Why I read it – I’ve been a Head of Year, Head of Sixth Form, and now lead the pastoral teams at my school as a Deputy Headteacher. As a Head of Year, I felt that I was good at the role: I built productive relationships with students and parents, was reliable for staff, and was committed to developing a culture of respect and high aspirations for the year group; my ‘themes’ included the ferocious, fear-free honey badger, and the following year, a tribute to the pillars of Ancient Greek culture and wisdom (I recommend both!). But everything I did was based on instinct, and, while I was used to reading about curriculum and assessment previously as a Head of English, I was suddenly thrown into a role where not much was being written about pastoral roles, especially ideas with an evidence base. But when I saw Stephen Lane (@Sputnik Steve) approaching pastoral roles with a research-informed view, I had to take a look.
Stephen Lane sets out to write a book that encompasses all aspects of pastoral roles, and approaches this area of our work with a wide perspective. It’s easy to think of pastoral and immediately be drawn only to student behaviour, safeguarding and emotional support. It’s tempting to think our work as pastoral staff members or leaders is mainly reactive. Something occurs, and we use our experience to respond appropriately.
But Lane sets out to explore how pastoral care is indeed ‘beyond wiping noses’, from exploring a range of research that can help illuminate how we approach our work, to looking at how we can build a pastoral ‘curriculum’ that is at the heart of what the school does, and not in isolation.
- Research-informed pastoral work – many of us have read studies on Cognitive Load Theory or Direct Instruction in our work as teachers or subject leads; here, though, Lane explores how we should consider research in a variety of ways for our pastoral work. Whether that’s understanding how students learn when we need to motivate them or develop meaningful form-time activities, or when we need to understand an evidence-base to address mental health or wellbeing issues. The book is packed with useful citations of studies.
- Hidden curriculum – this was the big one for me. Admittedly, I’ve rarely thought about pastoral work as a type of curriculum. But, of course it is! Lane proposes that we need to view assemblies, form time, PSHE, citizenship, etc. as one curriculum that is designed with purpose, cohesion and continuity – so that our students receive consistent and purposeful pastoral experiences that run throughout their education. I’ve omitted a lot of detail, so please read it.
- Every sanction is a learning experience – I’m going to sidestep any debates around differing views on behaviour and sanctioning, as Lane explores approaches that one may describe as ‘progressive’ or ‘traditionalist’. But what I liked was his view that, whichever type of approach you take, whether it’s Lemov’s ‘warmstrict’ or something different, every event that leads to a sanction should also be framed as a learning experience. It is our duty to educate children about the consequences of actions, to help build their empathy and understanding for future occasions, and Lane gives a couple of nice examples of this in the ‘bullying’ chapter.
I loved being a form tutor, as I’m sure many of us do, and Lane dedicates a couple of pages to discuss the importance of this wonderful role, but also pauses to reflect on the lack of time and space tutors are given to operate effectively.
Here’s my favourite quote about being a form tutor:
‘Fostering a supportive, relaxed and warm atmosphere in form time, one which is also conducive to establishing a sense of preparedness for learning, can be as contradictory as trying to perform Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy as a comedic mime. My solution, as a form tutor was essentially to treat form time as a lesson, albeit a slightly more relaxed one.’
To return to a point I made earlier, it is easy for schools to play ‘whack a mole’ with pastoral issues, reacting to mental health concerns, student wellbeing or behavioural incidents by implementing the school policy and closing the loop. But throughout Beyond Wiping Noses, Lane discusses how we can be more proactive. In the chapter Mental Health, Wellbeing and Attachment, he not only cites several studies that can help us become more informed, but he also presents diverse perspectives on these issues, so we can think them through and come to an informed conclusion, and put in place what is correct for our context. For example, I enjoyed the comparison of studies regarding attachment theory; despite working in a pastoral role for years, and being adopted as a baby, this was the most time I’d spent reflecting on different expert views of attachment theory. And that’s just one area!
It is these tools that we can use to develop long-term strategies and values about our pastoral work; the notion that we read, engage, and discuss these topics, and plan ahead of time, feels more like a departmental role, but of course that thinking narrows and devalues pastoral work, and admittedly I’ve been guilty of it.
Question and reflect
As pastoral staff or leaders, do we spend enough time planning and thinking for the long term?
Have we attempted to develop a ‘curriculum’ for our pastoral work; a curriculum that ties into many aspects of the students’ school life, and not just an assembly or form time in isolation.
Do we spend enough time reflecting upon an evidence base and evaluating different views held about pastoral work? Or do we adhere to our own policies without further thought?
Read this if…
You are form tutor, Assistant Head of Year, Head of Year or pastoral worker / leader in a school.
You want to consider how research-informed practice can be applied to pastoral work.