Home from home – the key to quality pastoral care in a boarding environment
Paddy Moss, Headmaster of Dean Close Preparatory School
Quality pastoral care is key to the personal development of children. A happy and secure child is more likely to succeed in the full range of experiences offered to them during their formative years. In a successful school, pastoral care and academic life work together effectively in both the formal and informal aspects of the school.
All good schools claim to have excellent pastoral care but not all schools can demonstrate this through genuinely caring and supportive relationships which act as a filter for all events taking place in a busy school. Not all schools are fortunate enough to have a multi-layered blanket of staff covering all pupils and preventing anyone from falling through the gaps. The key has to be found in the relationships developed within and surrounding the school and from an individual knowledge of each child.
When prospective families visit a school, they can quickly sense the tone of those relationships through the respect shown by pupils and staff towards each other. This mutual respect creates a self-perpetuating culture that can be built on through regular reminders in assemblies, chapels and form times. It should be reinforced by staff, supported by parents and engrained in the ethos of the school. At Dean Close, the whole prep school works on the key value of the ‘Dean Close Hello’, where all pupils are encouraged to greet adults appropriately and vice versa.
Culture of mutual respect and care
In a boarding environment, a culture of mutual respect and care is particularly important. The quality of the boarding house staff and their ability to champion the culture makes the difference here. Resident matrons, house tutors and houseparents and other staff members are key to a happy boarding experience.
Open and regular communication is vital. For example, at Dean Close, after the horrific events that occurred in Paris in November 2015, close knowledge of the pupils whose families were in France allowed immediate contact with parents and a reassurance of their safety. This reassurance could then be shared with worried youngsters and further support given.
It is now commonplace for boarding houses to have Twitter feeds, blogs and weekly newsletters keeping parents abreast of events in their children’s boarding houses. These regular communications are personal and informal with observations of everything from purchases on a recent shopping trip to the naming of the new house pet.
At Dean Close, all staff are required to make contact with parents in their form group in the first few days of term simply to ask ‘How’s it going?’ This staff–parent bond is particularly important in our boarding community. Parents require a vivid sense of the adults overseeing their children’s welfare while they are away from home and the aim is to provide individual attention to each child according to their needs. Parents’ trust in the boarding house staff to ensure their children are both nurtured and stimulated can only be achieved by proactive houseparents who are willing to share their extended home.
The boarding experience does not suit all children and the period of transition for new pupils is crucial. However, we find that more often than not, new pupils are quickly infused with the supportive and caring culture of the school and they adapt their behaviour accordingly and thrive.
From my experience, the most successful boarding houses are those where the houseparent’s unique character is evident. Whether it be the football team they support or their passion for bike racing, their interests and enthusiasms are shared and enjoyed by their temporary family and known about by far-flung parents too. Although safety and security in a boarding environment are a given, a balanced diet of age-appropriate activities and downtime distinguishes boarding from other types of education provision.
Experienced boarding houseparents often find the healthy balance of separating the academic side of school life and their boarding home life. Although prep or homework may be expected to be completed in the boarding environment, the expectation is that boarding houses are places for rest and play, rather than work. The boundary setting and expectations of behaviour remain the same, but the atmosphere will be different. Houseparents display great ingenuity in the vast range of games and activities on offer both during weekdays and weekends. At Dean Close these include go-carting, Kapla modelling, foodie theme nights, board game extravaganzas, sports in the gym – to name just a few. So much so that the boarding experience seems more like an adventure camp than a typical home. It is little wonder that boarding places are in such high demand.
Paddy Moss is the new Headmaster of Dean Close Preparatory School. Paddy joined Dean Close in September 2015 rom Kenya, having spent the last nine years as Headmaster of a premier British-curriculum preparatory boarding school. A Canadian by birth but brought up in the west of England, Paddy studied Geography and Economics (SOAS, London University) before embarking on a career as a teacher in several boarding and day prep schools, both in the UK and abroad, where he was also a member of many of the senior management teams. He is a highly experienced sports coach with a passion for outdoor activities and scouting. He and his wife, a Maths and PE teacher, have three daughters.