Academic or pastoral? All teachers cover both

Posted on 11th June 2019

In an article for TES, Clare Jarmy, Bedales Head of Philosophy, Religion & Ethics and Head of Able, Gifted & Talented, Scholars and Oxbridge, examines the way in which the academic and pastoral aspects of teaching are often divided, and argues that, though convenient, this does not always reflect the relationship between who students are and what they learn.

Clare explains that professional guidance for teachers, including continuing professional development, tends to concern either academic concerns (such as GCSE marking) or pastoral concerns (such as safeguarding or preventing bullying). Appraisal conversations, she says, typically reinforce this division.

However, Clare observes that the bulk of teachers’ expertise is formed by the experience of being in real classrooms with real students, and that it is here that the divide between the academic and the pastoral collapses. By way of example, she offers the student who is anxious because she never completes an exam paper in the time allowed. Clare explains: “There is a chicken and egg question about whether the anxious tendency is caused by or causes the academic issues, but clearly both the academic and pastoral issues are important here.” She goes to show how issues such as behaviour and achievement also interrelate.

Understanding the pastoral and the academic as two different domains, Clare argues, brings the risk of things being missed, or of work being duplicated. Great communication is therefore required. No less importantly, she observes that students will talk to whichever teacher makes them feel the most comfortable, irrespective of their official designation.

She urges schools and teachers to see the personal in the academic, and vice versa, and to configure school structures and leadership to reflect this. She concludes: “If the pastoral stuff is not in place, higher aims of learning can be impossible to achieve. Conversely, we don’t think enough about how small successes in the classroom make people happier. Teachers know this and see this daily.”

The full article can be read on the TES website here (subscription may be required).

TES | Clare Jarmy