Remote Pastoral Care
Interview with Jeff Kane, Deputy Head Pastoral on the lockdown experience so far and providing pastoral care remotely.
As we enter our seventh week of lockdown, albeit with changes to the guidance now on the horizon, we asked Mr Kane for his views on the challenges of maintaining outstanding pastoral care whilst the school site is closed.
Q: What would you say have been the successes of our pastoral care provision during lockdown?
I think there has been some really positive communication between the school and Forest families and that has been both pro-active and reactive from both sides. There has also been consistently excellent work from the Tutors, Heads of House and Heads of Section who have been checking in with families regularly, providing both direct and indirect support throughout the lockdown period.
Our safeguarding and child protection team have also been working incredibly hard to make sure that we are keeping everyone safe and doing the best we possibly can. There has been a huge amount of work with families which is the most important work that we do. Effective safeguarding is about knowing your network and knowing where you can get the best support for families. Forest works very closely with Place2Be and –as a Place2Be school – our pupils have access to KOOTH the leading online provider of counselling.
We also work hand-in-hand with Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH) and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and all that work has been continuing and our role has been to coordinate this safeguarding network in order to ensure that external agencies are providing the support to families that they need.
Q. How have we had to adapt the way we approach pastoral care?
The live interactions with key pastoral staff via Microsoft Teams have been hugely successful. Live Tutor time was introduced after the Easter holidays as we knew everyone was really feeling the absence of that personal connection; the pupils were missing the chance to interact with their classmates.
Pastoral care is all about positive relationships and connections which is clearly a whole lot easier when we can see pupils face to face. These live interactions have enabled pupils not only to speak to their Tutors but, more importantly, to interact with their peers and effectively mirror what would have been going on had they been in the classroom.
Remote House meetings every Friday morning have also been extremely valuable. Initially, they were about the Heads of House talking to their Houses, but they have now evolved and are more about interaction, doing things together and getting that sense of Forest community – that we all hold so dear – remotely.
Q. Did you have to make other changes to the way the school operates in order to work remotely?
We are fortunate that we moved all our files online some years ago and the last bit of that process was to ensure that we have all our safeguarding information safely stored on CPOMS (our safeguarding platform). We did that so we could access everything from anywhere at any time which has been powerful, and it has absolutely come into its own under these very difficult circumstances.
Q. How do you think pupils have been feeling during this period?
We have been very pleased by the response we have received to the two Wellbeing surveys we have conducted so far. 797 pupils responded to the surveys and this has given us a huge amount of information. For example, in Pupil Wellbeing Survey 1, we know that pupils’ concerns centred around anxiety, missing physically being with their friends, missing school and struggling to stay motivated.
We have seen a shift in the results from the second survey and – whilst they are still missing seeing their friends – being bored has risen the list of concerns. There is less generalised anxiety and it is now more focused around uncertainty about the future. On the positive side, pupils have also told us that they really appreciate the regular check ins with Tutors, Heads of House and Heads of Section and the interaction with teachers and classmates in Tutor time.
Q. How have we responded to these surveys?
Right from the outset I wanted the information we get from these surveys to be about impact, interventions and listening to pupil voice and being able to respond. Significant work has been done to ensure that we can compare and track the results at the individual level as well as for whole year groups, sections and Houses.
We followed up on these surveys with a huge number of individual pupil check ins and we have cross-referenced these with the ongoing work of the Tutors, Heads of House and Heads of Section – including the more than 200 pastoral and DSL check ins that have taken place over the lockdown period – collating the information from all those different points of contact so we all have the full picture. I also talked to the Heads of House about their role considering the survey findings and we introduced 1:1 Heads of House Teams meetings for specific students. These have been very well received as they are all about increasing the quality of the connection; pupils are talking to their Head of House who is someone they know incredibly well.
The third Pupil Wellbeing Survey will be launched on 1st June because it is important to check in with as many people as we can straight after the half term holiday.
Q: What have the main challenges been?
Pastoral care is all about talking and face to face interaction and we have had to get all of that online – weekly Heads of House meetings, weekly Heads of Section, weekly Safeguarding, weekly Place2Be – all of these things have had to go virtual, which has taken some getting used to. The challenges are fundamentally all about communication – we would much rather be seeing people face to face in order to do our work.
I also realised something early on which was (fittingly for me) echoed by a recent article in The Scotsman. We cannot use the phrase ‘we are all in the same boat’ because it’s a false premise – we might be in a similar storm, but we have got very different boats. That is absolutely true for the entire Forest community and we have got to be really mindful of that.
We must work out what the best form of communication is – whether it is a phone call or an email or a video call – and work out what is in the best interest of the child and their family. This is part of our belief that every child should be ‘known, liked and valued’ because we have to understand that everyone’s experience of lockdown is very different and respond to that by being compassionate at all times in order to provide the best possible support.
Q. Apart from missing interaction with peers and staff, are there any other challenges our pupils have talked about?
Well one of the things we are finding is that the novelty of Teams and Zoom and House Party as the primary means of face to face communication does wear off! Whilst it is better than having nothing at all, there are several pupils who are telling us they are getting fed up with it now. That in turn can create some pressure as other members of their peer group might not understand why they do not want to take part.
Q. Are there any positives that have come out of this way of working?
The use of Microsoft Teams for Tutor time has been extremely useful, and the Heads of Section and I have talked about how we could use it in the future for project work, charity event planning and sharing ideas.
Another positive to have come out of this experience is the resilience of our Forest community and how brilliant our pupils are which has really shone through.
It has also brought home to me the importance of being part of a network. We have worked hard over the last few years to really know our network and be able to seek advice. I am a member of a DSL forum which is made up of eight other schools and being able to share practice and ideas with others has always been enormously helpful and it has been particularly so at this difficult time.
Q: Is there anything you know now that you had known from the beginning?
I wish I had known right from the outset how long this lockdown was going to last and how long it is going to be before we can return to ‘normality.’ Also, all the stages and phases that we were inevitably going to go through.
I think we learned a lot after the first week and we were very grateful for the feedback we had from pupils, parents and staff and that helped shape the next stage of our provision. We got started that first week and got on with delivering lessons, but we did not have in place from the beginning the other elements of the Forest community we later introduced. The interaction as part of the start of day arrangements that we have since introduced – virtual chapel, virtual assemblies, podcasts and all the other ways in which we have been keeping everyone ‘together’ and held within our community
has been invaluable. We listened to pupils and it was important that we understood that what they really wanted was to talk and to interact, to be heard and to be with each other.
We know that we will be moving into new phases over the coming weeks which will of course be in line with the government guidance which is updated all the time. What we are finding is that layering our provision and evolving our practice is the best way to approach this unique situation. We are very clear that we need to be continuously refining what we are doing, adapting to the guidance and to the needs of our pupils, parents and staff as part of our work to keep the Forest community safe and ‘together.’