Kate Richardson, Deputy Headteacher at Noel Baker Academy
Kate Richardson
Deputy Headteacher at Noel Baker Academy

Why pastoral roles are absolutely critical for schools

Often pastoral roles aren't a faculty priority. But evidence shows that effective behaviour management can transform campus culture and pupil outcomes.

In a large secondary school, teachers can be in front of over 660 children a week. Whilst it is vital for them to know their students in-depth, memorising a detailed curriculum and everyone’s individual learning needs doesn't leave them much capacity to be attentive to their pastoral needs too (even with the best will in the world). It would also be unfair to a child to have too many people privy to some of their most personal feelings and experiences.

An effective pastoral manager bridges that gap (or ‘Head of House’ in our school’s context, or for others this may be ‘Head of Year’, ‘schools counsellor’ or ‘director of safeguarding/welfare/behaviour’). They are the person who is the link between school and home, supporting children and their families through difficult periods.

Fundamentally, their role is to remove barriers for the most vulnerable children to enable them to access their education, without being disadvantaged in relation to their peers. I always tell my team that their role is the most important in the academy. If they aren’t doing their job effectively then the teachers can’t teach and none of the children will learn. The most disadvantaged and most vulnerable children are disproportionately affected when this is the case.

What impact can pastoral roles have on pupils?

At an individual level, a professional in a pastoral role can have a profound impact on students. They can be the difference between a child attending school or not, or a family engaging with their child’s education. They can be crucial in ensuring that a child and their family get the intervention and support they need, whether at school or multi-agency level. Essentially, they can be the difference that ensures a child receives an effective education.

At a whole-school level, the entire culture rests on pastoral leaders doing their jobs successfully. If they don’t, schools cannot undertake their core business of effectively educating children.

Overcoming my school’s behaviour and culture challenges

Three years ago, our academy was placed into special measures. The reasons were many, but essentially it was due to ineffective safeguarding. Change was needed and it needed to be drastic. The systems and processes were complicated and lengthy. Children had too many opportunities to break the rules and too few people did anything about it – because they did not have faith that it would be dealt with at a higher level.

We undertook support staff restructure; allocating greater resource to a non-teaching pastoral team. I now oversee this team, which consists of:

  • safeguarding officers
  • heads of houses
  • pastoral assistants
  • a behaviour lead
  • behaviour mentors
  • education welfare officers
  • a school counsellor
  • two associate assistant headteachers
  • two assistant headteachers

All of the above have strategic responsibilities linked to behaviour and attitudes.

Behaviour and culture are now an integral part of our curriculum. Every year all students have a ‘bootcamp’ on these topics, which reminds them of our streamlined and simplified rules and procedures (as well as teaching them the ‘why?’ behind them). It creates buy-in, meaning that our systems run more smoothly and everyone knows where they stand.

It also helps when these procedures are supported by research and practice informed from training and development we do with our staff, in programmes like the NPQLBC which we've got several colleagues booked in for.

How can leaders build a more sustainable pastoral system and positive learning environment?

Some children still struggle with their behaviour, even when they are in receipt of high levels of support. Our system is based on a culture of ‘warm strict’, and we have a very low tolerance to any level of disruption in lessons.

The system we have employed is effective for the majority of our student population. For the extremely small minority of children who repeatedly misbehave, we are able to identify quickly that they need further support. We can target our resources fast and intervene at an appropriate level to remove whatever barrier is causing the child to persistently misbehave.

Our levels of support range from a simple reporting system right through to our own bespoke alternate provision, in which we educate up to 25 of our most vulnerable children (this is in line with the curriculum and academic expectations of main school, but with intensive support and intervention). The only way we are able to support all of our children within a sustainable pastoral system is through early identification of those who are vulnerable, and a consistent application of the processes and procedures to create a positive learning environment.

We are able to achieve a positive learning environment through clarity of expectations, rules, rewards and consequences, which leads to staff and students being empowered to consistently meet our expectations.

“Behaviour shouldn’t be reliant on one individual person”

Because we have communicated clearly to all stakeholders our expectations in regards to behaviour and culture, everyone knows exactly what to expect of themselves and everyone else. Staff who join the academy are inducted well and consequently are able to adopt the policies and procedures with ease.

There is no one person who is the cornerstone role to the behaviour being a success within the academy. The buy-in of confidence we have from all staff means that we aren’t reliant on one individual person to maintain the standard. This is vital for a sustainable pastoral system.

How can you lead behaviour management strategically and be less hands-on?

To be strategic and less hands-on when leading behaviour management, you need to make sure that everyone else has the tools to be able to do their job successfully. All staff need to feel empowered, and the whole team has to work together and support one and other in their roles.

The culture has to be such that children respect all staff and are expected to follow requests, no matter which adult has issued them. Without this, a behaviour leader will always be being called upon to support in one situation or another and, while we all expect to be required from time to time to add gravitas to a situation, we will never have time to take a step back, reflect and devise strategy if we are continually in the thick of it.

Will a pastoral role help with my professional development?

Prior to becoming a deputy headteacher, I had always had roles which had strategic responsibilities linked to curriculum. My experiences of line managing a pastoral leader in the early stages of my senior leadership journey gave me a valuable insight into the pressures that pastoral staff are under on a day-to-day basis.

As a pastoral deputy, I knew that I needed to be visible and well known to all staff, students and their parents. I have also had to develop my ability to be visible and present, but without becoming someone that people would expect to sort out every difficult situation. More than in any other role I have done, I need to be available to support and challenge staff and students.

The new NPQ in Leading Behaviour and Culture

An NPQ in Leading Behaviour and Culture is an extremely valuable addition to the suite of NPQs available to teachers and leaders, providing a much-needed focus on the importance of expert professionals leading this hugely important area of school life. We already have staff members booked on to it!

Learn more about how a Teach First NPQ in Leading Behaviour and Culture can make a difference to your pupils, tackle improvement priorities in your school and strengthen your own leadership skills.

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