Three pastoral challenges: What would you do?

Inclusion expert Daniel Sobel outlines three common pastoral challenges that he comes across in schools and discusses how he would approach each situation in order to achieve positive outcomes in SecEd.

In my role I get asked for advice on situations by headteachers on a daily basis and I want to share with you three recurring issues from recent months. The questions came from both primary and secondary mainstream schools as well as from multi-academy trusts and local authorities.

Parental demands

The challenge: “I have some parents who are demanding (on the verge of abusive) about their child’s SEN, asking for an ever-increasing provision beyond what we can afford or what is reasonable. Although we are praised for our SEN provision by Ofsted, we are accused of discriminating against their children. This issue is blowing out of all proportion and has spread to social media.”

Ultimately, the way the SEN system is set up is leading to these arguments. The way out of this vicious cycle is to rethink the whole relationship between parent and school around the student need.

You may need to do a bit of a restorative practice with some parents to help end the war and move on. Then try a different conversation. Try saying something like: “Your Charlie has many strengths and has some additional needs as well. How can we (together) best promote his independence?”

I say this, because what every child in mainstream schools needs as a rule is to become independent. By that I refer to finding ways of successfully navigating through or working with their additional need.

In your conversation with the parents, write the words “promoting independence” down on the paper and try and answer the question of what an independent Charlie means. Any and all suggestions of interventions should be framed around this, considering carefully not what the provisions should be necessarily but what the impact of any provision might be on the goal of fostering his independence.

The challenge: “If a child brings in a knife to school should we permanently exclude them?”

There is of course a legal responsibility for you to ensure staff and students’ safety and that means considering whether the student in question is a danger to themselves and/or others.

After any incident, you need to ask this question in the forum of a meeting and get it on the record. I am assuming you will have informed and spoken with the police and the home.

However, let us assume that this student is not the top dog in the local gang or wanted by Interpol, but a fairly average student who did something utterly stupid and out of character. You feel sure that they will never do this again. In this case, do you exclude?

I can tell you that if you exclude this student it will not be the deterrent to others that you might believe. Furthermore, expelling this student will not solve any of the reasons why they brought a knife into school in the first place. If anything, it may make them worse. So, the question I have for you is: how can you best “include” this student?

Why did he bring a knife into school? Is there anything we can do to address his lack of security, his need to “fit in”, his cry for help, his idiocy for thinking it was “cool”, or whatever other reason surfaces for this act? Can we support this child to continue to be a child, under the safety of your umbrella?

Interventions: Where do we begin?

The challenge: “There is so much (Pupil Premium or SEN or pastoral) work to do in changing the school, just where do we start? What do we prioritise? There is an anxiety to get all grades and issues to change in time for the next judgement or exam cycle. How do we do this firmly and calmly and yet get some quick wins?”

It is a bit like asking where the circle starts. There’s no obvious place: systems, information-sharing, understanding students and their needs, meeting their needs, finding the right provision, pedagogy, classroom management, teacher and parent attitudes and engagement, and so on. These are all interdependent and each aspect is only as good as the other factors in that list.

Read the full article and find out more advice on each of these challenges. Three pastoral challenges: What would you do?

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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