Introducing Westminster-style Pastoral Care to Chengdu

It’s not about having someone to look after you; it’s about having people to look out for you, and there is a world of difference between the two.

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When pupils feel frustrated, parent’s comfort inspires them to be brave. When pupils are sad and upset, parent’s embrace brings them warmth. It is parents that guide pupils through the choppy times of childhood and adolescence with care and understanding.

Eventually, there comes a day when pupils must leave the nest to soar high. When the time comes, how would them to face frustrations and grievances?

In the U.K, schools implement Pastoral Care to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of children and enable them to set the stage for their own meaningful, fulfilling lives at School and beyond.

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What is Pastoral Care?

Pastoral care is similar to how parent’s nurture their own children. The difference lies in the school’s professional approach. Adopting a series of strict policies and procedures and employing a professional and qualified team means pastoral care is treated with importance. It allows each pupil to receive personalised and attentive care to meet their individual needs.

For parents, there is nothing more important than seeing their child thrive and excel. Achieving academic results are indeed a priority, but the health, safety and wellbeing of their children are always of paramount importance. The school, as a place away from the home, plays a crucial role in supporting and caring for pupils. Parents place an enormous trust in the school to do so.

When children face challenges and difficulties in their academic, social and emotional lives, their first instinct is invariably to turn to their parents for help. However, parents might not always be available and they may not always know how best to respond. The role of the school is not to substitute parents’ care and affection, but to bolster and enhance the support children receive from home. A Westminster education believes that Pastoral Care is the warm embrace that ensures pupils feel safe and nurtured at all times, in all settings.

In the English language, the term Pastoral Care was used to describe shepherds taking care of their flock of sheep by letting them eat, drink, and sleep well. When applied to an educational setting, it can be understood as the supportive yet professional care provided by the school to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of the child. At present, a Chinese translation for the term Pastoral Care has not been firmly established. Schools have translated the term in various ways, but at Chengdu Westminster School, we have chosen to translate pastoral care to “成长关怀”.

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Pupils grow with care, Pastoral care cares for growth

Careful thought and consideration have been put into selecting this particular translation of the term to ensure it reflects the ethos of pastoral care at Westminster. The translation puts particular emphasis on “growth” in pastoral care.

When Westminster School was re-founded in 1560 by Queen Elizabeth, she declared that the scholars of Westminster are “tender shoots in the wood” to be “instructed in good books”. The term pastoral care is just a modern expression to encapsulate an age-old belief which forms the foundation of Westminster education. Just as tender shoots require sunlight and water to grow, children require care and nurture to thrive and flourish. Just as different shoots blossom under different circumstances, each child’s path of development is unique and an effective pastoral offering recognises this.

Westminster School’s time-tested provision of pastoral care

The introduction of British Schools in China has meant that the term pastoral care has become increasingly widespread in China’s international education market. While “What should we expect from schools which promote pastoral care? What kind of pastoral care should we place our trust in?”

At Westminster, the Pastoral Care programme is multi-layered, well-integrated and professional.

Pupils receive support and guidance from a variety of sources within the school. Westminster Pastoral care is not delivered in 20-minute slots once a day or once a week, but rather it lives in the relationships between Westminster staff and pupils. 

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The Housemaster may be the chief axis around which pastoral care at Westminster turns, but all staff at Westminster school are responsible for and take great pride in providing attentive care for pupils.

When a Westminster pupil steps into the classroom, their Mathematics teacher may ask them how rehearsals for their drama club are going. When they step into the dining hall, serving staff will greet them by name.

Westminster staff are trained to be perceptive and responsive to pupil’s behaviours. Coaches will notice when a pupil gets into arguments with teammates on the football field. Teachers will notice when a pupil experiences an unexpected decline in academic performance halfway through the term. When isolated, these behaviours may seem typical for a developing child. However, Westminster staff will always take the time to sensitively and discretely communicate relevant information about pupils to their House masters and Form teachers. This ensures repeated and concerning behaviours are recorded. Parents are kept informed about the health and happiness of their child. Taking these steps allows Westminster School to uphold the triangle of trust and communication between school, family, and pupil.

