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The cliff edge of pastoral care

Wednesday, 01 March 2017

Principal's Blog

It is generally acknowledged that the line between child, legally 17 years 364 days, and adult, legally 18 yrs and no days, is fairly arbitrary. For a court, I guess it needs to be defined so picking a date is as good a method as any. For educators, however, for parents and for communities, the reality of this horizon is surely much less straightforward.

In Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Ralph is described as having, ‘lost the prominent tummy of childhood... not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward’. As he celebrates having ‘no grownups’ on the island, he still does not seek the security of ‘the man with the megaphone’ as Piggy does. But there is no doubt his journey to adulthood is beginning.

My mother always said her most nervous time as a parent was when we were on our gap years and that the most complicated time to parent was during a child’s twenties; heading out into the world full of confidence, qualifications and boundless potential yet still vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation and prey to one’s own rarely voiced doubts.

Despite this, when children leave school, they become adults. Their rights are enshrined in Data Protection laws and schools cannot share any of the knowledge they have collected over many years of adolescence with future institutions who will take on the care of that person.

It is important to be able to reinvent. As a Headteacher, I occasionally have parents asking me to expunge the records of a pupil’s momentary madness with malibu or an ill judged and idiosyncratic comment to a teacher. Sad though I am to explode the myth, school records have much more to do with the pastoral care of a child than they are a record of minor misdemeanours; done well, they speak of how a pupil succeeds and say something of who they are. At Monkton, thanks to the pioneering approach we have adopted through AS tracking with Simon and Jo Walker, we know more than many schools do about their children. We can track the journey of each child through their adolescence, swinging from moments of high trust of self to lows of disclosure or a fear of change. Throughout the school career of a Monkton pupil, we seek to help each child understand themselves better so they ensure they learn to condition their own environment to one in which they can be most successful. They learn, in the immortal words of Simon Walker, to drive their own road.

But where does that road lead? At present, it seems, it leads to a cliff edge of pastoral care. Far from being able to share information with a future university, all the knowledge we have about a child has to remain locked in a filing cabinet or on the school management system until it is destroyed in line with statutory guidelines. Universities are given little information about the students who come to them and ask for even less. Children who are only days into adulthood, in some cases, find themselves jumping into the ocean of Further Education without support of any kind: no float, no wetsuit, not really even any swimming trunks. They go to University stripped of almost all that has made them who they are today.

But this need not be the case. Schools are ever better at collecting information about their charges, knowing who they are and clarifying what they need not just to survive but to thrive. Later this term, Monkton is hosting a pastoral conference for universities who are equally keen to explore what else they can do, learn from schools who have experience and work together to share information, training and support. To extend my earlier metaphor, we are becoming the wind under the sail of a paraglider so that as children approach the virtual cliff edge, the information partnership between their former school and their new university is a light touch, a force which supports but cannot be seen, and ensures that every young adult soars towards their own fully independent horizon.

Chris Wheeler

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