Three Top Challenges for New Pastoral Leaders

If you are considering, or just embarking on, becoming a pastoral leader in a school, you are likely to face a myriad of exciting new opportunities – and also some challenges!

Below are just three of these. Build your understanding of them; get some good training; read a few great books (check out the recommended reading list at the end of my new book, Leading on Pastoral Care (hyperlink)), and even better – find yourself an outstanding practitioner, and watch them in action.


Bullying can be dangerous and pernicious, so it is important to understand the causes, the process, restorative approaches, peer-to-peer support and cyber bullying. In most cases of bullying, an awful lot of time is spent trying to establish what has happened and whether it was bullying, and negotiating between different parties. You’ll want to consider:

  1. Creating a whole-school environment that is a safe space. This is not something that schools think about clearly because pastoral leaders tend to get bogged down in day- to-day bullying
  2. Dealing with individual bullying. This includes:
    1. Normal socialisation of children who experiment with relationships and learn by messing up and reflecting. This, as you no doubt know from your own lives, is normal and, if anything, is possibly one of the most important outcomes of school society.
    2. Painful bullying, which is long-lasting for all who have experienced it and can lead to serious psychological consequences and disasters such as
  3. Online bullying via social media. This is something every single pastoral leader needs to get to grips It involves not just individuals but very often groups and communities.


Bereavement and its process is an issue you need to be aware of because at some point in your career there will be children in your care who have lost a peer, family member or a close friend.

  • How should you react to a child who has suddenly lost a parent?
  • What will you say?
  • If you go to the funeral, what should you say and do?

Don’t assume that a child needs counselling immediately after the death of a family member. Though it may work sometimes, bereavement counselling may be best used six months later.

I knew a girl whose mother had committed suicide, and her pain was expressed by her saying to staff, ‘I’m sad’. I tried to encourage my staff to ‘listen to’ her emotional pain, and to guide the girl to simply acknowledge what has happened, so she knew that we recognised what was going on for her.

Home life

You may encounter loneliness, young carers, divorce, blended families and a whole range of family-based issues in your new role. However, remember that you won’t always know what is really going on and you may only have hunches.

Once my colleague and I were convinced that a student was being abused at home. We had zero evidence but some of the indicators were there. Meeting the father was a truly awful experience, because he was seriously manipulative and controlling. We were left with our feelings and intuition that this was a dangerous man and there was nothing we could do about it. On reflection, we did our best and I am not certain even with hindsight and more experience that I could have done much better. I found a line which I could not pass: I am based in school; home is a different frontier. For sure, your work will be impacted by what goes on all day every day at home – especially at the weekends and holidays – but your limitations are enshrined in law and procedure.

With the right training and support in your role as pastoral leader, you’ll soon learn how to provide the best support possible for your students in situations like these.

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