Get a bit closer to your class

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Now that you're beginning to settle into the term, it's time to review what you are doing with your form or tutor group. You're probably spending up to half an hour a day with them, which is more than is allocated to many curricular subjects.

Are you making the best use of the time and the opportunities it offers? Is "registration time" when you call the register and then let your pupils chat, or do you have a tightly structured programme to deliver?

Do the simple demands of collecting money, delivering messages, getting shirts tucked in and trainers changed for shoes take up all your time, or can you go further in building positive relationships with your pupils as individuals, and helping them manage the sometimes conflicting demands of home, school, work and social life?

Are you beginning to get to know and build positive relationships with parents and carers? To paraphrase Ofsted, which is quite clear about what is required of you in your pastoral role, are you the adult whom each of your pupils knows and trusts? Are you the one who best knows and respects the members of your tutor group, responding to their personal and academic needs, tracking their personal development and giving them informed support as they mature?

Be proactive and positive - the good relationships will follow.

Harry Dodds


Plan pastoral sessions as carefully as you do lessons. These are the times when crises emerge, when someone wants a quiet word with you, when you praise and admonish, but you and your class will welcome the sense of security that comes from the routine and purposeful activity.

Be assertive about ways you want the time to be used. You have no choice but to be quite strict about calling the register, the communication of vital information (whether via the loudspeaker or a printed sheet), and about reinforcing school uniform and timekeeping policies. Make all these things matters of routine so they can be handled efficiently and without fuss.

"Quiet chat" can create problems, particularly with younger pupils, who will take every chance to annoy their peers or unleash tensions from outside school.

Structure the time. For example, when you're checking homework diaries or planners, you will be working one-to-one, and you won't want any distractions, so it's a good idea to use this as a quiet reading time for the others.

Possibilities for other sessions that could have regular weekly slots might include:

* briefing the form's school council representative

* discussing issues of immediate concern to the school or the local community

* discussing current issues in the news

* celebrating the achievements of members of the group; andor

* explaining and reinforcing school policies that directly affect your pupils.


The best schools work as communities and are responsive to the needs of all members. Contact with your pastoral group offers a vital means of communication between staff, pupils, and parents - but you must encourage that communication. Pupils have opinions, but often need help to express them. You can help to give them a voice and create opportunities for them that will help to shape the way your school changes and grows.

Here are a few possibilities:

* bullying concerns everyone, but often remains hidden from teachers.

Discuss the school's policy: ask pupils whether it works and how they would improve it

* pupils can be effective mentors, particularly if they have recent experience of a point of transition. Year 7 pupils can help to make those in Year 6 feel more positive about the move into the secondary phase. Year 12s can offer valuable advice to those in key stage 4 about, say, coursework deadlines - and they are usually very happy to share their expertise

* your school no doubt publishes a newsletter, website, and maybe a magazine. Involve your pupils - they will have plenty to say and many will have sophisticated production skills

* parents' evenings, open days and school plays go better when there are refreshments - but who provides them? Could your group take some responsibility for the catering? This could link neatly to a fund-raising activity.


Partnership between home and school helps pupils' learning. Most parents want to work with their children's school, but their understanding of schools may well be based on their own experience of education, rather than on current practice. As the main point of contact between parents and school, you can help to explain and demystify. Create an opportunity to introduce yourself early in your relationship, ideally by sending a note home to highlight a pupil's achievement - you are more likely to have a positive response when you first meet the parents. It really helps to be proactive.

You are likely to have a parents' evening early in the year. It's worth having a checklist to hand which covers new experiences that pupils are likely to encounter, and some suggestions for parents to help them support their children in the face of these new expectations.

The other key to educational success is the school's expression of high expectations of its pupils. If you communicate these to parents clearly and realistically, they will be more likely to identify with what you are trying to achieve with their children.

Always listen to parents. They may not have your expertise, but they know their children better than you do. You might have to contextualise what they say, but never discount it. The learning process is always about what comes next, so involve parents as much as possible in setting targets for their children.


Make life interesting for your group. Here are a few suggestions:

* invite visitors to talk to them. Police officers, fire-fighters, paramedics, local councillors, the clergy, employers, sportsmen and women, librarians - in fact, anyone who has a part in the community or who would be a good role model. A 10-15-minute talk once a month will be enough and is not too hard to arrange. Don't underestimate parents' expertise, and be prepared for surprises. In my last school, one parent was the global lynchpin of a fruit-label collectors' organisation. Unlikely, but fascinating:

* as a group, sponsor a child in the Third World. It's not expensive, but it is a serious commitment that could last for as long as your tutor group stays together. It will provide plenty of opportunities for fundraising and communication, and help to raise awareness of others' lives

* take an issue that arises from the citizenship or PSHE programme.

Research it in detail and prepare a display for your room or for the school entrance hall

* encourage your pupils to take part in formal and informal debating and public-speaking competitions. Set up some mini-debates in the group that will run over more than one tutorial session

* routinely recognise and celebrate your pupils' achievements

* find opportunities to have fun. Set lateral-thinking puzzles, quizzes, "brain gym" activities. And show them that learning can also happen outside lessons.

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