What is Pastoral Care at School? Getting Help For Your Child

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Hayley Vaughan Smith, Person Centred Counsellor and The Ridge Practice and Everlief Child Psychology
Author: Hayley Vaughan-Smith, Person-Centred Counsellor

Pastoral care at school is a vital part of the educational environment which our children will journey through.

I don’t remember hearing the phrase ‘pastoral care’ during my school years, although I’m sure it was there in some way. 

Only when my own children went to school did I hear about and understand it’s true value & importance.

In this article, I will tell you about the value of pastoral care at school, what it actually is and how you can support your own child in getting the right support.

a little girl alone on a school bench

Who Delivers Pastoral Care at School?

Effective pastoral care ensures every student feels safe, valued and supported.

Pastoral care at school can be delivered by a whole range of people, not just staff members.

A school’s pastoral care team may be made up from individuals & teams, forming a supportive community & they might include:

  • School staff including, head of house, assistant head teacher, class teacher, form tutors, teaching assistants & parent readers & mentors
  • Pastoral leaders & mental health practitioners such as school counsellors, school psychologists or social workers

It’s important that each student has access to support mechanisms that ensure they can flourish and succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.

What Does Pastoral Care Cover?

So, what does pastoral care at school cover?

Here is a breakdown of some of the main aspects.

Aspect of SupportDescription
Emotional well-being & developmentSupporting student’s emotional health, providing listening services and counselling, and encouraging resilience.
Academic supportEnsuring there is help for homework, study skill development, and guidance on how to ensure academic success.
Social & personal growthEncouraging social skills, friendships, and social responsibility.
Crisis interventionProviding a safe port of call for emergencies, discussing family problems or traumatic events, and providing a framework of appropriate interventions or onward referral paths.
Health & safetyEnsuring the school is a safe environment, addressing issues such as bullying.
Cultural developmentEncouraging and teaching cultural awareness, acknowledging diversity, and developing empathy & respect for different traditions, values, and religions.


What Does Good Pastoral Care Look Like?

Effective pastoral care for our children is crucial in any kind of educational setting from early years education all the way up to University and graduate programmes.

The provision of pastoral care can vary of course. 

Independent schools for example, typically have more funding and resources to provide a range of flexible and individualised support.

It’s important to have a dedicated & effective pastoral leader who oversees and co-ordinates pastoral care plans within the school.

worried teen boy in school uniform walking towards school gates

Example of a Helpful Pastoral Care Whole School Plan


  • To support the emotional, social, and academic well-being of all students.
  • To create a safe and inclusive school environment.
  • To promote holistic development of students, including physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and moral & personal growth.
  • To provide resources and guidance for personal development and crisis intervention.

Key Components

Emotional and Psychological Support

  1. Counselling Services: Provide qualified school counsellors for 1-1 sessions.
  2. mental health awareness: Conduct workshops for students and parents on mental health awareness.
  3. Safe Spaces: Provide a quiet place where students can retreat for reflection and relaxation & decompression.
  4. Academic Support
  5. Tutoring Programs & Study Skills Workshops: Offer peer support and after-school help sessions for academic support.

Behavioural Guidance

  1. Positive Behaviour Programmes: Provide programmes which reward positive attitude & behaviour and encourage kindness, respect and responsibility.
  2. Conflict Resolution: Train staff and students in conflict resolution techniques.

Social Development

  1. Clubs and Societies: Provide extracurricular activities to promote social skills and teamwork.
  2. Peer Support Programs: Establish buddy systems or peer mentoring programmes.

Health and Safety

  1. Health Education: Provide health education on topics like nutrition, physical activity, and substance abuse prevention.
  2. Bullying Prevention: Implement anti-bullying policies and programmes.

Crisis Intervention

  1. Crisis Response Team: Establish a team trained to respond to emergencies and provide immediate support.
  2. Regular Training: Conduct regular training for staff on crisis intervention and mental health first aid.

Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Monthly Meetings: Hold regular review of progress and issues.
  • Annual Review: An annual review of the plan will assess effectiveness and recommend changes.
teen girl sitting at a school desk, serious

Schools Under Pressure

Schools need to be safe environments where students can have a positive experience, allowing them to become happy and well-rounded adults. 

The reality, at least in the UK, is that state schools are under huge pressure to meet the needs of all their students and provide enough pastoral support.

