Pastoral care and its importance lecture


This chapter traces the progress of pastoral care from its beginnings influenced by religious principles through to how pastoral care is currently conceptualised in national and local policies. This will help to illustrate how European and national values underpin practice which would previously have relied on religious ideals. This chapter also outlines some of the limitations of teachers providing pastoral care, so you may find it helpful to revisit chapter 2 (safeguarding) to think about how teachers work in a multi-agency context.

Pastoral care comes from a longstanding tradition of schools and teachers playing key roles in how children develop. Perhaps more so than any of the other policies in this module, pastoral care touches on the core of your identity as a teacher. It is therefore important to keep in mind how religious ideals of self-reflection and self-discipline still underpin European and British values of tolerance and respect, but also how this difference affects pastoral care in schools. The resourcing and emphasis on pastoral care is also highly changeable, with pastoral care as a concept being vague enough to include everything that is not purely academic to being synonymous with PSHE or simply being an extension of safeguarding policies.

This chapter also looks at some conflict in pastoral care policy, most notably the workforce restructuring of the early 2000s. Pastoral care can differ greatly between schools or even teachers within schools, but there are also national trends which are important to recognise since these will help to guide your practice. For example, pastoral care in Scotland has a much closer academic focus than pastoral care in England, which focuses more on health. At a European level, the focus is much more on responsible citizenship, and so emphasises learning about democracy or environmental issues. Finally, this chapter highlights how pastoral care can be very demanding for a teacher. We look briefly at an argument for improved self-care for teachers as part of proper resourcing for pastoral care, but also look at some practical tips based around the concept of emotional intelligence which acknowledge the reduced time for pastoral care.

Learning objectives for this chapter

By the end of this chapter, we would like you:

  • To understand the principles of pastoral care;
  • Reflect on your role in pastoral care, including its limits; and
  • Think about how pastoral care influences your teaching.

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The origins of pastoral care

Much of the history of education is linked with the history of religion - churches funded schools and set their own curriculum, with an emphasis on learning to read the bible. Those who could not afford private schooling could attend charity schools set up by the church, which was also the sole provider of teacher education. It was only as recently as 1870, with the passing of the Elementary Education Act ("Forster Act"), that education was provided for free by the state - and even then, only to primary level. It was not until the passing of the 1902 Education Act (the "Balfour Act") that the state provided any real competition to church schools.

It is therefore worth remembering that it has only been recent generations where significant numbers of pupils have had the option of education without any religious aspects. Church schools remain popular across the UK, and other influences are still evident even in non-religious institutions. This is particularly evident in more prestigious education where endowments provide funding for ancient universities and Latin remains a key subject. More broadly, however, the ideals of the Christian faith can still be seen to underpin the ideals of education. As discussed in the earlier chapter on safeguarding, education is still valued as a way of communicating social values and expectations. The recent promotion of British values can therefore be seen as a modern equivalent of schools promoting Christian values.

A good summary of the traditional ideals of pastoral education is given by Hunter (1994), who include "self-reflection, self-watchfulness, self-discipline, moral indignation at having done wrong, and ethical self-development". This focus on the individual development of pupils offered a broad interpretation, and overall emphasised building a child's capacity to make ethical choices for themselves. This later took on a subtle shift into preparing pupils for a role in society, which expanded pastoral care to considering health and wellbeing. Gradually, the emphasis has changed from caring for a child's soul to promoting ethical living and, most recently, to promoting emotional wellbeing as part of healthy living, so it is possible to see how a contemporary promotion of mental health has its roots in the ambition to provide salvation.


Look at a behaviour policy for your current school or one you know well. We might think of behaviour management as being based in efficiency and fairness because it aims to make the classroom run more smoothly. However, there is often also a moral or ethical dimension. Think about how your behaviour policy is not just about incentives, rewards, punishments or good order - does it have a moral dimension? Does it aim to help individuals reflect on their own ethical behaviour? You might also be able to find examples in other school policies where the policy goes beyond education and aims to promote self-development - in each case, how has this self-development been defined? Can you detect any religious influences?


