Pastoral roles need a rethink

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Pat McDermott answers your leadership questions

We are finding it increasingly difficult to attract teachers to pastoral roles in our school. Consequently we are considering giving much of the pastoral work to members of staff who are not necessarily teachers. How does this work in practice?

Pastoral leaders, heads of year, year team leaders - call them what you like, they are a dying breed! Many schools like yours are finding it almost impossible to replace one should they leave or retire. Other schools are positively phasing them out as part of their efforts to "remodel the workforce".

Part of the problem is that other staff see what is demanded of people in this role and say: "That's not for me." What they invariably see are teachers constantly pulled away from their teaching to fire-fight, crisis-manage or peace-make when a pupil gets into difficulties. The daily dilemma faced by them is: do I abandon the many that I am responsible for academically to meet the needs of those I am responsible for pastorally? The needs of the individual pupil in trouble can be dealt with immediately only at a price for the class that goes untaught. If the pastoral leader decides to remain in the class, then the troublesome pupil is passed on to a deputy head who has to do a holding job until the pastoral leader becomes free to deal with the offending pupil.

To remove this dilemma, some schools employ pastoral managers to work alongside pastoral leaders. The former is not a teacher and the latter remains in class teaching when trouble occurs during lesson time.

The pastoral manager's role is behaviour management and this extends to liaising with parents, monitoring report cards and all the necessary administration that drives the pastoral leaders to distraction and despair.

The pastoral leaders are then free to concentrate on the positive work of improving learning, reviewing pupil progress, setting targets and taking assemblies. Some schools even employ an investigating officer who relieves the pastoral leader of the tiresome and time-consuming duties connected with unravelling the tangled web of dysfunctional family relationships and their consequences.

There are three keys to success here:

* First, it is obviously important to get the right person for this new role of pastoral manager. Like any job, it is important to get square pegs into square holes. Even when this is achieved, at first pupils might see this new person as merely an administrative support worker and would not respond to them in the appropriate way. New pupils to the school will accept them for what they are.

* Second, the fact that a pastoral manager is not a qualified teacher is irrelevant if he or she is a responsible, mature and even-tempered adult who can genuinely demonstrate care and compassion, at the same time being uncompromising in upholding the values and behaviour policy of the school.

* Third, you will have sort out where the manager's set of responsibilities ends and the leader's begins. The relationship between the two needs to be a close one based on mutual trust, genuine respect and support. In this way, both will gain a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that they are really making a difference to pupils' lives.

So don't be downcast about the fact that your supply of teachers willing to be pastoral managers is drying up. This means there is an opportunity for you to experiment with a new way of meeting the pastoral needs of your staff and pupils. Your instinct to seek out adults for these roles who are not qualified teachers is worth pursuing.

Make sure you are clear about the respective roles and how they will interact with each other in your school with your particular systems. The development opportunities presented by this challenge for some of your existing non-teaching staff may be a possible rich vein for you to explore and an exciting departure for your school.

"The skills associated with teaching are neither necessary nor sufficient for pastoral care." Discuss!

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and has mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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