Effective support and guidance in schools has a positive impact on the achievement of learners and prepares them for the challenges they will face in life. The Welsh Government is encouraging an important debate about how to provide effective pupil support which will impact on the achievement of young people at school, and ensure that they are ready to take their place in the 21st century workplace. In developing the curriculum it is important that the personal development of young people is at the centre of the learning experience. This ensures that education stimulates the interest of learners and motivates them to achieve their full potential. This is very important for the values and beliefs of the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education, where academics and educational professionals are exploring the most effective strategies to meet the different and demanding needs of young people living in the 21st century.
There is a debate about whether this is best achieved by high quality pastoral care and support in every school or through specialist interventions to ensure that the needs of all learners are met. The reality is that decisions about the most effective approach have to be cost effective. There are strong arguments that if every school has quality provision for pastoral care then all young people will have every opportunity to achieve success in their education. However this is becoming increasingly challenging to achieve with the pressures placed on schools by accountability for examination results and because the drive for financial efficiency is resulting in both primary and secondary schools increasing in size. This makes it more difficult for schools to meet the different individual needs of students. In reality large schools are effective in meeting the needs of most learners most of the time but they are unable to meet the needs of all learners all of the time. This means that there is a need for specialist interventions and support to respond to the needs that schools find more difficult to meet. The most effective way to achieve this is by schools working together in partnerships so that resources and expertise can be shared to meet diverse needs and ensure that young people are provided with the individual support they need to achieve their full potential and overcome any barriers in their learning.
One initiative, in response to this challenge, is the Stanway Federation Learning Centre which opened its doors after a local secondary school closed in September 2014. The choice was to either close the school with all the risks of vandalism and deterioration of the buildings or to manage the site so it could continue to be used to enhance educational provision in the local community until such a time that the site was needed as a school again. The decision to continue to use the site for educational purposes meant that the Learning Centre could support local schools in meeting the diverse needs of learners. The Independent Learning Zone provides short placements for individual students to support them in overcoming barriers to their learning. In the Learning Base specialist workshops and interventions can be provided for targeted groups of students without disrupting the timetable in their schools. The Learning Centre is a base for schools to use to explore how resources can be used in a cost effective way to support learner’s personal development, and to explore options for providing support to overcome barriers to learning and enable pupils to achieve success in their education. The vision is that The Learning Centre will be at the heart of the local learning community, working with partner schools to find solutions to problems and to meet different demands for support. The belief is that sometimes learning has to be memorable and inspire young people to be motivated to achieve and succeed. One example is a ‘Young Apprentice’ competition organised by the Learning Centre for teams of six pupils from secondary schools. The event developed their problem solving and communication skills, and their ability to work as a member of a team. The students were fully engaged because they were competing with other schools. Some of the comments that were made in the evaluation at the end of the event included:
“I think this was an amazing opportunity and one of the best experiences of my life” (Year Ten Student)
“I loved it! If school was like this every day I would really want to go” (Year Ten Student)
“It gave the students the opportunity to work in a real life situation in a different environment. I was impressed with how the students grew in confidence” (Secondary school teacher)
This demonstrates that a structured approach to providing specialist support for pupils with schools sharing resources and working in partnership, can support the quality pastoral care provided by individual schools and have a positive impact on students attitudes to learning and their personal development.
About the author: Phil Jones is the Chair of the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education and Head of The Stanway Federation Learning Centre.