Trent teaches in an Academy Trust in Yorkshire which uses four broad rules: be prepared for learning, put your hand up to talk, follow instructions first time, and wear correct uniform. There are also separate 'procedures' which prohibit items such as cigarettes or weapons and a list of examples of unacceptable behaviour, including lateness, fighting, stealing, bullying, vandalism, etc. Looking through the detail of the behaviour policy, Trent comes up with some broad categories for the rules:

  • Avoiding disrupting others
  • Not wasting your own time
  • Protecting the reputation of the Academy
  • Not doing anything illegal

Trent decides that this behaviour policy does not make its moral aims clear enough, so asks his Year 10 form group to rewrite some rules that give clearer reasons. They come up with:

  • Respect that students want to learn and teachers want to teach
  • Show appreciation for the advantages we have
  • Be a good ambassador for your school

National context

The principles of pastoral care described in the previous section show how care has traditionally focused on individuals. Ethical development, often defined either explicitly or implicitly as religious ethics and moral codes, was often determined at school-level or even by individual teachers. More recently, the focus has shifted to pastoral care promoting health and wellbeing (particularly mental and emotional health). With less guidance from religion in this area, attempts have been made to determine best practice and deliver a more consistent form of pastoral care. In the place of religious ideals are social ideals, so those involved with pastoral care policy have had to think beyond concepts of an ethical or moral individual and think more about what it means to be a British, European or even a Global citizen.

One area of confusion is the wide range of terminology used. For example, the most common phrases used in recent UK policies are Personal and Social Education (PSE), Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), Personal, Social and Health Education and Citizenship (PSHEC) or Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHEE). However, pastoral care might also include religious education, careers education, mindfulness, sex education, relationship education, and many more. An attempt to give a complete list is made in Best (2002, p.37), but new terms, such as Spiritual, Moral and Cultural Development (SMCD), have since come into use. Since there is no exhaustive list of terms, local policies which affect your school could have a range of similar names, and the word 'pastoral' may not actually be used - at the other extreme, pastoral might be used as a broad term to refer to everything that is not purely academic or subject-based.

Despite this confusion of similar terms and acronyms to refer to pastoral care in general, the literature on pastoral care also has some very precise phrases which are useful to know in specific situations. Pastoral Casework refers to pastoral support targeted at particular individuals who have issues which are affecting their development or attainment. Pastoral Staff are also being used with greater precision since the workforce reforms in the early 2000s, so you are likely to encounter Pastoral Leaders and Learning Mentors who take on pastoral roles which would previously have been part of a Head of Year's duties.


How would you personally define pastoral care? Think about which needs it attempts to meet (e.g. social, emotional, moral, spiritual, etc.), and whether it functions at individual or whole school level. Do you think of pastoral care more for individual pupils or as whole-school? Would you define assemblies as pastoral activities? Is pastoral care mainly reactive to problems pupils have, or proactive to their future needs? Do you think of certain members of staff as having more pastoral roles than others?

Pastoral care is frequently discussed in the academic literature in Britain, and the Journal of Pastoral Care is a good indication of the depth of research and scholarship in this area. However, it was arguably not until the New Labour government of 1997 that pastoral care became an area of national policy rather than being part of an individual school's philosophy. Government reports showed a shift in how pastoral care would be linked to national health goals, starting with Excellence in Schools (HM Government, 1997), which set the foundation for the Healthy Schools initiative from 1999. This led to a renewed emphasis on PSHE and introduced the idea of citizenship as well as some of the equality and diversity and safeguarding principles discussed in chapters 2 and 3. Whilst they are non-statutory, guidelines for PSHE give a good indication of the aims of pastoral care. For primary schools (key stages 1 and 2), there was an aim to prepare for an active role as citizens, while all pupils up to the age of 16 (key stages 1-4) would aim to:

  • develop confidence and responsibility;
  • make the most of their abilities;
  • lead healthier, safer lifestyles;
  • develop good relationships; and
  • respect equality and diversity.


