At its simplest, pastoral care is the provision a school makes to ensure the physical and emotional welfare of pupils. It is the essential foundation upon which learning can take place. That said, schools with high standards of pastoral care go far further than a basic commitment to welfare, with pastoral care extending to every aspect of school life in order to foster pupils’ personal development as much as their academic progress.
All parents want their children to be safe and happy at school. The importance of pastoral care goes well beyond this, however. Education and health are closely linked, and recent studies have shown that pupils with better health and wellbeing are likely to achieve better academically. What is more, life skills, such as those taught in a successful PSHE (Personal, social, health and economic) programme, are associated with greater wellbeing and higher achievement. Good pastoral care in school is also fundamental to the development of character and social skills, which will be of critical importance to pupils in later life.
Schools dedicated to high standards of pastoral care will have put this at the centre of their operations. It should be reflected in every aspect of school life, from its ethos, the environment for learning, and the way personal development is fostered in the curriculum and co-curriculum. It should also be apparent in the friendly and respectful staff-pupil relationships, and how far pupils are known and treated as individuals by their teachers.
GDST schools have long been committed to a holistic view of education; the Trust now has more than 100 years’ experience to draw on in tailoring its provision, not only to how girls learn, but also to how they develop emotionally. This experience informs all its work.
Good pastoral care matters to GDST girls: they have said so themselves. In 2016 pupils were surveyed across GDST schools on what they thought makes for great teaching. Strikingly, the pastoral attributes of teaching, such as pupil-teacher relationships, figured as strongly in the responses as more academic concerns such as subject knowledge.
The typical size and all-through nature of GDST schools means that they genuinely have a family atmosphere. Staff know pupils as individuals and care about their progress; the excellent pupil-teacher relationships are regularly commended in school inspection reports. Issues are spotted and dealt with swiftly, and every girl will have a number of trusted staff she can go to if she has problems or difficulties. Girls form strong and supportive friendships and are well disposed to help each other. Many schools foster this support network with ‘Big Sister – Little Sister’ mentoring arrangements.
All GDST schools have highly trained and exceptionally dedicated pastoral staff, who are well placed to deal with issues such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, bullying and stress. The pastoral care team are supported by a medical specialist and counsellor in every school. Whether or not they have a specific responsibility in this area, every teacher recognises the important pastoral role they have to play.
GDST schools can also benefit from the central network in developing their pastoral provision. The Trust has an extensive pastoral training programme, and a Pastoral Consultant Teacher dedicated to sharing excellent practice between schools. The opportunity to collaborate also drives improvement: for example, a group of teachers from different schools have recently pooled their expertise to work on a Relationships and Sex Education programme exactly tailored to pupils’ needs.
The GDST has long recognised the importance of taking a proactive approach to psychological health, building emotional intelligence and resilience in pupils and giving them a sense of their own agency. Since 2016, this has also included working with The Positive Group to develop and roll out the Positive Programme across all our schools.
Learning to protect and nourish our mental health is an essential element of a good education. The Positive Schools Programme provides a comprehensive toolkit of cognitive, behavioural and social skills that are known to generate and protect good psychological health. The value of the Positive approach comes in its foundation in psychology, neuroscience, education and the science behind learning, and its emphasis on personal agency. If taught and embedded early in life, these tools can be drawn on throughout girls’ lives to enable them to reach their potential, as well as to recover effectively when they encounter challenges. Uniquely, recognising that resilient teachers are more effective at positively influencing and motivating students, the implementation of the programme begins with staff. Once teachers are comfortable with the knowledge and tools taught on the programme, they can impart these to their pupils, thus embedding the approach across the whole school.
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