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Blog post Part of series: Highlights from the first 1,000 BERA Blog posts

Pastoral care: a whole-school approach to creating the ethos of wellbeing that culminates in better engagement and improved academic achievement of learners

Babatunde Taiwo Ojewunmi, Head of Department and Coach at Forest School

‘Pastoral care’ was a term once used exclusively to describe the role of shepherds caring for their sheep in the pasture in Christian religious communities, and this provides a glimpse into its meaning in an education context (Best, 2014; Marland, 1974).

In 1974, Michael Marland, a visionary headteacher, became the first author to use the words ‘pastoral care’ in the title of his seminal book (see Best, 2014). Before his work on pastoral care, different authors had explained aspects of pastoral care, albeit in ways not as explicit or as relevant to my understanding of pastoral care as that set out by Marland. In his book, Marland provided a working definition of pastoral care when he said it ‘means looking after the total welfare of the pupil’, and he argued that ‘pastoral care’ has ‘a central educative purpose in itself’, and therefore should not be seen as ‘a way of simply supporting the academic work’ (Marland, 1974, pp. 8–9).

‘While it has been neglected in schools for some time, recent reviews of the literature have highlighted renewed attention to pastoral care.’

Over subsequent years, despite research efforts in this area, pastoral care has suffered neglect in schools. In some cases, school leaders considered pastoral care as low priority or an after-thought. Best (1999) investigated the impact of a decade of educational change on pastoral care – the data, based on a survey of 167 experienced teachers, revealed ‘a greater than expected degree of optimism about the resources and quality of teachers’ work in the key pastoral tasks and the importance generally accorded to pastoral care’ (Best, 1999, p. 11). Given the small sample size, the concern remains that failure to promote a holistic integrated pastoral and academic curriculum ‘might be expected to marginalise pastoral care’ (Best, 1999, p. 4). On the contrary, recent reviews of the literature have highlighted renewed attention to pastoral care, pastoral structures in education, and how effective pastoral care can augment academic outcomes and assist in enriching learners’ lives and wellbeing (Best, 2014). This echoes  Marland’s six complementary aims of pastoral care, to:

  • enhance learners’ experiences
  • support teaching and learning
  • prepare learners for their next steps
  • ensure that learners benefit from onsite counselling services
  • teach learners to show respect for others
  • maintain an orderly environment (Marland, 1974, p. 10). 

Why is pastoral care in schools, further education colleges and universities critical (Laws & Fiedler, 2012)? Effective pastoral care is linked to academic engagement and performance (Furrer & Skinner, 2003), fostering friendly relationships among learners. These factors have been identified as solutions to improve truancy and other forms of absenteeism (Reid, 2003) and enhance resilience and, hence, academic outcomes in learners (Best, 2014).

Pastoral care in education means a whole-school strategic and operational approach to improve learners’ attendance, and to foster an atmosphere that is conducive for learning and promotes tolerance, resilience, fairness and equal opportunities for all, with due regard for protected characteristics. Such an approach to pastoral care should eliminate racism, inequality, discrimination and other hindrances to learning, to create an ethos that culminates in engagement and academic achievement of learners. Therefore, effective pastoral care can:

  • improve students’ attendance and retention rates
  • foster an orderly atmosphere in which all students can access opportunities, and enhance their academic achievements
  • promote tolerance, especially in students and teachers with due regard for protected characteristics
  • subdue racism and inequality
  • teach respect for self and others (Benard, 1995, pp. 3–4).


Benard, B. (1995). Fostering resilience in children. ERIC Digest. ERIC Identifier: ED386327.

Best, R. (1999). The impact of a decade of educational change on pastoral care and PSE: A survey of teacher perceptions. Pastoral care in education, 17(2), 3–13.

Best, R. (2014). Forty years of pastoral care: An appraisal of Michael Marland’s seminal book and its significance for pastoral care in schools. Pastoral care in education, 32(3), 175–185. doi:10.1080/02643944.2014.951385.

Furrer, C., & Skinner, E. (2003). Sense of relatedness as a factor in children’s academic achievement and performance. Journal of educational psychology, 95(1), 148–162.

Laws, T. A., & Fiedler B. A. (2012). Universities’ expectations of pastoral care: Trends, stressors. Resource gaps and support needs for teaching staff. Nurse education today, 32, 796–802.

Marland, M. (1974). Pastoral care. Heinemann Educational Publishers, London.

Reid, K. (2003). The search for solutions to truancy and other forms of school absenteeism. Pastoral Care in Education, 21(1), 3–9.