Whilst they are no longer current, take a look at the tables in the non-statutory guidance from the Qualifications Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2006. Cited in Hearn et al, 2006, pp.52-58) which break down PSHE goals into detail for each key stage. Choose a goal that interests you and look at how it is intended to develop over the four key stages. How does this relate to your own pastoral experience? Can you see any influences from traditional models of pastoral care? How might you support this kind of pastoral care as a teacher or tutor? Finally, how does the detailed guidance on your chosen area compare with the more recent general guidance from the Department for Education (2013)? The example below (green box) shows another teacher's response to these prompts.

Workforce restructuring in Scotland has resulted in quite a different system from that in England and Wales. The most significant difference is that pastoral duties remain with teaching staff in Scotland, whereas there may be specialist pastoral roles or non-teaching staff taking on pastoral duties in England and Wales. The use of teaching staff reflects an overall more academic focus on pastoral care in Scotland, aiming to promote lifelong learning and building pupils' skills to access support, focusing much less on health than the policies in England and Wales.


Aisha teaches GCSE chemistry, but is also interested in the primary school curriculum because she works as a link tutor between her school and local primaries. She also has a son in year 2, so regularly reflects on how her own parenting relates to how her son is taught at primary school. She looks at point 4, developing good relationships and respecting the differences between people, because she finds it personally interesting but also thinks that it could be a good PSHE lesson for her form group to think about the EU referendum.

Key stage 1 aims include recognising how our behaviour affects others, listening to and cooperating with others, identifying and respecting differences between people, caring for friends and family, and recognising different types of bullying (including that bullying is wrong, and how to seek help).

Key stage 2 expands on these aims, including seeing things from other people's perspectives, how values and customs are different in different places or times, understand different types of relationships, recognise and challenge stereotypes, the consequences of racism and bullying, some reasons for differences between people, and where to get support.

Key stage 3 is broader still, including a knowledge of all types of stereotyping or prejudice and how we should challenge them. Aims also include specific mentions of empathy, the nature of friendship, cultural norms, the nature of changing relationships, the importance of marriage, role of parents, the concept of goodwill, compromise, resisting peer pressure and confident communication. 

Finally, key stage 4 looks in more detail at how to challenge prejudice, including offering support, working collaboratively with people from a range of backgrounds, recognising exploitation, talking about relationships and feelings, resolving disagreements, defining good parenting, dealing with separation, divorce and bereavement, how organisations can offer support, and how to develop professional relationships.

Aisha notes that the strong emphasis on the importance of marriage for raising children emphasised in key stages 3 and 4 could have been influenced by religious ideals. The role of different organisations in offering support also relates to safeguarding policies and multi-agency working. Aisha is surprised how early children are encouraged to challenge prejudice, but is pleased with the implied idea that it is unacceptable to be passive or to ignore prejudicial behaviour. Aisha also notes that dealing with divorce and bereavement looks at emotions and support rather than following a religious route, although she wonders how to both promote the importance of marriage (something she personally disagrees with) whilst also looking at how to deal with divorce.

What systems do educational establishments usually have in place to support pastoral care of their pupils?

To broadly summarise the section above, pastoral care in the UK has moved on from its roots in religion to look more at how pupils learn to behave in society. Lang (2007) refers to this early aspiration of nineteenth century headteachers as promoting 'gentlemanly' conduct. Some of this attitude remains, particularly in the American school system, with phrases such as 'debutante' and 'coming out' to refer to pupils being deemed ready to come into the wider public. Similarly, US universities in the nineteenth century emphasised pastoral roles in fraternities as equal to or even more important than educational attainment: university was a kind of 'polish' for gentleman (at that time, it was almost exclusively men attending universities) preparing to enter professional or political life.

At school-level, this type of pastoral support was highly personalised and could even be thought of as a type of apprenticeship. For example, Lang (2007) describes how tutors at Eton school would have an 'unbroken' connection throughout a pupil's time at the school. Pupils would therefore stay with the same tutor group all the way through their time at school, and would be further supported through a house system. The tutor would be a point of reference for subject teachers on matters of discipline, but would also take regular reports of academic progress and be the main contact for parents. At secondary level, this tutor would also be an important contact for their pupils as they could assist with university applications or making professional contacts through a network of 'Old Boys' who would offer a pupil their first job.


