One of the most important things for parents, sometimes more important than exam results, is how well pupils are cared for at the school. In schools, the care, guidance and support of pupils is known as pastoral support. In a school that is right for your child, the pastoral and academic side of things should both be strong. This is because pupils learn well if they are happy and feel safe. If either the pastoral or academic side of the school is weaker than the other, than this is something you should explore further as a parent.

  • In all secondary schools, there are members of staff who are responsible for pastoral support, for example, Heads of Year, Heads of House, tutors, learning mentors, counsellors, the Special Educational Needs department. In a school that is right for your child, these members of staff, or departments will have a high profile, and communicate well with parents. In a good school, these members of staff will be responsible for both pastoral and academic, because the two go hand in hand. 
  • A school that is right for your child should always have someone that every child feels they can go to, if something is wrong.
  • If a school is strong with pastoral support, there is a whole school ethos, of care, safety, respect and inclusion. Schools with a ethos like this will relay the message through assemblies, tutor time, and PSHE. They might have schemes where pupils officially support each other, for example, pupil learning mentors.
  • A school that is strong pastorally, asks pupils how things are going. They might do regular pupil surveys, and have effective student councils or student focus groups.
  • To support pupils well pastorally, a school must have good relationships and communications with parents. It should make it clear to parents through the website, or through emails and texts who parents can contact if they have concerns. It should have a regular programme of events and communications to keep parents up to date with what is going on at the school.
  • A good school does not put pastoral before academic, or academic before pastoral. If pupils are not happy, they cannot achieve their best. If pupils are comfortable, but not challenged, then the school is doing them an injustice.
  • A school which is strong pastorally should be able to support all their pupils well if the pupil is going through a crisis, for example, bereavement, friendship break ups, parents’ divorce. Pupils should be known as individuals by the school, so they notice if a pupil is not behaving as they normally do, and they take immediate action. It is sometimes the Special Educational Needs Department that can support pupils at times of crisis.

Further Information


A school’s website should be clearly accessible for their parents, and make it clear who to contact if a parent has concerns. The website should encourage communication with the parent group, rather than discourage it.


The school should set out its ethos in the prospectus, or on the website.  The prospectus is also usually on the website. To find the school that is right for your child, you are looking for an ethos which prioritises both pastoral and academic, not one at the expense of the other.

Open evening/ Visit

Speak to the Head of Year for the prospective Year 7, or a Head of House, or a senior manager with responsibility for pastoral. Discuss with them who pupils can go to if they have any concerns.  Discuss with them what the school does, if the pupil is going through a crisis of some sort.  You will need to be re-assured by what they say.

Ofsted report

At the time of writing, Ofsted reports do not report on care, guidance and support separately.  These categories will largely be covered under behaviour, and relationships with parents will be covered under leadership and management.

Older Ofsted reports, have separate sections on care, guidance, and support, and social, moral, spiritual and cultural.


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