Pastoral care refers to the care and attention given to a student’s personal needs besides the academic coaching at school. While some students are motivated go-getters with naturally resilient personalities, others find themselves unable to cope with external pressures, personal issues and various problems they face at school.
The task of guiding students through their primary and secondary school years has not gotten easier in recent years. Pastoral care teams in international schools are continually tackling this challenge with good old-fashioned foresight and hands-on creativity.
Alice Smith School
When the popular but controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why debuted – it revolved around a student’s suicide – it caught not only the attention of the students but that of Alice Smith’s pastoral care staff. At the Alice Smith School, issues of depression, bullying and others are met with increased scrutiny by staff and parents.
Communication between the school’s pastoral care staff and the students’ parents is an on-going practice. The teaching staff get regular guidance to stay informed on the issues affecting their students, including aspects of social media trends and a student’s transition from primary to secondary level.
The school’s Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) programme gives students the know-how to handle bullying, E-safety and digital citizenship among other topics. At the primary campus, a team led by the Vice Principal looks out for the kids’ well-being. A buddy system, student helpers and prefects are other tactics that contribute to a supportive learning environment for all.
Year 6 students transitioning to the secondary campus go through a programme that familiarises them with secondary school life through activities like tours and ‘taster lessons’ throughout the academic year. Older secondary students are counselled by a Higher Education team and are even given practical guidance on taking public transport, cooking and simple banking.
Beaconhouse Newland Early Years (BNEY)
In the first term, young learners are introduced to the concepts of health and wellbeing. They begin learning what a healthy lifestyle should look like, including eating well, getting exercise, forming personal cleanliness habits, and expressing feelings and emotions while recognising those of peers.
From the onset, the school’s personal safety programme teaches the students to be observant at a young age. They learn to recognise what bullying is, how to keep safe, and whom to talk to when and if they feel threatened.
The teaching staff and non-teaching staff here are trained professionals who keep a close watch on the kids’ daily routines, also facilitating educational and after-school care programmes that adapt uniquely to various students’ emotional needs. It also helps that the staff get to know their students better during a three-day trial period, a student’s first glimpse into life at the school.
The teachers gain key insight into the emotional and physical challenges of each student based off feedback by parents, both before the child’s admission to school and during parent’s meetings held twice yearly. BNEY plans to work with other schools to set up a transition programme that prepares the kids for the next level of learning.
Australian International School Malaysia
At Junior school level (Foundation to Year 5), students at the Australian International School Malaysia have access to a Student Support Team that’s made up of key staff, including a student counsellor, a Head of School and the Deputy Head of School. Concerns identified by this team are brought to the attention of specialists in the school or to external agencies if needed.
A buddy system helps new pupils who have just arrived in the country. To break the ice between the ages, Year 5 leaders organise games for younger students; even Year 1 pupils eventually get the chance to mentor younger students to foster a strong sense of community at school.
In Years 6 to 8, a homeroom teacher is assigned to students, regularly meeting with students’ parents. Short homeroom sessions are run every morning and a weekly Advisory class that focuses on cyber-bullying, career guidance, organisational skills and other relevant topics is held for students in Years 6 to 10.
Homeroom tutors act as mentors for students in Years 11 and 12, and provide both academic and personal development guidance to the students in their Advisory groups.
The most prominent person in the pastoral care system of a boarding school is usually the housemaster or housemistress. The house system at Epsom College in Malaysia is similar to that of Epsom College in England: Year 7 and Year 8 students join a Lower School House, a transition house that prepares them for life in the Senior School House (Years 9 to 13). Each house is run by a housemaster – a senior staff member who oversees tutors assigned as mentors to groups of pupils.
At the Prince of Wales Island International School, each student is assigned a tutor (a member of the teaching staff) who becomes the student’s mentor. Tutors and their pupils meet at least once a week to discuss academic issues, extra-curricular activities and personal concerns. The house to which each pupil belongs is led by a housemaster or housemistress who works closely with pupils’ parents and tutors.
At Marlborough College Malaysia, teachers take on the role of tutors. For secondary school (Years 9 to 13), one tutor is given charge of six to 12 students. Tutors meet more regularly with boarding pupils than with day pupils, but provide support and mentoring to both on school matters and personal issues. Each pupil in the school is assigned to a house led by a housemaster who looks out for the well-being of students together with the Dames (managers of domestic arrangements), the medical staff and the senior management team.