Both pastoral leaders and academic leaders within schools fall into the category of ‘middle management’, but their focuses are necessarily different.
For pastoral leaders, one of the primary elements of their role is the provision of support to pupils, whereas academic leaders help to support the delivery of the curriculum. Both are vital roles and contribute much to the school management system.
However, there are significant differences in their management approaches.
Pastoral leaders, whether they are heads of year, personal tutors or have their own pastoral title, are a primary point of contact for families and children’s agencies including social services.
Their approach, then, is centred on the needs of the pupils and ensuring that they are functioning properly and are cared for within the school setting.
Pastoral leaders need to maintain effective relationships with individuals on all sides – pupils, parents, colleagues, and visitors – therefore their approach must be adaptable.
The Times Educational Supplement (TES) describes the role:
Pastoral managers are often on the frontline of dealing with behaviour issues allowing teachers to concentrate on achievement and learning.
In this sense, then, their approach must be pupil-centric and be responsive to crises. On the other hand, their relationships with colleagues must be carefully managed and boundaries must be set.
As the TES role description goes on to state:
HoDs and teachers can pass the buck and you could end up having to sort these problems out.
An effective pastoral leader, then, is one that sets boundaries at all levels and approaches their work from the perspective of pupil and school wellbeing, rather than school attainment.
Conversely, academic leaders are more focused on departmental attainment and their team’s wellbeing.
If a pastoral leader is the first point of contact for a troubled pupil then an academic leader should be the first port of call for departmental issues. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t care about pastoral matters, only that it isn’t their responsibility as a head of department or similar.
As mentioned above, though, this can lead to ‘passing the buck’ or conflicts of responsibility. Schools that function most effectively are those that have clear demarcations within their organisational structures but also promote cross-pollination and knowledge-sharing.
Departmental leaders have a duty to promote their subject within the school, and so they need to deploy their departmental resources appropriate.
A piece by an assistant headteacher in the Guardian explains that, for non-compulsory subjects, this is essential:
Make sure therefore that the people delivering your year 9 curriculum are those who are likely to make students want to study your subject and at year 11 – have your best teachers ensuring good results.
The approach of academic leaders, then, must be focused on their subject and how best to promote and improve it within the school.
Pastoral and academic leaders have important roles to play within schools, yet they are clearly different roles and require different approaches.
At the heart of a successful school are structures that support both types of leader and have a clear understanding of how both approaches can work in tandem to create an effective learning environment that nevertheless boosts attainment levels.