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More than this, Westminster takes a pro-active approach to pupil’s health and happiness by offering a bespoke Wellbeing programme. For example, Westminster Under School will use games such as “feelings bingo” to recognise their feelings by asking questions such as “Are there good and not so good feelings?”, “Or comfortable and uncomfortable feelings?”,  “Is it ok to be sad or angry sometimes?” The sessions seek to equip pupils with skills to realise happiness and fulfilment in themselves. Equally, pupils are encouraged to care for others and act thoughtfully and compassionately.

The whole-school approach to pastoral care is accompanied by specialist staff with enhanced responsibilities and skills to respond to individual pupils’ needs.

Westminster School employs a full-time School Counsellor who provides assessment, treatment and supportive counselling to the individual pupils who require it. Located at the centre of campus, a specialised clinic houses professional medical staff on-site during school hours to provide emergency care and general medical services. For boarding pupils, Matrons are first-aid qualified and live in the boarding houses, ensuring pupils’ safety is never compromised and help is available at all hours.

These specialist staff meet weekly with senior teaching staff. Together, they review cases to consider patterns and trends developing through the school, and to propose strategic responses as and where necessary. This ensures the school has a 360 view of pastoral care and teachers can understand pupil behaviour in a wider school context.

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Given the personal and sensitive nature of Pastoral Care, taking a professional approach is necessary. Westminster adopts strict policies and procedures and employs qualified staff to ensure pastoral care is delivered with the utmost professionalism. Regular professional development is completed annually by all staff. Teachers are trained to notice subtle signs of children needing additional support and can respond sensitively and appropriately.

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The professionalism of Westminster’s Pastoral Care has been praised by educational authorities such as The Inspectorate for Private Schools in the U.K. The report is available to read on the ISI website.

The Westminster model of Pastoral Care sets the tone for the Pastoral offering at Chengdu Westminster School. The ethos, structure and implementation style of Westminster’s pastoral care is now being developed in Chengdu and adapted to suit the local context.

Implementing a comprehensive organizational structure in Pastoral Care will ensure experienced leaders and qualified experts lead staff to embed pastoral care in all aspects of the school. At present, we have appointed our Head of Pastoral and Boarding. A Cambridge graduate with extensive experience working in pastoral care at top British Schools both in the U.K. and China, he will be joining us in August this year.

Clear communication channels will be established to ensure all pupil concerns, no matter how small, are reported and addressed. Bilingual teachers will support ex-pat staff to prevent language barriers from hindering communication with parents. Wellbeing lessons will work in tandem with the Chinese National Curriculum to develop pupils’ maturity and self-sufficiency in their academic, social, emotional lives. Emphasis will be placed on the importance of psychological and physical health.

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The Parenting Forum will provide a series of events throughout the school calendar to further strengthen home-school relationships. Parents will be guided by experts to better understand and support their children through the particular challenges they face in their personal and school life.

Most importantly, the ethos of pastoral care in a Westminster education will be deeply embedded in Chengdu. From senior management to teaching assistants, each member of staff is invested in supporting our pupils to blossom and flourish as tender shoots.

While the overall ethos of pastoral care remains at the core of Chengdu Westminster School, each school division will have its own characteristics. For example, the Primary School will focus on supporting pupils to regulate emotions and make friendships, with the Junior Middle School guiding pupils to navigate the complexities of adolescence and puberty. For our Senior School pupils, efforts will be focused on addressing academic pressure and preparing pupils for university life socially and emotionally. The individual characteristics of each pupil will always be at the centre of Pastoral Care. Just as different shoots blossom under different circumstances, each child’s path of development is unique and an effective pastoral offering recognises this.

Even when pupils are not physically within school walls and even when they have graduated and achieved success in their studies and careers, the pastoral care they received at Westminster has a long-lasting imprint.

We will soon be launching a series of articles further detailing Pastoral Care and how it will be implemented in each school section. Please watch this space!