Woodhead attacks sloppy pastoral care

Pastoral care in schools is all too often sloppy and sentimental, with teachers wrongly acting as agony aunts, according to chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead.

Teachers should not be devoting their time to solving pupils' personal problems, or using them as an excuse for poor performance. Rather, they should be promoting the values of self-discipline, perseverance and fortitude in lessons, he said.

All too often, school pastoral-care policies consisted of little more than "pious generalisations", said Mr Woodhead, who also attacked the usefulness of the time spent by classes with their form tutors each morning.

"On the form tutor period, the inspection evidence is pretty negative, pretty depressing. What our inspectors saw was a lot of desultory activity going on. What is possible in the five to 10 minutes a day that is devoted to this and, given that time is precious and finite, should we continue with an activity that does not seem to be really paying its way?" Speaking to an independent schools conference on pastoral care organised by the Whitgift school in Croydon, Surrey, the chief inspector - who has frequently hit the headlines with his robust views on the teaching profession and its methods - said that many personal and social education programmes were not particularly coherent. "There's everything there from how to look after your goldfish to spirituality in a secular world," he said. The question was how to translate some aspirations into practice.

He added: "All that seems to be a bit negative, so I asked some inspector colleagues about good practice and what we should be aiming for, where we should be heading.

"Our pastoral curriculum expert told me we were looking for an underpinning of the curriculum and the life of the school, and added 'this could be a bit prophetic as I haven't found any schools doing this, although I have heard some registered inspectors referring to it as a model for the future'."

Mr Woodhead referred to his schooldays at nearby Wallington grammar, where he said pastoral care had been implicit rather than explicit and based on a sense of belonging, loyalty, responsibility and opportunity to contribute to the well-being of the organisation.

The concept of caring was anything but sloppy. "The assumption was that the best form of care in school was simply that the child needed to know more when he left than he otherwise would have done," he said.

Controversially, he said this model of pastoral care died out in state schools in the 1960s and 1970s, partly because the merging of grammar and secondary modern schools to form comprehensives left senior staff - generally from the less academic schools - without their old head of department jobs, and other work had to be found.

The growth of this new pastoral care also had much to do with the spirit of the times, with its emphasis on self-gratification, and perhaps also because of changing pupil behaviour in these new schools.

"There are now two approaches to pastoral care. The first is the agony aunt approach and the second is the learning support model. I am against the former and for the latter. The danger of the agony aunt approach is that it can lead to a sloppy and sentimentalised kind of caring."

Mr Woodhead added: "The kind of thinking that places emphasis on the problems of the child is perilously close to the argument that children from problem areas will inevitably be low achievers".

It was fine for schools to be aware of the problems of adolescence, but serious social or medical problems should be referred to experts, he said.

His preferred learning-support model meant the development of personal responsibility and self-discipline, and involved the virtues of humility, fortitude and respect for others.

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