Social difficulties are rising and schools need more pastoral care staff to cope, Oldham headteacher says

Published by Andrew Clowes on May 25th 2022, 7:07am

Writing for The Leaders Council, Andrew Clowes, headteacher of Hey with Zion Primary School in Oldham, Lancashire, highlights how small numbers of school pastoral staff are meeting ever growing workloads post-pandemic, meaning that extra staffing is required to meet the need.

Increased social need alongside reduced support for those in crisis isn’t good. Most adults would be shocked if they knew what school safeguarding officers know about what our children are having to live with.

Yes, there has been a pandemic. Yes, there is a cost-of-living crisis going on. Yes, there is a worrying war in Ukraine.

Go beyond that. Think of where you live. Think of your local primary school.

It is the location of a coming together of all the children whose families are linked with everything the prison service knows; everything the police knows about crime in the community; everything the NHS knows about illnesses affecting families in the area and everything social care knows about its families.

Every bit of work the prison service, the police, the NHS and social care do, has effects on children.

When teachers teach lessons on English, Mathematics or whatever, the children are bringing with them not just their homework but their emotional baggage from the wider life circumstances in which they live.

Violent and sexual offences have risen above pre pandemic levels. The prison population is expected to rise by 24 per cent within the next few years, and drug, weapon and sexual offences are the most common types of crime. The number of children in care is at its highest ever level, domestic abuse incidences have risen and child poverty is also rising.

Schools deal with the effects of these as they present themselves in our children. We teach them how to improve their reading, their writing and arithmetic, but also their emotional resilience too.

We teach them words and numbers when we think they are ready to cope with them. Social problems are not differentiated, though. They come to children without waiting for the children’s readiness to cope.

An article here will not rectify that, but it brings to light a leadership issue of trust.

Do you trust schools to manage our children through their individual crises? I think schools do an exceptional job, given the context in which they are working, but they need more support to do it well.

Hey with Zion is a church school and for years we have talked of our caring, Christian ethos. However, once we appointed a learning mentor, I realised that previously we had not been doing all we could to support children through their difficulties, as so many of those difficulties were under our radar.

Without the staff, we did not know about them. So, we did not help the children through their difficulties as well as we might have done.

That was then.

We appointed a learning mentor with money we might otherwise have used for an additional teaching assistant, and we improved what we did for our children: by putting in more time with them on pastoral matters.

Many schools have followed a similar path. 10 years ago, many primary schools did not have designated pastoral care staff; now it is the norm.

The workload of school pastoral staff has increased significantly as society’s difficulties have grown.

Do we remember Maslow? We shall not have our children fulfil their educational potential unless we can provide them first with their more basic human needs.

As society’s social needs have grown, numbers of school pastoral staff must grow to meet them, and schools need the money to appoint them.

We do not need a flurry of training courses delivered by people working at home, training courses which take staff away from the children.

We need money to be spent on more pastoral staff in school.

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Andrew Clowes
Headteacher at Hey With Zion Primary School
May 25th 2022, 7:07am

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