Headteacher’s guide: what is pastoral care and why is it so important?

Pastoral care services and counselling at Our Lady's Abingdon in Oxfordshire

Supporting the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of pupils can help them thrive at school. - Credit: Our Lady's Abingdon

Should schools be teaching pupils more than just how to pass exams to help prepare them for the world ahead?

Daniel Gibbons, head of Our Lady’s Abingdon School in Oxfordshire, certainly believes so, and below he shares why.

Q: What is pastoral care?

A: Pastoral care focuses on the emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of pupils. It’s about creating a secure, nurturing environment where they can flourish in all areas of school life.

Co-curricular programmes and pastoral services on offer at Our Lady's Abingdon in Oxfordshire

Pupils at Our Lady's Abingdon will have access to a rich, varied co-curricular programme, diverse curriculum and excellent pastoral services. - Credit: Our Lady's Abingdon

We’re dedicated to providing our pupils with a loving community where they can discover and explore their gifts. This is essential for helping them prepare for life after school, apply to university and get the jobs they want.

Q: Why is strong pastoral care in schools important?

A: By getting to know our pupils individually, and spending dedicated time with them, we’re able to build their confidence, resilience and ambition. As a small, close-knit school, we can provide every pupil with the attention they need to thrive.

During their time at Our Lady’s Abingdon (OLA), from Year 3 until Year 13, students are offered a variety of opportunities, through our rich co-curricular programme, diverse curriculum and excellent facilities, to learn more about themselves and develop their skills and interests. 

We understand who each pupil is, where they want to go, and how we can help them get there.

Q: Why is it important for schools to focus and support the mental health of pupils?

Mental health awareness training and support at Our Lady's Abingdon School in Oxfordshire

OLA's mental health lead teaches awareness training to parents, pupils and staff to help ensure all pupils have a supportive network around them and know where to go if they need to talk. - Credit: Our Lady's Abingdon

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A: Young people today are far more conscious of the world around them and face significant social, cultural and environmental pressures. The pandemic and two national lockdowns have also affected pupils’ mental health, which is why schools need to recognise this and ensure sufficient pastoral support is in place to help them manage their emotions.

Pupils need to be aware that it’s ok to not be ok, and know where they can go and what they can do to help them cope.

We have a dedicated mental health lead at OLA, who is responsible for the wellbeing of our school community and teaches mental health awareness training to parents, pupils and staff. We also have great counselling and health services on-site.

I also value the sense of family and community we have at the school. We work closely with parents and families to ensure each child has a supportive network around them. When pupils feel secure, they can push themselves further and make the most of their time at school. It also enables them to mature into well-rounded individuals able to care for themselves, others, and the world around them.

Q: How can a rich co-curricular programme contribute to good pastoral care?

A: Pupils should be exposed to new opportunities both in and outside of the classroom. We offer a rich and varied co-curricular programme that encourages pupils’ curiosity, exposes them to new experiences and allows them to discover new passions.

Sport is a great way for pupils to develop teamwork and leadership skills, discover the importance of an active, healthy lifestyle and partake in fair competition. We currently have two pupils competing in international rowing events and another about to enter for Junior Wimbledon. We also have a swimming pool on-site. 

STEM subjects are also a popular co-curricular activity, where we can offer equal opportunities for girls and boys to not only take part in maths and science clubs and groups but design and technology too. One sixth form pupil just recently finished building a working jet!

Our performing arts, drama and music groups are a great way for them to develop their creativity, speaking skills and try something different.

Co-curricular activities and swimming pool facilities at Our Lady's Abingdon in Oxfordshire

All pupils will have access to the on-site swimming pool. Sport is a great way for pupils to build confidence and try new things. - Credit: Our Lady's Abingdon

Q: Why should parents and pupils consider attending an open event at Our Lady’s Abingdon School?

A: We are an independent, co-education day school founded on true catholic values, meaning we are all-welcoming. We teach pupils between ages seven and 18, from all backgrounds, religious or non-religious, and of all abilities and talents.

We believe in ensuring we can add value to all aspects of school life, and a large part of how we do this is our pupils. They are what makes our school truly amazing, and the best way for prospective parents and pupils to see that is to experience it for themselves.

We will be running a Year 2 and Year 3 experience day on March 5, 2022. Our Year 5 experience day is on March 12, 2022. We also offer bespoke taster days for pupils of any age, where they can spend a morning or afternoon at the school.

To book a tour or find out more, visit ola.org.uk. Call 01235 544808 or email admissions@ola.co.uk.