As a practising school leader, my most important responsibility is not to educate the child in my care but to ensure they are safe and hopefully happy. It is only when these two pre-conditions are met that any young person will be truly capable of sustained learning. This knowledge is, in essence, the concept of pastoral care. This basic belief is fundamentally implicit in creation of the pastoral structures at the Arcadia Preparatory School.
I have always been in awe of each and every schools capacity to put together, two, tens, hundreds and even thousands of young people in a learning environment with so little discord. I suggest this to be almost impossible to replicate in the adult world. Schools in their make-up are invariably good places and until the adolescent hormones kick in, 99% of young people really want to be at school. School is where they learn, where they have friends and hopefully where they develop those skills, alongside the ones they learn at home, that will enable them to develop into rounded young people.
Every parent has the right to expect their individual child will be encouraged, respected and learn within a nurturing environment. Each child has the right to learn without unnecessary, unhelpful and unwanted pressure from other children or even staff within the school. A good school will ensure this happens as if by magic. The ‘magic’ itself is really a product of vigilance, enthusiasm and care.
A happy child is a responsive and engaged learner. This does not mean the child has to sing and dance: although smiling should be obligatory. They can be quiet, they can choose to work on their own, in pairs, or in groups but they need to feel they are engaged in the learning process. A sense of belonging is important to everyone.
To ensure all the wonderful opportunities of education are met is the work of the dedicated professionals in each school and especially those in pastoral positions. Their responsibility is to really ‘know’ the children as well as they can, to support their academics and to look after their general welfare. The school needs to build a positive three way relationship between each young person, their family and the school staff.
It is also very important in the world in which we live to build a sense of resilience in our children. Their lives will hopefully be smooth and untroubled but they must have the mechanisms and develop emotional maturity to cope with setbacks without believing their whole world is collapsing around them. In this context, good pastoral care provides support without being suffocating and a sense of development without too much prescription.
There is a saying that ‘it takes a whole village to educate a child’. In our very busy world and with the pressures associated with parenting, it should be of comfort to know more often than not, it is now ‘the whole school’ that helps fulfil this necessity.