Is pastoral care damaged beyond repair?

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24 January 2017 by Anne Heavey
When I did my PGCE Every Child Matters was everywhere. But in the intervening years, much damage has been done to pastoral care and support for children

The second book on the course reading list was Every Child Matters: A Practical Guide for Teachers. Our lesson plans, schemes of work, pedagogy sessions, course presentations and assignments all referred to the strategy explicitly.

The message I took away from this was that whilst I was training to be a secondary music teacher, I was also training to be a “whole person” teacher. Not long after completing my PGCE and starting my first job as a qualified teacher, the Coalition Government came into power. Michael Gove rebranded the Department for Children, Schools and Families to the Department for Education, and abandoned the Every Child Matters strategy. He replaced the five outcomes with the simple statement “helping children achieve more”.

Let’s unpack this a little.

Every Child Matters was introduced to ensure that the unacceptable tragedy that befell Victoria Climbié could never happen again. Everyone working with children had not just a duty to protect them from harm, but also to help them fulfil their potential. The five outcomes are broad and supported children growing into confident adults ready to face a rapidly changing and at times hostile world:

  • Be healthy
  • Stay safe
  • Enjoy and achieve
  • Make a positive contribution
  • Achieve economic wellbeing

Who doesn’t want this for our children?

When Michael Gove stated that the Every Child Matters would be replaced with “helping children achieve more” he didn’t even retain the word “enjoy”. Coupled with the rebranding of the Department of Education I felt that this represented a major reprioritisation for government policy. Policy would no longer be about raising well rounded children, but raising standards. My job, as far as Mr Gove was concerned, was no longer about helping all children achieve their potential, but about helping England move up the PISA table. I still don’t understand the logic of Gove’s position, it is not dumbing down to recognise that a successful education should deliver not just the best possible exam results, but also confident, ambitious and healthy young people.

When the Every Child Matters posters came down in the staffroom and the colour coded pupil attainment sheets went up Gove’s aims had been met.

When the Government cuts to funding at school and LA level began to bite the first things to go were nurture groups, counsellors and SEND support staff. I and other colleagues had to justify extracurricular activities, trips and projects not in terms of pupil wellbeing and broadening horizons but the cold hard currency of attainment.

Every research paper I could find outlining the correlation between music and academic attainment was waved in front of senior leaders and stapled to the wall. In one year, after much wrangling, we were allowed to put on a show, as long as it didn’t involve GCSE or A Level pupils - as it would be an “unnecessary” distraction. The vehicle for wellbeing, self-expression and release from external pressure that music offers to so many was no longer relevant. Our music department had a few practice rooms and, as the exam pressure increased over the years, more and more pupils would be found in floods of tears or lost in their own world on the piano, guitar or drum kit, hiding away, trying to escape. When we passed on concerns about pupils who appeared to have mental health problems, colleagues were always sympathetic and did their best to secure the necessary support, but too often referrals were unsuccessful and waiting lists too long. Watching pupils deteriorate is heartbreaking, especially when you know that to achieve a CAMHS referral a child has to be “unwell enough.”

Michael Gove decided that wellbeing was not a priority for his Department for Education. Nicky Morgan appeared to have a change of heart, though this didn’t last long as was shown when Natasha Devon was fired for daring to speak truth to power about the negative impact of government policy on pupil wellbeing. Much damage has been done to pastoral care and support for children and young people. The fact that we still haven’t secured statutory PSHE is impossible to understand. Repairing the damage will be extremely costly, and for too many young people any measures will come far too late.

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Pupil welfare