Think back to your own schooling. Who provided you with pastoral care, and what was their role? Can you think of any examples of tutors or teachers who you only saw briefly but who had an impact? Did your pastoral support come mainly from a formal relationship, such as a form tutor, or through an informal relationship, such as a favourite teacher or a teacher of a subject you enjoyed? Did your school have any long-serving teachers, and did that affect the type of pastoral support they offered?

Pastoral care in contemporary schools often reflects the influence of these earlier examples. It is worth remembering that today's politicians and policy makers will have had pastoral experiences similar to those described above, particularly those politicians who attended traditional public schools. Many contemporary aspects of pastoral care can therefore be interpreted as an attempt to get as close as possible to these traditional ideals within the restrictions of a much larger and more competitive school system.

With more transparent recruitment processes and fewer teachers spending their entire career in the same school, such roles are significantly diminished today. Nevertheless, these original roles of the tutor can be seen in policies such as vertical tutor groups (where pupils stay with a tutor throughout their time at school, or at least keep the same tutor within each key stage), organisation of houses within schools, and form tutors being the main contact for parents. Similarly, the increased size of schools and lower ratio of teachers to students makes it more difficult for tutors to get to know pupils as well. Cane (2012) gives an interesting example of a school changing its pastoral policies so that tutor groups were replaced by "mentor groups" of 5-10, rather than 30, pupils (Cane, 2012, p.331). This is a particularly interesting example because the school achieves this smaller group size by using non-teaching staff as mentors, which implies that their policy is more focused on tutors getting to know pupils well rather than the academic aspects of the pastoral role.

Benefits of pastoral care

Taking an emotional intelligence perspective (Goleman, 1996) emphasises how pastoral care is vital for healthy development, and may even be more important than academic development. The importance of pastoral care is also highlighted in concepts such as nurturing, where healthy emotional development and feelings of security are important to prevent barriers to learning. Pastoral care can therefore interact with other policies and practices. For example, safeguarding policies include not just looking out for harm but actively promoting healthy lifestyles. More broadly, pastoral care can be thought of as the relationship between teachers and pupils within a school - it is the intangible quality which makes a school into a community. Whilst recent policies might have increased the speed with which teachers enter and leave this community, or reduced the time and effort they can give to such relationships, pastoral care in its broadest sense is how pupils come to experience the process of schooling and is therefore of utmost importance. Wider national concerns, such as building personal resilience or developing healthier lifestyles, will also often come through pastoral care, as will pupils' first contact with principles such as equality, diversity and democracy.

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Perhaps one of the main reasons why pastoral care is under pressure is that more time is spent on core subjects or high-stakes exams. Imagine if schools formally rewarded pastoral development, such as through a GCSE in being a good citizen - would such a qualification be valued? How would you want to assess pupils? Do you think it would be better because there would be more time for pastoral care, or worse because schools would focus more on performance and less on personal development? If you had more time for pastoral care, what would you want to do for your pupils?

Limitations of pastoral care

The wide range of responsibilities which fall under pastoral care can create conflict. The form tutor is a clear example of this, since they often are a first contact for minor discipline points (such as performing daily uniform checks or chasing up punctuality), but also need to build positive relationships and in-depth understanding so that support can be effective for important decisions such as subject options or university choices.

One of the key challenges is simply the wide range of pastoral issues that a teacher could be involved with. School policies have moved away from having a single person responsible for pastoral care, since this seemed to encourage teachers to simply refer pastoral matters. Instead, the importance of the relationship between teachers and students has been emphasised. For example, it is much more likely now that each member of the senior leadership group will have some pastoral duties. Similarly, each member of staff (and sometimes non-teaching staff) will also have pastoral roles. Hall (1998) argues that this places great demand on teachers alongside their curriculum responsibilities. She refers to the idea of "interpersonal stamina" (Hall, 1998, p.57), pointing out that few teachers are likely to take effective care of themselves and their own emotional state. As such, effective pastoral care relies on effective self-care so that teachers can have time and emotional space to reflect and recharge.

