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Colleges with the courage to care

I WAS most interested to read the report of my address to my colleagues at the Council for Independent Further Education's annual conference (TES, May 25). While the correspondent, John Izbicki, has conveyed some of the generalised introduction I gave to my seminar, he possibly misunderstood some of the comments I made and has not, no doubt for reasons of space, gone into some of the details of what I said, nor did he comment on the lively and informative discussion which took place. I would like to provide a balanced view of the seminar and set the context of the discussion which followed.

I have been able to draw upon my background in pastoral care through a long, professional career in the maintained post-16 sector to introduce some more structured pastoral monitoring at Oxford Tutorial College. CIFE colleges see pastoral care as a responsibility for all members of staff and increasingly recognise the need for our colleagues to be given the skills to help them with this.

There are a significant number of students with personal problems that tutors in establishments such as mine deal with on a regular basis. Why? Not because there are any more problems among youngsters in these independent establishments, but because we are quicker at detecting them and are able to give far more time to support students than would be possible in larger sixth-forms in the maintained sector.

The point I was making in my speech was that, in my experience, some of the problems our students face are different, arising not from deprivation bt from affluence; essentially teenagers in both sectors are the same and face the same temptations, anxieties and frustrations. In the independent sector we are focusing more and more carefully on support at all levels. The academic support we provide is now increasingly well-matched by the pastoral support on offer, and the quality of the provision is reflected in the outstanding results that are achieved in CIFE colleges year after year. Building self-esteem, counselling and caring for students, whether they are from families in the UK or from thousands of miles away, is part of the day-to-day life in any CIFE college. Our students do well in exams, move on successfully to undergraduate courses and look back on their days at tutorial college as time providing structure, support and encouragement.

The topic for this year's AGM was the welfare of students, and my seminar was one of three devoted to this theme. CIFE colleges are alert to developments in pastoral care and have the courage to examine and evaluate what we are doing and to share good practice. At the end of my seminar I was heartened by the high level of discussion, and pleased to learn about the support systems used in other CIFE colleges.

I am proud to work in a college which offers such a range of academic and support systems to guide students successfully at this demanding time in their lives and would like to emphasise the positive and caring nature of the tutorial college system.

Josephine Palmer

Principal Oxford Tutorial College

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