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Time to get smarter about pastoral care

Guidance has to face the reality of the teachers' agreement and move on from a flawed structure, says Loretta Scott

LOOKED at dispassionately, the structures we have in place for guidance - principal teachers and assistant principal teachers - were put in place in the 1970s and yet certain anomalies have never been addressed. In many ways we have failed to differentiate between the role of the PT and that of the APT. The reason it's such a disaster for some schools to be losing their APTs under the teachers' agreement is that they have been virtually doing the same work as a principal teacher.

And what about split loyalties? We are for ever reminding guidance teachers that their first and foremost duty is to teach children. They might have extremely onerous and highly sensitive work to do with vulnerable children, but they will do that work after they have taught their classes, finished their preparation and correction and contributed to departmental administrative and curricular development duties.

We seem to have forgotten that the primary sector exists or, rather, our structures are predicated on the assumption that pupils develop personal needs when they go to secondary school - any problems before that can be picked up (and easily sorted) by the psychologist.

Despite the development of training at various levels, we have left it more or less to the individual to seek appropriate training (or, indeed, to avoid taking part in any training). Some (remarkably few) have studiously avoided the training opportunities open to them.

And what about the concept of "first-level guidance"? A fond notion that unpromoted teachers will be so enthused with the chance to become involved in guidance that they will develop skills and devote time to getting to know pupils and offering them personal support. Can we really be surprised that it's a concept that hasn't quite taken off?

We have simply not resourced guidance as a professional service. What it has achieved has been in spite of, not because of, the way it has been structured and resourced. So we can't hang around waiting for national advice. The first step, and possibly the hardest step, is letting go. In other words, accepting that change is happening and managing that change, rather than resisting and letting it happen to us rather than through us.

We need to let go of having so many promoted posts, many at a lower level.

If we translate APT posts into "lesser" PT posts, all we are doing is subverting the agreement and, more seriously, downgrading the post of PT guidance relative to that of subject principal teacher. By reducing the number of posts we can create more decent sized posts than there could be otherwise. Glasgow is advertising for 48 new principal teachers for pastoral care - at a time when there are going to be significantly fewer PT subject posts available.

Another thing we need to let go of is the arrogant idea that children will be damaged by losing their guidance teacher. Children are damaged by losing a parent, or by a bereavement, or by being abused - not by losing their guidance teacher. We need to let go of the idea that guidance teachers are the only people in the school with the qualities necessary to meet children's pastoral needs, as if other teachers don't need to be "caring".

Lastly, I'm in favour of letting go of the term "guidance" which has become synonymous with secondary schools. I would like to see pastoral care taking the lead in getting teachers - all teachers - and other related professionals to work together for the good of young people. Promoted staff must operate much more as managers. They should support and encourage colleagues, ensuring there are policies and systems in place. To use the jargon, we don't need to work harder: we need to work smarter.

All teachers will in future have pastoral care as a contractual obligation and, in contrast to the experience with first-level guidance, we will have to invest in this aspect of their continuing professional development. It has to be taken seriously as part of initial teacher education. It has to be built upon by the authority as part of the probationer's induction year.

And support for pupils has to be an integral part of every teacher's CPD. It will be achieved if we work at it. If we assume that by writing it into the contract it will somehow just happen, we can forget it.

Loretta Scott is adviser in guidance with Glasgow City Council. This is an extract adapted from her talk to the annual conference of the Scottish Guidance Association.

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