Breaking into Pastoral Care

So you wanna be pastoral?

Pastoral Care, writing about it at least, is sometimes absent from the world of education-based social media. There is a real lack of people writing for Heads of Year/House, and other pastoral positions, about the practicalities/responsibilities and offering general support in the way that there is for other domains.

Some of the most common questions that arise are around how to get into pastoral care and have similar themes:

I really want to get into pastoral care – do you think I have the experience?

I’ve got an interview for a HOY position – what do I need to know?

This series of mini-blogs is my attempt to answer those questions and more. I’ve split them into three categories that cover breaking into a pastoral position – Before, During and After.

Part 1: Before

Pastoral care is a broad and often unforgiving field to get into. If you are thinking it might be for you then you probably already have some idea of the demands and pressure the job entails. You have probably seen pastoral leaders/staff dealing with some of the most extreme incidents in the school. You may also have heard them discuss the awful issues they have to deal with around safeguarding or social care, for example, and the lasting impression these things often have on them. It’s safe to say school-based pastoral care has become a sometimes-untameable beast with the stripping back of many public services – as soon as you think you’ve reached the last email, in comes another. If you want to get into pastoral care you must know, first and foremost, that the job is not easy. It is however one of the most privileged and rewarding positions you can hold in schools.

There are such a wide variety of roles available now but the advice I give below would be good experience for finding your way into any of them:

Ensure standards in your area are high

One of the most important facets of pastoral leadership is your ability to ‘hold the line’ and insist upon the highest standards. If you are thinking of stepping into pastoral care you will need to look at any areas you are already responsible for. 

Are you a Teaching Assistant looking into a non-teaching HOY role? If so do you ensure you support the highest standards in classrooms? Do you deal with negative behaviours in the corridor if you come across them? 

Are you a class teacher? Are the standards in your classroom high? Do you ensure that the rules of the school are followed? How do you behave on duty? Do you check uniform as a tutor?

Remember that as a pastoral leader you are the standard bearer – staff and students will look to you to get things right. If you aren’t already preparing yourself to be this person, and sweating the small stuff, then now is the time to start.

Shadowing

Your school will no doubt have some great pastoral leaders with varying levels of experience and a myriad of different backgrounds. If you have a good relationship with any of them why not ask to informally shadow them and offer some support if you have the time. You will develop an appreciation for the demands of the role and the incredibly different tasks a pastoral leader undertakes each day. If you want to be more formal about it why not book a meeting with whoever leads the pastoral team, cleared through your own line manager first, and ask if there is any possibility for shadowing? The worst they can say is no. Very often in schools we don’t know other people’s ambitions unless they tell us first – when I applied for my first HOY position the Headteacher said that she hadn’t even considered me as an option and didn’t think it would be something I’d be interested in. Even just making your desire to get into pastoral care known may open up some opportunities for development that previously weren’t there. 

Volunteer as an Assistant Head of Year(or similar)

Lots of schools have formal Assistant Heads of Year/House, usually salaried roles, which are good entry points into pastoral care. Some have voluntary roles that are very similar. If your school doesn’t have one of these perhaps you could suggest it – ask to support one of your HOYs with some pastoral issues when you have the time. Bear in mind that you might not get the glamorous jobs – sometimes I would have to pass things to my AHOYs that were easy to pick up and put down again due to their limited availability.

Have students on report/mentoring

Take up opportunities to have a role in improving and monitoring behaviour, standards, attendance, punctuality etc. for an individual or a group of students. You may do this already if you are a teacher(as a tutor perhaps) but there is a different dynamic to be had taking a student on report to you that you don’t already have an existing relationship with. Don’t be afraid to suggest this if you are a member of support staff either. This will further show you are trying to branch out and may make leaders aware of your intentions.

Work out what you want

Pastoral care is, as you’d expect, very different in different contexts and each role is not created the same. A Head of House in School A might be responsible for the pastoral care of the entire house, as a Head of Year would typically be. A Head of House in School B may have more of a focus on extra-curricular provision, house events, culture and morale. 

The point is that you need to do your research and try and figure out what it is that appeals to you about pastoral care. This is about reflecting on your own personal reasons for wanting the role and ensuring they match up with the school – this leads nearly into my next point.

Questions to ask a prospective employer

As part of your research you should be visiting, or calling, any school with a role you are interested in. For a pastoral role you want to speak to the person in charge of pastoral care – this sounds obvious but sometimes you may not be offered this opportunity so I would encourage you to follow up with an email, addressed to this person, if you have further questions that weren’t answered. Ultimately they, along with the Headteacher, set the vision for pastoral care in the school and checking their values align with your own is key. You then need to find out if the wider school system aligns with your vision for pastoral care. How will you feel if you apply for the Head of Year job you’ve been wanting so desperately, only to find that the school’s behaviour system makes you uncomfortable? What if you start the job and they tell you that for 12 hours a week you are the member of staff on-duty, alongside your other responsibilities? Some questions I would suggest you ask are:

What are the key priorities for whoever is the successful candidate?

What does a typical day look like in the role?

What whole-school responsibilities are a part of the role?

What is behaviour like in the school? What is behaviour like in classrooms?

What are the biggest challenges for the pastoral team?

What are the key features of the behaviour system? 

Are there any line management responsibilities or staff supporting the role?

How are rewards/praise utilised within the school?

What strategies does the school use to improve attendance/punctuality?

How do the schools values/motto/ethos translate into school life?

What strategies are employed to develop students character/wellbeing?

How are parents involved in the pastoral care of their children?

How are SEND students supported in the school?

What methods/sources of alternative provision are in use at the school?

What are the exclusion figures for this year – are these increasing or decreasing? What are most exclusions for?

What is the experience of the pastoral team – how long have other staff been in post?

How are tutors organised? What does the tutor time schedule look like?

There are clearly many more potential questions that you could ask, and lots will depend upon context but I hope that this gives you a starting point. If you get answers to those questions you should be able to make a clear judgement about whether the school’s pastoral system aligns closely with your own values and ethos and whether it fits your skills and experience. I’d also encourage you to reach out on Twitter – there are lots of pastoral staff who are happy to answer questions and contribute their time – even if they are a little harder to find!

The next stage of this mini-series will focus on the ‘during’ phase of looking for pastoral jobs and I’ll hopefully give you some tips about the application process and interview questions and activities. As always feel free to contact me on Twitter @connoracton if you have any questions or want some further support.

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