This case study is written by Amy Forrester, a secondary school teacher and a Director of Pastoral Care.
As you read this case study, reflect on the perspectives shared about pastoral care and the role of form tutor. Consider how the approaches might be relevant to your own development as an early career teacher.
The term ‘pastoral care’ first appeared to enter the language of teaching in 1974 in a book written by headteacher Michael Marland. Originally, the phrase was used in Christian communities to describe shepherds and their sheep. It is easy to see how this phrase describes what we now see as a vital part of the job of a teacher, most often seen as you take up the role of form tutor. Marland defined the phrase as meaning ‘looking after the total welfare of the pupil’ and this definition still rings true today. Best (2014) offered an addition to this description by focussing on the idea that ‘effective pastoral care can augment academic outcomes’. The educational landscape has changed significantly since 1974, and this additional focus on academic outcomes surmises a key aspect of the role in the classrooms of today.
Defining pastoral care can be challenging – it can mean so many things to different people, and look different in different schools, with different structures and different staffing arrangements. However, the core aspects of this, as defined by Marland (1974) remain generally unchanged to this day. He suggested that pastoral care encompasses the following:
- To enhance the learner’s experience
- To support teaching and learning
- To prepare learners for their next steps
- To ensure that learners benefit from on site services
- To teach learners to show respect for others
- To maintain an orderly environment.
What does good practice, in our modern day schools, look like in each of these six areas?
Enhancing the learner’s experience
This focuses on the idea that pastoral care addresses the student as a whole. In some schools, this might mean that tutors also deliver a PSHE and RE style curriculum, whilst in others, this will be delivered as a discrete subject. Regardless of the structure within the school, pastoral care must focus on developing students in a more holistic way. In order to do this, good relationships must form over a prolonged period of time. Your pastoral time with students should focus on giving them experiences and input that is different to the traditional academic content and might include things such as: resilience, character development, cultural capital, general knowledge and world events. Best (2014) suggests that a pastoral focus on improving resilience can enhance academic outcomes.
Supporting teaching and learning
There are many aspects of pastoral care which underpin this. Good attendance at school is paramount to educational successes and this is a key part of pastoral care. Reid (2003) comment on the fact that pastoral care can improve truancy and other forms of absenteeism. A simple, yet much overlooked, aspect of supporting good attendance lies in the student knowing that someone cares when they are not in school, an idea that can also often help to improve attendance in more simple cases of low attendance. The role of the form tutor here may also be in supporting students’ organisation, ensuring they have the correct equipment daily to enable them to succeed in lessons, as well as bringing a level of support and accountability to students where things such as homework are not working well.
To prepare learners for their next steps
Whichever key stage you’re placed in as a tutor, there are always important next steps. In Year 7, this is about ensuring students make a good start to their new school, and at the end of the year, are able to move into Year 8 with the skills required to succeed. In Key Stage 3, students will make GCSE option choices and the role of the form tutor is critical in this. In Key Stage 4, your focus is on supporting students to succeed at GCSE, as well as supporting them in their Post 16 choices. Regardless of key stage, knowing your students well is vital in being able to provide appropriate and personalised support.
To ensure learners benefit from on site support
Form tutors will see their students daily and will begin to know them very well. They are also best placed to notice when something doesn’t seem quite right, and make appropriate referrals within school systems. Knowing what support is available internally is vital and being able to signpost students to this is a key part of the form tutor role.
To teach learners to show respect for others
This encompasses both peers and staff. The role of the form tutor is a unique one, and you are best placed to provide developmental support rather than sanctions in these cases. For example, if a student is poorly behaved in their lessons, your role would be most appropriate to explore the issue with the student and provide advice and guidance on improving the situation. Whilst it’s important that they know you’ll be disappointed in them, students also need to know that someone cares and will help them do better. No child is perfect and doesn’t make any mistakes in their formative years, but knowing that there is someone in their school life that will help them is important.
To maintain an orderly environment
Managing behaviour with a form group can be an interesting challenge. Your relationship may feel different to that of a teaching group and it can be tempting to take a more friendly approach. However, this may lead to further problems. Marzano and Marzano (2003) suggest that students prefer teachers to have strong control and an assertive role in the classroom. Behaviour management is just as important with a form group as it is with a teaching group, and students need to feel there are appropriate expectations and consequences. By creating this environment, your form will be able to show you their best selves, and this will allow you to have high expectations of them across the school.
The role of the form tutor is multifaceted, but it is one of the best roles you will hold. The responsibility of a form tutor can be best surmised as the responsibility for you to form strong relationships with each of the students in your form group. You will be in a unique position to develop and guide them from child to young adult. Along the way, you will see moments of joy and moments of anguish but seeing them blossom into great young adults is the biggest privilege of all.