A related limitation is the level of skill or emotional maturity to offer this wide range of support. There is often very little training given in pastoral care, and it can often be (wrongly) assumed that teachers simply know how to provide good pastoral care. A useful concept from Goleman (1996) is emotional intelligence - a skill which needs to be learnt and developed so that emotional care and support can be offered effectively. Hall (1998) makes the case for teachers being given dedicated time for pastoral care so that they can be physically fit and relaxed enough to think sensitively. As she puts it, "a physically and emotionally exhausted tutor will not have the reserves of energy to deal patiently and sensitively with pupils in crisis" (Hall, 1998, p.58). However, we have seen throughout this module that there are a wide range of demands on teachers and this seems unlikely to change. Instead, advice tends to focus on how physically and emotionally tired teachers can use strategies to overcome their fatigue. Some of this advice is summarised in the next section.

Finally, there may be practical limitations to the pastoral care you can provide as a result of data protection policies. Workforce restructuring of pastoral staff is still in its early phases, so data protection policies might not have kept pace with change. For example, safeguarding policies would have a clearly designated point of contact with whom you can share information and concerns. However, if pastoral care is spread throughout all staff in a school rather than concentrated in a few key individuals, you may want to keep more detailed records or communicate with all of a pupil's subject teachers. A group email might be an efficient way of ensuring good communications for pastoral support, but might be too broad and insecure to meet your school's data protection policy.


How might you address some of these limitations? How do you think pastoral care might change in the next few years to meet these challenges?

Hints. tips and prompts

Pastoral care is such a broad topic that it might be better to think about it at three different levels: whole school, targeted groups, and targeted individuals (Hearn et al, 2006). At whole school and targeted group levels a school would be expected to take a proactive role in setting the agenda and identifying priorities. Targeting individuals should still try to be proactive, but might also need to be more reactive to issues as they arise, and might cross into other policy areas such as safeguarding.

It is also useful to think about priorities of pastoral care in broad categories of health, emotions, relationships, employment, and citizenship. The guidance from the Department for Education (2013) is significantly reduced from previous years, reflecting a broader aim for policies to be less prescriptive and detailed and for schools to have more choice and freedom in how they interpret and implement policies. It might therefore be worth spending some time within your school to draw out what your priority areas are for pastoral care.

Health: official guidelines show health crises in the UK, particularly related to exercise and diet. The Healthy Schools Programme provides some guidance and resources, but a school might also want to think about how staff take care of their own health and wellbeing. Does the school have a consistent narrative, for example about how a healthy body is more efficient? How can you sensitively promote healthy living without upsetting staff and pupils who are overweight? More broadly, does your school want to take a moral position on health? Some schools take much stricter approaches to smoking than others, so it is useful to think about the message policies send and working in partnership with students to get the message right. For example, should e-cigs be banned as they are in hospitals, or should they be promoted as a helpful way to give up?

Emotions: schools can set time aside for discussion, such as 'circle time' in primary schools, or could try more structured approaches such as Philosophy 4 Children (P4C). Thinking about key events, or asking pupils to reflect, could also help to create proactive strategies and cover the topics which pupils feel are more important to them. At a whole school and at class level, you should think about how respectful discussion works in classrooms. Think about ways for pupils to show that they are upset by a topic or do not wish to contribute to a discussion, as well as sensitive ways to find out about events such as bereavements or divorce.

Relationships: key issues in relationships include resisting pressure, identifying positive relationships, and learning about how relationships can change over time. Older PSHE guidance emphasised the importance of marriage, so schools should think about how they wish to deal with alternative types of relationships and the different ways families are organised. As with other areas of pastoral care, it is important not to be judgemental. It might be worth teachers spending some time on popular culture and sharing any examples of good role models, for example from reality TV. Similarly, pupils will be able to find plenty of examples of dysfunctional relationships from the media which can help reflect on the values of relationships and friendships.

