Lean on me

4th December 2009 at 00:00
Personal problems can have an enormous impact on pupils' behaviour and levels of achievement. But for teachers, trying to combine the roles of educator and counsellor is tough - and time consuming

It's something every teacher has to deal with - an incident involving a misbehaving pupil. In addition to disrupting the class, the teacher knows that the free period scheduled for marking or preparation will now be taken up dealing with the aftermath.

Then there are the parents who ring in to speak to a form tutor or head of year about pastoral issues. The call may make the teacher late for a lesson - or they may be summoned from it to deal with it.

Or perhaps a bullying incident occurs just as the teacher is about to start something important. If you choose to delay dealing with it, it could escalate and lead to further trouble later in the day - and that could impact on one of your lessons, or even the head of year's.

But for Gemma Welch, none of these scenarios presents a problem. Unlike many teachers, who struggle to combine the roles of educator and counsellor, Ms Welch, an English and media teacher at George Salter Collegiate Academy in West Bromwich, can turn to a non-teaching member of staff who has specialist skills in precisely these areas.

The French call them surveillants, while to the Americans they are deans of discipline. But in the UK, non-teaching pastoral managers are a relatively new breed.

"I don't know what teachers did before them," says Ms Welch. "We have the reassurance that a member of staff is at the end of the phone throughout the school day to support us while we continue teaching."

The pastoral manager whose skills Ms Welch has called on is Amanda Hayes. Until last week she was responsible for the welfare and pastoral care of the pupils at George Salter, allowing teachers such as Ms Welch to focus the majority of their time on teaching. She enjoys pastoral work so much that she has now taken up a role as a local authority welfare officer.

"We [pastoral managers] are like a head of house, only non-teaching," she says. "We are able to act as the first point of contact for parents and can deal with behaviour and resolve situations before they get too big to handle. If a teacher is having a problem with a pupil in a lesson, they call us and we remove the pupil immediately. Teachers would say we are invaluable because we allow them to teach."

The school's other three houses also have a pastoral manager.

Ms Hayes says the four have their work cut out. "Often teachers are so busy that in order to deal with a discipline issue they do it when they can. We are able to resolve the issue by acting immediately which means pupils and teachers are a lot happier."

Adrian Reed, headteacher of Haven High Technology College in Lincolnshire, has gone one step further. The school employs youth advisers as heads of year and has given form tutor responsibilities to its associate staff.

"The head of year role is more like a pastoral service," he says. "Teachers have a pastoral role of course, but we felt that they were spending a disproportionate amount of time on it. We want teachers to focus on teaching, their main responsibility."

Mr Reed believes that the school's staffing restructure brings a more appropriate focus to dealing with behavioural and discipline issues. "We don't want poor behaviour to disrupt learning and felt that employing these youth advisers who are able to deal specifically with pupils with behavioural issues meant that the poor behaviour of the few didn't impact on the education of the many," he says.

"We felt that senior leaders were dealing with day-to-day issues rather than focusing on raising achievement, as they are doing now."

Colin Troy, a professional trainer who specialises in helping teachers to deal with special needs feels that the ever-changing nature of behavioural challenges demands a more radical approach to the delivery of pastoral care.

"The needs of pupils are becoming more complex and schools need to employ a wide ranging variety of roles to meet the increasing diversity of needs," Mr Reed says.

"Positive relationships are key to building self-esteem, which forms the basis of most behaviour issues, and non-teaching staff have a greater opportunity to establish meaningful relationships as they do not have as many other agendas as teaching staff to deal with."

Statistics suggest that freeing up teachers' time has a positive effect on pupil achievement. The A*-C GCSE pass rate at George Salter Academy has risen from 24 per cent, when pastoral managers were first employed three years ago, to 96 per cent this year. At Haven High there has been a 36 per cent increase in the pass rate in six years.

Ms Hayes believes that pastoral managers have played a key role in her school's success.

"While we focus more on the pastoral side of education, being pro-active and ensuring attendance remains high, the heads of house and individual teachers are able to focus more on the academic progress of the pupils in each subject," she says.

This is a sentiment that teachers at both schools recognise. As a beneficiary of the time and support now provided to her, Ms Welch feels that both teachers and pupils are far happier with the current system.

"All pupils are aware of the role of our pastoral managers. They know they cannot get away with anything and therefore are less likely to try," she says.

"For teachers it's extremely beneficial. We don't have to disturb other classes if we need additional support, and I know I can turn to my pastoral manager with any issue, aware that she knows the children and can shed light on their behaviour and will support me by contacting home or speaking to the child to rectify the issue."

