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Where Does Pastoral Care Begin?

NAPCE recently re-tweeted a post questioning ‘where does pastoral Care begin?’ The comments debate boiled down to… parents. It stirred a lot of reaction and some useful reflection. Schools are taking on a far more central role in parent support- and the focus is not always child-centered.

As a deputy head I see a range in staffs’ commitment and boundaries in supporting parents as individuals. This ranges in how and to what depths this goes; from a five-minute chat at the school gate, to a three-hour child protection case review. Sue Cowley recently said ‘Speaking as a parent, the close relationship with a class teacher has been one of the most important things in my kids’ primary education’.  And I don’t disagree. Yet, conflicting the goodwill, I see parents’ throw away (or at times very pointedly direct) comments to staff, strain their pupil time as their child’s teacher to attend a meeting for their input, and demand of parents adhered to for fear of what they may do if not (the list of consequences are expansive!). This is a real balancing act.

Morally, of course, there are situations which are challenging to stop yourself attempting to be a fixer. How can you not support the father who doesn’t have a strategy left to manage their child’s behaviour? Or the mother who is going through a divorce and tells you because there is no one else to talk to? But with cuts to social care contributing, where do we draw the line? What should a school offer? How do you pull it back in when a parent over steps the boundary without burning the bridges?

I think it is important to reiterate that it is an institution’s choice as to how they answer these questions- and to do it consistently, but as the re-tweet summarised- pastoral care does begin with the parent…

So instead of letting the school chase its metaphorical tail, I felt it was by addressing the issues that consistently arise by instigating a number of interventions.

Firstly, we spent the last term designing and running a three school collaboration parent training SEN program. Their children’s additional needs, patterns in behaviour and hormonal changes were, without a doubt, the largest area to address, but also the area that we as teachers have the specialist knowledge and strategies. The mantra was ‘we are the specialists, but you are the experts of your children’. This passed some of the responsibility back on to the parents from the outset, with the training aiming to be more of a facilitator role as opposed to a one size fits all transmission. The feedback and impact with those who chose (a separate issue) to attend have been very positive. Parents left with a clearer understanding of what sits behind certain behaviours, how communication and sensory provisions can reduce this, how these behaviours change during puberty and importantly- try to remain consistent with the schools’ strategies.

The second intervention was through staff training. The reiterated point of this was ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself’. Realising that you have a strong moral compass but don’t you have exhaustible energy. A set of black and white boundaries were laid out- including NO PERSONAL PHONE NUMBERS! We also updated the annual home-school agreement. That it was drawn up as a team, keeps a consistent and non-comparable approach moving forward.

As I sat in a meeting this morning I saw the discussions in action, a member of staff turning to the separated parent and stating ‘I don’t take sides, I am here for your son’, promptly followed by directing them to a number of external support resources. And I think that summarised where I stand. Does that make me less empathetic, narrow visioned or closed to parent input or budget spending on a vital intervention? I hope not because my moral compass is set to remain considerate of the whole learning journey. So I have decided that next term I will start a prevention- a parenting curriculum for older pupils, ensuring that parents are involved in the input…