The Importance of Pastoral Care For Your Child's Education

Find out how it plays a crucial part.

by Parents and Kids | Mon, January 22, 2018

We speak with Charlotte Sleep, Head of Prep School, Harrow International School Shanghai.

How is excellent pastoral care crucial to a child’s academic success?

I'm very fortunate to have been educated in independent schools in the UK, where pastoral care is valued as highly as academic provision. However, in the past I have been shocked and saddened by the insignificant value placed on pastoral care in a child’s education at a previous school of mine. I am now in a school working with colleagues who share the same vision as I do; that pastoral care is the most important part of any child’s education.

Child Reading

What is pastoral care?

Last year at Harrow, in my role as Head of Pastoral Care, I introduced myself to parents unfamiliar with such a title as “Dr Happy.” It was my job to ensure the children in my care were happy; happy to be coming to school, happy and safe at school and happy in their lives outside of school. The latter is, in fact, where pastoral care is the most crucial. As an educator, it is crucial to remember that for the most part, a child’s unhappiness or lack of academic progress is due to factors outside their school environment. This could be as serious as parental separation or a death in the family, but could also be as small as a house move, a sibling going away to university or a parent whose job demands they travel and be out of town more frequently than before. Being a teacher is not just supporting and developing children inside the classroom, but being aware of external factors through establishing strong and open relationships with your student’s parents.

Happy Child

How do you establish such relationships?

Here at Harrow, each pupil has a three-part pastoral support structure; their tutor/class teacher, their housemaster and their head of school. Each of these people communicate with parents at least once per week. Every parent receives an email with photos updating them as to what their child has been up to, whether that be inside the classroom or, in Harrow’s case, the extensive activities and learning that take place outside of it. This openness of what we do and what we observe of our Harrovians is just one part of the puzzle that makes up each and every student. 

Coloring Crayons

Teachers must not be afraid to ask questions!  We certainly aren’t when we are teaching our pupils inside the classroom, so we must approach communication with parents in exactly the same way. Honesty is the best policy. Just as teachers are open and honest as to what we teach, which resources we use and how we mark your child’s books, we also need, in order to successfully support our pupils, honesty from their parents. We are not here to judge, but to be fully aware as to how our role in supporting your child will change in response to the evolvement of their home life.

And with this openness between the two base points of the child’s pyramid (parents and teacher), the pinnacle of the pyramid, the child, will be better supported. At Harrow, we deal with any issues we observe immediately. If a child is displaying unusual or out-of-character behaviors, such as incomplete homework, introversion or spatting with peers, their tutor/class teacher/housemaster/head of school will email home to speak with their parents. Nine times out of ten, there is a reason which can explain such issues. Instead of becoming an incident which requires sanctions and a negative disciplinary experience, the pupil needs support, someone to talk to and with whom they feel comfortable sharing their feelings.

How is happiness integral to academic success?

Instead of stating data from scientific investigations, I suggest you ask yourself the question, “Do you perform better at work when you are happy or when you are sad?” I certainly work much better, both by measuring quantity as well as quality, when I am focused on my job alone and not preoccupied with any issues in my home or school life. A happy child is a successful child. And therefore, no matter what state-of-the-art facilities a school has, or how many hours of lessons pupils are offered, or indeed how many tutors they may see, without pastoral support at school, these are useless.  

Between my experience and further research, I've found that outside research suggests the same. According to Christina Hinton’s study at St Andrew’s Episcopal School in Washington, D.C., “happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, promotes learning.” In the study, “students cited many reasons for their positive feelings, including feeling safe and comfortable at school and having secure relationships with their teachers and their peers.”

So, I implore you as prospective parents, when considering a new school for your child; instead of just asking about class sizes, caliber of teaching staff or indeed the length of the school day, ask to meet those people in the school who will be responsible for your child’s wellbeing. Do they care? If you feel confident that these people will care for your child during their time in that school, that’s the school for your child and that is the school where your child will thrive and succeed.  And isn’t that what all parents want?