Personal support for pupils has to be made more effective, according to the inspectorate.
Its report, just out, follows some harsh observations on traditional approaches to pupils' personal and social development (PSD) which many pupils are said to regard as "mince and a waste of time" (TESS, June 11).
Changes in the careers service and in guidance have added to uncertainty around the personal support pupils receive.
Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education, who has been handed responsibility for scrutinising child protection, notes in the report that young people are now subject "to new, sometimes insidious, pressures".
Mr Donaldson adds: "It is therefore vital that we continue to reappraise established practices and find new ways of providing effective support to all pupils."
The report praises advances made in both primary and secondary schools. It suggests that the 2007 deadline, by which time all education authorities expect their schools to be integrated community schools, could act as a catalyst for improvement.
But HMI suggests that the term pastoral care, which authorities define in different ways, should be reviewed and possibly replaced by "personal care" to reflect more accurately what it is.
The inspectors also return to a recurring theme, emphasising that personal support depends on better joint working across several disciplines. This requires teachers to be clearer about their roles and those of staff from outside agencies, and to take part in staff development with other professionals.
The report, while not criticising PSD as directly as some, does draw attention to "the plethora of different programmes" covering health education, citizenship, thinking skills, study skills, enterprise, career education, sustainable development, anti-bullying and anti-drugs. It calls for national advice to be given to schools, particularly so they can get better at supporting the most vulnerable youngsters and relating pupils'
personal education to the rest of their learning.
But HMI ends the report on a more upbeat note, stating that school inspections find that most pupils have a teacher to whom they can turn when they want to, and that pupils often give "moving testimonials" to the personal support they have received from teachers.
"Such staff are making a difference to the lives of many children and young people," the report concludes.