Jessica Gale, an RE teacher at Haven High, agrees: "Teachers are freed to teach while pastoral managers focus solely on the pupils and their needs," she says.

"I can refer issues to the pastoral team and get back to teaching rather than juggling between a class in front of me, a pupil in need and a parent who wants to talk to me.

"Of course teachers continue to take an interest in the whole pupil to ensure we can get the best out of them, but having someone whose sole role is to support the pupil is always going to be better than a teacher fitting it into their timetabled day," she adds.

Mr Troy agrees that pastoral managers complement the teacher's role. "It fosters a team approach to meeting pupils' needs by increasing the professional skill base offering help and advice to them," he says.

However, there are those who express concern that the arrival of dedicated pastoral managers simply removes an essential part of the teacher's role.

"Pastoral care is an essential element of every teacher's job," says Chris Watkins, a reader in education at London University's Institute of Education, who is a board member of the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education.

"This pastoral role has become so distorted over the past few years that teachers now see being a form tutor as little more than a bureaucratic admin position," he adds. "By just generating new roles, you are splitting off and distorting teachers' professional responsibility for their classes even further."

Mr Watkins suggests that teachers are central to delivering effective pastoral care for pupils. "Initiatives like these might claim to be reducing teachers' workload, but in fact it will mean they feel out of touch and disconnected with their pupils. Teachers need to be with a form and handle pastoral care in a way that's educational," he says. "This will mean they are able to tackle individual problems in a more rounded way."

But Ms Welch disagrees, arguing that pupils benefit more from knowing exactly where to go for help. "Form tutors are still the pupils' first point of call, but it wouldn't be fair on my classes if I dropped my teaching to help one person - this is where pastoral managers are vital. Every child really does matter because every child can be taken care of at any point in the day."

Her former pastoral manager, Ms Hayes, backs Ms Welch's argument. "This arrangement actually encourages teachers' pastoral role as we provide form tutors with information for them to act on as well. As they already have an academic picture of each child, by providing them with the pastoral side this helps give them a fully rounded picture of the whole pupil," she says.

Mr Troy argues that the presence of pastoral managers is of particular benefit to children whose needs might otherwise by squeezed out by competing priorities. "We are in danger of losing sight of the middle range of pupils who need dedicated teacher time. Employing pastoral managers has and will continue to improve the welfare of pupils," he believes.

However, as Ms Hayes points out, the biggest barrier to the continuing employment of pastoral managers at George Salter Academy is a financial one. The school's current four-strong team is funded entirely by the school after the Greets Green Partnership regeneration programme paid for the initial three-year start-up.

"The majority of schools do need pastoral managers, but many haven't chosen to finance the roles. However, at George Salter's the school chose to invest in pastoral managers as part of a strategy to create a strong pastoral system in which each pupil's welfare was safeguarded," she says.

While cost is always a factor in any staffing restructure, Ms Welch feels the advantages are unarguable. "It's definitely positive. Pastoral managers help give the school a supportive atmosphere, which complements our house system as all staff and pupils feel as though they belong to a family.

"It allows teachers to teach while giving pupils first-class pastoral care," she says. "The school is a happier place for it." And you can't put a price on that.

A day in the life

  • 8-9am: Distribute attendance and behaviour data to form tutors. Action messages on answerphone.
  • 9-9.30am: Ensure pupils are wearing correct uniform, contact parents of those pupils out of uniform. Highlight pupils absent from morning registration. Fax details of absent pupils to a call centre - which then contacts parents asking for reasons for absence.
  • 9.30-10am: Meeting with a pupil with behavioural problems.
  • 10.40-11am: Meeting with parents to discuss welfare issue.
  • 11am-12pm: Arrange for the careers focus group to talk to inspectors.
  • 12-1pm: Check behaviour reports and discuss issues, sanctions or negative comments from teaching staff.
  • 1-1.30pm: Attend a meeting to highlight pupils of concern; issues include attendance or behavioural issues in school house.
  • 1.30-2.45pm: Meeting with parents to discuss pupil problems affecting school performance. Also talk over issue with pupil. Action a timetable change to resolve the situation.
  • 3-3.30pm: Sign behaviour reports. Contact parents and inform them of any problems.
  • 3.30-4.30pm: Type minutes of meetings including principalpupil meeting, education welfare officer meeting, parental meetings and other information to be included in pupils' files. Distribute minutes.
  • 4.30pm onwards: Feedback relevant information to form tutors.

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