Employment: pupils need to learn about professional relationships, and work experience is often too brief to really appreciate this. Schools should think about the way that staff interact and the type of professional relationships that are modelled in class. There should also be time for tutors to get to know pupils well so that effective and personalised careers advice can be offered. Think about how schools will gather data to help provide good references for university or employment applications, or other resources that can be put into place such as CV workshops or visits from different professionals.

Citizenship: key principles of tolerance, respect and democracy are underpinned by ideals of equality and fairness. Many schools use democratic processes such as class elections or votes for new canteen menus to show these systems in action. Local politicians also tend to be very generous with their time and will happily discuss political issues with pupils. Controversial topics, such as immigration, might be more problematic, and the liberal position of policies might be very different from local opinions. Consider how equality and diversity relates to your citizenship education, and take advantage of any role models or opportunities to challenge stereotypes. Crucially, do not be afraid to explore these issues in more detail, particularly using a structure such as Philosophy 4 Children: bigoted views almost always fail under logical scrutiny, or at the very least pupils should see that arguments are mostly based on fear and prejudice rather than fairness and equality.


This chapter has looked at how pastoral care has changed from its origins as a set of religious ideals or a close one-on-one mentoring relationship through to adulthood. Notions such as citizenship, democracy, fairness and respect have mostly replaced religious ideals, but some influences still remain - particularly in the emphasis on marriage in policies in England and Wales. Changes in pastoral care policy also reflect the changing role of schools. This seems to have been resisted in Scotland, which has kept a stronger academic rationale to its pastoral support policies, but is clear in the healthy lifestyles narrative which runs throughout policies in England and Wales. Workforce restructuring has also had an impact. If pastoral care is defined broadly as the network of relationships within a school, then many of the changes to how teachers work have damaged the connections, which form these networks as teachers are under increasing pressure and have less job security. With change being implemented at different paces, some schools might also have dedicated pastoral teams or might devolve responsibility to all staff, so pastoral care can look very different from one school to another.

Despite this emphasis on change throughout this chapter, we have also seen how pastoral care has remained broadly similar over hundreds of years, particularly in fee-paying schools. Much of the change described in this chapter can be interpreted as an attempt to stay as close as possible to the origins of pastoral care whilst coping with modern demands. It is therefore for each school community to decide on its own pastoral priorities as it responds to these changes. Individual teachers will also need to think about the type of pastoral support they offer. If they, or their pupils, are likely to be moving to different schools on a regular basis then much more emphasis will need to be placed on effective record-keeping and communication. You might also need to take some time to think about how your own personal morals affect your teaching. It would be unfair to impose your worldview on pupils, but at the same time teachers might feel hypocritical. An approach based on ideals such as equality, fairness, justice, respect and healthy living should work well in most cases, but pastoral care touches on a wide range of sensitive and complex issues: it is therefore important that teachers take time to prepare for pastoral care effectively, which may include taking time for self-care and reflection.


Now that you have completed this chapter, you should feel more confident in:

Understanding the principles of pastoral care;

Knowing your role in pastoral care, including its limits; and

Being more explicit in the pastoral aspects of your teaching practice.

Reference list

Best, R. (2002). Pastoral care and personal social education. Available from:

Cane, C. (2012). Pastoral care and the role of the tutor. In: V. Brooks, I. Abbott and L. Bills [eds.], Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools, 3rd ed.. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Department for Education (2013). Personal, social, health and economic education. London: HMSO. Available from:

Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. London: Bloomsbury.

Hall, C. (1998). Fitness for purpose: self care and the pastoral tutor. In: M. Calvert and J. Henderson [eds.], Managing Pastoral Care. London: Cassell. Pp.53-68.

Hearn, L., Campbell-Pope, R., House, J. and Cross, D. (2006). Pastoral Care in Education. Perth, Australia: Child Health Promotion Research Unit and Edith Cowan University. Available from:

HM Government. (1997). Excellence in Schools. London: HMSO. Available from:

Hunter, I. (1994). Rethinking the School. New South Wales, Australia: Allen and Unwin.

Lang, P. (2007). Pastoral care and the role of the tutor. In: V. Brooks, I. Abbott and L. Bills [eds.], Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools, 2nd ed.. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

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