Schools are working within the constraints of staffing ratios, available funding resources, high student to counsellor ratios and students with complex needs.

The pot of money and resources is constantly under pressure. 

How To Build a Positive Relationship With Pastoral Care Staff at Your Child’s School

So despite the challenges, let’s look at how you can work positively with your child’s school so that your child can start to flourish.

Most schools keenly encourage a strong partnership between staff and parents, and this is particularly important for secondary schools when your child will have multiple teachers.

Here are some of my top tips on building meaningful relationships with school pastoral care staff.

  1. Know who your child’s teaching staff & pastoral care team members are.
  2. Find someone experienced that you trust and try to start by building links with that person.
  3. Communicate and stay in regular contact though email, meetings, and phone calls, whilst respecting the school’s limitations in terms of resources and time.
  4. Participate in school activities through the school year by attending events, parent/teacher meetings and any pastoral workshops offered.
  5. Volunteer for school programmes if possible. Any window into school life and how your child is currently being supported will be really helpful.
  6. Be transparent. Be open to sharing relevant information about your child’s needs or challenges, life events or significant changes
  7. Trust the pastoral team’s experience. If you are providing constructive feedback, keep it respectful.
a little boy chatting with his teacher

What Types of Pastoral Support Might Your Child Need?

Your school should let you know if your child would benefit from some individualised, specific pastoral support beyond the whole-school provision. 

Equally, you may seek support for your child yourself.

SituationSupport Offered
Academic progress is concerningTutoring, drop-in study time, learning mentor
Physical health needs supportingAssistance and individualised approach to illness or disability
Mental health concerns ariseAccess to counselling services, peer support groups
They are being bulliedSafe retreat spaces and a student officer they can talk to, advocacy and escalation of anti-bullying processes
Their behaviour falls below what is acceptablePositive behaviour support programmes, initiatives to encourage healthy activities, conflict resolution support
They’ve had a recent family bereavement or traumatic experienceAccess to counselling services and/or a trusted member of staff

What To Do When Pastoral Care At Your Child’s School Isn’t Meeting Their Needs

What happens if effective pastoral care isn’t available at your child’s school & they are not meeting your child’s needs?

There are several steps that you can take.

Identify the Issues

Make notes about when pastoral care has been lacking. Keep a record of dates, times, incidents, and communications.

Communicate with the School

Schedule a meeting and clearly set out your concerns and the outcome you would like. Make sure to schedule a review following the implementation of any actions.

Take a Proactive Approach

If appropriate, reach out to other parents. Form or join a parent support group to address pastoral care concerns around the wellbeing of all students.

Escalate Your Concerns

If the usual steps of engaging with your child’s form teacher, head of year, and pastoral team staff are unsuccessful, explore what further options you have in escalating concerns. This might include the school’s board of governors or your local education department.

Formal Complaints

If you believe you have given reasonable time and opportunity for a response but are still left dissatisfied that your child is being properly supported, you can fill in a formal complaint to prompt a review and action.

Check your child’s school’s website for procedure documents, or call the school office.

External Support

If you can, consider accessing additional support outside of school such as counselling therapy.

Often, teenage children prefer to attend external therapy so they can keep this separate from their school environment, thus avoiding the potential for judgment from others.

Student Empowerment

Encourage your child (if appropriate) to advocate for themselves and speak to the pastoral care team.

Work together on building coping strategies and enhancing self-esteem and resilience.

a mum speaking to her child's teacher

Pastoral Care at School: Summary

Pastoral care plays a pivotal role in a student’s wellbeing and can have an impact on their academic outcomes and future mental health.

It can support your child’s emotional resilience, personal growth and social skills. 

Always take action if your child doesn’t feel emotionally safe and supported at school.

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Hayley Vaughan-Smith is a Person-Centred Counsellor accredited by the National Counselling & Psychotherapy Society. She is the founder and counsellor at The Ridge Practice in Buckinghamshire, and counsellor at Everlief Child Psychology.

Hayley has a special interest in bereavement counselling and worked as a bereavement volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care for four years.

Hayley is mum to 3 grown up girls, and gardening and walking in nature is her own personal therapy. Hayley believes being in nature, whatever the weather, is incredibly beneficial for mental health well-being.

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