own experiences of growing up in care.
They challenge the role that teachers and other adults have in school and are clear that they are not expecting education professionals to be social workers but encourage them to care about children and young people by asking why they are behaving in negative ways.
They use the term professional curiosity to explain why they believe professionals in schools have a responsibility and opportunity to care and support children and young people.
In recent months there have also been stories in the media of approaches to behaviour management increasing anxiety for children and young people.
The context for this is that schools have faced the challenge of addressing negative behaviour of some learners, possibly brought on by a lack of socialisation during the pandemic.
There have been stories of parents complaining about ‘draconian’ behaviour policies having a negative impact on children wanting to go to school and on their well-being.
Parents have complained about school rules which expect children to walk in school corridors in silence and argue that these rules are breaching human rights.
This emotional response is understandable because parents are going to be concerned about the personal development of their children when they send them to school.
The media has also reported on the view that stricter schools achieve better results.
The Times newspaper on 21st October 2023 reported that schools with traditional education methods dominated the top of the school league tables.
It was implied that schools with rigorous approaches to behaviour management achieve the best outcomes for learners.
However, this depends on what evidence is being made to make these judgements.
Is the definition of a good school one with good examination results or does society have other expectations about the purpose of education.
Does education have a role in developing the human beings of the next generation? Is part of the purpose of education to prepare children and young people to make a positive contribution in the future to the workplace and society?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then any judgements about what a good school is, needs to consider how they care for the needs of the children and young people, in preparing them for life in a rapidly changing technological world of the 21st century.
A study published in the International Journal of Educational Management argued that classrooms return to the stricter disciplined approach that was pushed out by permissive education in the 1970s.
The pastoral systems of a school implement and reinforce the clear boundaries and consistent routines that provide children and young people with a positive and safe learning environment.
Recent research suggests that stricter learning environments can help young people to thrive in the classroom.
Findings published in an online toolkit by the Australian organisation ‘Evidence for Learning’ shows that students perform in better examinations when teachers implement strict guidelines and argues that there is a link between student behaviour, classroom discipline and academic outcomes.
It is reasonable to assume that better examination results could be achieved if pastoral systems in schools prioritise developing complacent, conforming learners who are not distracted by actions to support their well being and socialisation.
If this is the priority, then the question must be asked; what is the cost to their personal development and preparation for their future lives?
Is there a risk that we are going back to approaches to education based on Victorian beliefs that children should be ‘seen and not heard?’.
Is the priority for the modern workplace people who can be compliant and conforming or people who can challenge, question, and suggest innovative and creative answers to difficult problems?
Is the priority for society to have human beings who can discuss concerns, share ideas, empathise with other people, and develop positive relationships?
If the answer to these questions is “yes” then pastoral structures and systems in school a have an important role in supporting children and young people in schools to understand the world they live in and to develop the skills and attitudes needed to be successful in the modern world.
Dr Anna Sullivan, a senior lecturer in Education at the University of South Australia commented in the ‘Educator Australia Journal’ that “rather than having a heavy-handed approach, schools should focus on relational aspects and have a more educational – rather than managerial approach to discipline in the classroom”.
There is a need for more research into the importance of supporting the socialisation of children and young people as part of their educational experience.
Otherwise, we are at risk of ‘experts’ or Multi Academy Trust leaders deciding on important questions about the purpose of education in the 21st century without considering the well-being and personal development of learners.
This could lead to approaches being implemented that prioritise certain goals at the expense of others and are justified with evidence based on examination results and not on evidence that demonstrates how education is meeting the needs of children and young people in the modern world.
At a time when schools are facing challenges such as:
- Concerns about the mental health of children and young people.
- Growing concerns about absence form school since the pandemic.
- An educational funding crisis.
- Many school buildings not being fit for purpose.
- An increasing number of parents considering educating their children at home.
- Concerns from young people that their educational experience is not relevant to their needs in the modern world.
There has been little response from policy makers to these important issues.
Thinking has focused on school structures and whether academies and free schools provide a better learning experience.
What is needed, is a response that focuses on the role and purpose of schools in the modern world in meeting the needs of children and young people.
The call for stricter schools is in many ways a distraction from the real challenge of making school relevant for meeting the educational priorities of children and young people.
One recent response from policy makers has been the suggestion of a national ban of mobile phones in schools.
Any educational professional with a pastoral role will be able to tell you how technological advances with mobile phones has presented challenges for schools.
However, we have to accept whether we like it or not, that smart mobile phones with access to the world wide web are a reality in modern life and despite the difficulties they can cause they are an essential tool in the workplace and in everyday life.
Is it not more sensible for pastoral systems in schools to have a vital role in supporting children and young people to understand the appropriate use of new technology than to simply ban them.
This is just one example of how schools need to address the issues that are important to children and young people as part of their learning experience if school is going to continue to be relevant to their lives in the modern world.
Schools should not become the luddites of the 21stcentury to prioritise examination results ahead of developing well adjusted children and young people who can make positive contributions to the rapidly changing technological world of the 21st century.
NAPCE was formed in 1982 by leading educationalists who were concerned that education was not supporting the welfare and personal development of children and young people.
Since then, the Association has been supporting the view that the care and support provided in schools by pastoral structures and systems encourages academic achievement and personal development.
This concern by the founders of NAPCE is still relevant today and if there is going to be a clear understanding of the purpose of education and how it meets the needs of the economy, society and future generations of children and young people.
Faced with the strong arguments of ‘stricter schools get better results’, it is challenging to be an advocate for education having a broader role of supporting children and young people to achieve their full potential as human beings.
There is a need for parents, employers, educationalists, and young people to debate what does a relevant education look like in the 21st century.
NAPCE is planning a conference in 2024 to provide an opportunity to discuss the issues that are important in deciding how pastoral care in schools is relevant to meeting the needs of children and young people in the modern world.
You can become an advocate of effective pastoral care and support in being an important part of children and young people’s learning experience by becoming a member of NAPCE and joining the discussion.
The National Association for Pastoral Care in Education (NAPCE)
Any comments or views please respond to
Bauman, Chris. Krskova, Hana. (2016.) ‘School Discipline, school uniforms, and academic performance’. International Journal of Educational Management. Vol 30, no6, pp1003-1029
The Educator Australia Online. (2018). ‘Do stricter rules help students?’. Found at https://www.theeducatoronline.com/K12news/do-stricter-schools-help-students/250432#:~:text=Do%20stricter%20learning%20help-classroom%20guidelines%20of%past.
Link Do stricter school rules help students? | The Educator K/12 (theeducatoronline.com)
Times Newspaper. (2023). Sit Down and Pay Attention! The evidence is clear – stricter schools get better results, October 21st 2023.
U Tube (2023) ‘Britain get talking. The hardest subject’. found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7401lp4a7A